For Randy Jackson, life is about taking chances.
This fearless and forward-thinking mentality has guided him from musician, songwriter, and Grammy Award-winning producer to revered record-industry executive, business entrepreneur, best-selling author, talent manager, and beloved television personality. All of this stems from Jackson’s passion for music.
Growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he was immersed in the region’s veritable musical gumbo on the streets, in church, and at home. Developing an affinity for a variety of musical styles, he picked up a bass guitar at thirteen years old and started on a dynamic and diverse path.
“You get exposed to everything in the lovable Dirty South,” he says. “There’s blues, traditional jazz, pop, R&B, rock, and anything else you can think of. It’s truly a melting pot and has the richest musical diversity in America. It was the Woodstock era, too, and I was fascinated with all of those artists. I’m a music junkie first and foremost. I started playing bass because I fell in love with all of this incredible music surrounding me.”
So he started making “incredible music” himself. With the goal of becoming “the ultimate musician,” as he puts it, Jackson tirelessly worked his way up through the burgeoning jazz-fusion scene in the late seventies, collaborating with the likes of Jean-Luc Ponty, Herbie Hancock, and many others. Soon after, he progressed into the pop and R&B worlds, lending his talents to hit records by Smokey Robinson, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, and Madonna, to name a few. Meanwhile, he also entered the rock ‘n’ roll realm, recording and performing with legendary musicians such as Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, Keith Richards, Journey, Carlos Santana, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, and countless others. All in all, he has over 1,000 gold and platinum plaques to his name, with collective sales exceeding 200 million copies.
In 1990, he went from the stage and studio to the office and boardroom, joining Columbia Records as a staff producer and eventually becoming the label’s senior vice president of A&R (Artists and Repertoire). Most typical musicians never make this transition, but then again, Jackson is far from typical.
“I always wanted to evolve,” he elaborates. “Leaders take risks, and I aspire to be a leader. That desire encouraged me to go the executive route. I needed to see firsthand how everything worked from the other side. With all of the knowledge I’ve gained through my career, I feel an obligation to help music progress to this day. You’ve got to go against the grain. When I began working in A&R, it was about making great music, but from a different angle than playing bass or producing.”
At Columbia, Jackson worked with artists including Bob Dylan, Mariah Carey, Destiny’s Child, and Bruce Springsteen, and he signed the neo-soul newcomer Dionne Farris. After nine years, he moved to MCA Records as their senior vice president of A&R and staff producer. In 2002, another risky yet enticing opportunity presented itself.
“American Idol had been turned down by every major network,” he said. “It was the next step for me, though, and I knew it. The show tells you what the audience really loves. Music is about them, after all. It’s not about the charts or what’s on the radio. This is a glimpse inside what the people want, and I am honored to be a part of that legacy. I’m very lucky, blessed, and humbled in that.”
Turning into one the highest-rated television shows of all time, Fox’s American Idol became a phenomenon that yielded some of the most crucial artists of the twenty-first century. As the program’s longest-standing panel judge, Jackson reached an iconic status within pop culture as a true gatekeeper over the course of twelve highly successful seasons. He returned in the thirteenth season to lend his industry expertise as the in-house mentor.
In the meantime, he launched various other ventures, including Randy Jackson Presents: America’s Best Dance Crew on MTV, Randy Jackson’s Hit List radio show syndicated by Westwood One, and his own artist-management firm. Jackson continues to push the envelope outside of music as well. In partnership with Zyloware, he developed his own eyewear line, Randy Jackson Eyewear, bringing his signature stylish frames to the masses. In addition, he created the watch brand Timepieces by Randy Jackson and featured his own line of Randy Jackson Guitars.
Randy gives back whenever he can. His charitable work includes his role as Goodwill Ambassador for Save the Children U.S., as well as his involvement with the Gibson Foundation, Ronald McDonald House Charities, the Music in the Schools program of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and the T.J. Martell Foundation, which honored him with its Lifetime Music Industry Award. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he was one of the architects of the multimillion-dollar fundraiser, Idol Gives Back, delivering relief to Louisiana. He also contributed to “We Are the World 2,” benefiting Haitian relief efforts.
His impact in the music world and beyond is widely recognized. In 2010, the University of Phoenix awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters for Public Service and Humanitarian Endeavors to Enhance Quality of Life and the Advancement of Knowledge. And in January 2013, Jackson was awarded the Music for Life Award by the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), its highest honor, for his “pervasive influence in the music world and his longtime encouragement of budding music makers.”
Jackson is committed to passing on his encyclopedic knowledge of the music industry to the next generation of musicians and music entrepreneurs. For 10 years, he taught a course on the music business and A&R (Artists and Repertoire) at UCLA. He has also written two best-selling books. He is also on the Board of Counselors of the USC Thornton School of Music. These experiences led him to want to do something educational on a grander scale, and that led him to explore the world of online learning with “Music Business Today,” a must-have, must-see, must-do course for anyone considering a career in the music business.
On the horizon, Jackson will put his inimitable and indelible stamp on still more music. “I want to make great music that listeners can enrich their lives through,” he declares. “I want to help people build careers that last a lifetime. I want to take risks on artists that break the mold and elevate all of us to the next level. That’s what made me want to do this in the first place, and it keeps me here.”