Consider Tom Jackson the Ted Nugent of county, but like Ted Nugent light, so minus the ignorant, alienating xenophobic outbursts. When we chatted with the Belle Glade native about his music, we not only got an in-depth look at all four of his songs on his newest EP, but also hunting tales and what he really has to say to PETA. One of the things that really gets this guy fired up is talking about what country music is today.
The outspoken musician explained the top three components that really make country music: the fiddle, peddle stool and a good guitar. "It's gotta make me relate," Jackson explained. "I don't want to hear a song that talks about one thing over and over again, like getting dunk and hanging out with buddies. I don't want to hear a song that puts down people, I don't want to hear a country song with more rap than vocals. It's not what I grew up on. I grew up on real country."
He's not so keen on the genre in its modern incarnation. "Country songs today are nonsense. It's like they're making a lyric up just to put a lyric there. Country songs nowadays are Auto-Tuned or with a techno beat," he clearly finds this appalling along with some other changes to the traditional sound. "There are rap artists trying to get in on it just for exposure, not because they're into it ... I was watching the Country Music Awards, and the opening ceremony and I just, I just had to turn it off."
Perhaps he was referring to rapper Nelly's collaboration with Florida Georgia Line on their remix of "Cruise," or Luke Bryan's numerous tunes about pickup trucks and getting chicks. But if this kind of material is flooding the radio waves today, what does Jackson like? He answered with Craig Campbell, Craig Morgan, Justin Moore, Garth Brooks, and Travis Tritt.
It's pretty apparent that the aforementioned singers have positively influenced Jackson and his songwriting. He penned almost every tune on his past albums, Southern Thang and Keep it Country. This remains the situation with his next endeavor in the works, Knee Deep in Country. However, what has changed is the intent of the songs. Jackson states that in the past, they were more "rebellious and for myself" while the new songs are more "marketable to audiences."
The singer claims his songwriting skills have improved since past projects. The four songs on his new EP include the title track, "Knee Deep in Country" -- about "being country," he says -- "The Back of my Truck" is inspired by how he was raised, "Crazy About You" which tells the tale of a former playboy settling down, and "Emily," about a romantic reunion.
Not only is Jackosn a musician but an avid hunter with songs like "Raise Right Outdoors" and "Savage Outdoors" addressing the subject. But don't be fooled, Jackson considers himself a humane hunter. "We don't hunt for trophy, we live off the land," he explained. "We dress deer we shoot, then bring it home. We don't hunt to just kill animals. We're not that kind of people. Never shoot an animal to shoot an animal. If you do, you need to see a therapist [laughs]. Scary to think that way, but there are people like that out there."
Despite his ethical mindset, Jackson still faces scrutiny from the notorious animal rights activist group PETA, which inspired his song "Country Boy Anthem." Years ago, Jackson and his band were performing on the first day of alligator hunting season for a kickoff party in Belle Glade. Of course, there were plenty of PETA members in attendance. According to Jackson, they were claiming on TV that "alligators have feelings." Jackson interrupted his story with a brief chuckle: "Sorry, I'm still kind of laughing about it to this day."
But it doesn't end there. "In Georgia, my friend had mud on his boots and blood on his outfit. He said, 'What do you think PETA would think about me right now?' I said, 'PETA can kiss my ass'." The latter statement became one of the most memorable lines of the song "Country Boy Anthem." So does Jackson still think PETA can kiss his ass? Without hesitation, he replied, "Oh, absolutely."
Jackson will be making a return appearance at West Palm Beach's Norton Museum of Art event Art After Dark. As Jackson said, "If you want to hear some real county music, listen to the most talented musicians in South Florida, and have a good time with your family, come out."
Art After Dark, 5 to 9 p.m., Thurday, July 3. Tom Jackson at Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Avenue, West Palm Beach. Visit norton.org.