New York City, N.Y. – At a September 19 press conference, musician Randy Jackson, a judge on American Idol begins to speak, or tries to. The applause is just too loud at the press conference at Grand Central Station. “Whoa dudes,” he implores the crowd. Finally, the gathered press and onlookers quiet enough for him to speak, “9Lives (cat food) approached me and before they could get the words out, I said, ‘Dude, I’m down.”
What he’s “down” for is the Morris’ Million Cat Rescue, a campaign to adopt one million cats from animal shelters across America. Jackson started it off by adopting a kitty he named Dawg.
Morris the Cat and his new sidekick, Li’l Mo, will travel across the country in a long, long trailer as they count up to hopefully one million adoptions. Charlotte, NC; Detroit, Mich.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Ft. Lauderdale, Florida; Indianapolis, Ind.; Miami, Florida; San Diego, Calif., and Tampa, Florida are among the 34 cities the adopt-a-thon will travel to. (Check www.9Lives.com for confirmed dates and locations).
At the press conference, it was Jackson’s job to introduce “a really cool cat,” the icon Morris. Of course, Morris has had nearly nine lives, literally. The original Morris was adopted from a shelter outside Chicago in 1968.
The latest Morris then appeared from backstage with his person, Rose Odile. With Jackson, they posed for the paparazzi. One photographer was overheard saying, “I just got back from the United Nations for a photo-op, and it was nothing like this.” That’s just Jackson’s popularity these days.
Sitting backstage, Jackson is relaxed, dressed in a trendy striped shirt, which he doesn’t tuck in, a sport coat and blue jeans. “I grew up with cats and dogs,” he says in a private conversation. “In the south, in Louisiana (he’s from Baton Rouge), we had tons of pets, ever since I can remember. There were birds, reptiles, frogs, snakes, you name it. I love animals, period, especially cats and dogs, hence, I am the dawg.”
He maintains his “Randy-Ese” heard on “American Idol” is not show-biz schtick. “Listen Dawg, from people in the South, these are terms of endearment in the ‘hood.’ Look at the hip hop stuff and all the slang, like, you know, ‘going to bag her.’ People think, you mean to have sex. All it (really) means is, ‘are you going out with her?’”
“It’s funny the whole Dawg thing,” he continues. “I’ve been saying ‘Dawg’ for like 20 years. This is who I am. You know, what I’m saying. It’s all cool, man.”
Jackson positively lights up when he talks about his Southern roots. And he’s passionate about reminding people about what he calls “the forgotten city.”
“I know there were millions (of dollars) raised for New Orleans, but you don’t see it on the ground. It’s so sad. There was no city on earth like New Orleans. I wanted to call attention to the plight ” and that’s why I did my (syndicated) radio show from there, and then did Ellen (meaning “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”). The music permeates the food. It’s all about feeling great and internal happiness. New Orleans musicians never cared about the New York, L.A., or Nashville scene. They did just their own thing.”
The magic has withered and the music has softened. Some performers lives were destroyed, and they’ve chosen to pick up the pieces in other places. Of those who stayed, their once filled venues may no longer exist, and if they’ve remained open the houses are no longer packed.
Jackson mentions that on the airplane to New York, he was listening to the Meters “Hey Pocky A-way”
“The song is amazing,” he says. “It sums up the whole thing. I don’t know if the city can come back the same. But there’s also a certain resiliency.”
Resiliency is something Jackson understands, it defines his long career in the dog-eat-dog music biz. He’s done it all, from playing bass with the 70s rock band Journey to touring and/or performing alongside names ranging from Herbie Hancock to Elton John. He produced for many top artists, and was a V.P. at Columbia and MCA Records.
“I’ve been lucky,” he says. “First, to play with some of the greatest jazz fusion guys. Then to recording with Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Angie Bofill, and the list goes on.”
Everyone knows Aretha and Whitney, but not Bofill, a great voice and successful recording artist, primarily from early 1980s. Still, she was never a star. So, what creates a star? “You can see it in the idols who win,” he explains. “There are a lot of great singers. But will there ever be another ‘Let It Be?’ You see, it’s about the songs. You’ve gotta have amazing songs.”
Interestingly, he uses the same word, amazing, to describe his own pets, whose names aren’t Mariah, Aretha and Whitney. There’s the aforementioned newly adopted kitten, named Dawg. And there are three dogs, as in canines, Toshi, who he describes as “a small noisy terrier;” Bobbie, a little poodle, and a soft-coat Wheaten terrier named Buckley.
His kids are 9, 11 and 16 and they’re responsible for naming the dogs. “I think dogs take on the personalities of the people they live with,” he says. So, which dog is most like Randy? He doesn’t even have to think about the answer. “Buckley,” he responds in an instant. “He’s just like me; he’s cool, well-mannered, likes getting his hair done and is well-behaved.”
He continues, “Man, adopting one million cats. It can be done. It has to be. I mean it blew me away when I learned three of every four cats that enters a shelter doesn’t make it out alive.” Also, for each purchase of a 9Lives product, the company will donate one dollar to an animal charity.
His fellow Idol judges Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul have repeatedly publicly professed their love of dogs. “They really do love dogs,” says Jackson. “How can you not love animals? Well Ryan (Idol host Ryan Seacrest) probably loves himself more. Yeah, Simon does love animals, but you know he loves himself more. Who can’t love an animal, dude? If you don’t, something’s wrong.”