Jade in the Rough

photo by Xina Hamari Ness

Sometimes the stars align perfectly. For songwriter Jade Jackson, it was being born with only a few degrees of separation from Mike Ness, front man of legendary punk band Social Distortion. Her mother went to high school with Ness’s wife. When his wife told Ness about Jackson, he offered to mentor her and produce her debut album, Gilded.

“Before I met Mike, I’d been playing as a solo guitar act for 13 years,” she says. “When he discovered me and we started working together, he kind of amplified everything. He encouraged me to get a band behind me and not just stand there alone with my guitar like I had done all those years before.”

Without Ness, Jackson says, she’d still be waitressing in her parents’ California restaurant in Santa Margarita. Instead, she’s able to focus on music full time.

Jackson is currently on tour with Social Distortion and is stopping in Eugene between shows with them. 

Working with Ness came with some homework. Ness had the musicians listen to albums like Tom Petty’s Wildflowers and Car Wheels on a Gravel Road by Lucinda Williams, Jackson says.

Maybe the homework gave Jackson some direction on her voice, which doesn’t have the typical country genre sound. Her voice instead has the smokiness and relaxation of a songwriter, not a professional singer. 

That doesn’t mean she doesn’t know how to belt when necessary, as is apparent with “Good Times Gone,” a song about a one-night hook-up from a woman’s perspective. The track benefits from her band as well, who show that they’re not just another country band. The guitarist fuels the song with guitar-heavy riffs and ends the song with a blistering solo that’s proof the guitarist may have taken notes from Tom Petty’s guitarist Mike Campbell. 

Jackson shows she can capture the minutiae of heartbreak. In “Aden,” she sings, “Had nothing when he left / ‘cept a pack of American Spirits / I smoked them one by one / as slow and steady as the sun.” 

One-night stands and smoking American Spirits aren’t necessarily a part of her life story. She says she wrote the songs on the album by putting herself in other people’s shoes. But, she says, she plans on throwing her feelings out for the public on her next album. 

Jackson started writing music at 13, and it helped keep her from going down a path of drugs and alcohol. 

“I felt really insecure, and you get all those feelings. And I think that’s when a lot of kids start drinking or doing drugs,” she says. “I never had to do that because I always had a pencil and a paper and I could just purge out that negativity and darkness.” 

Thinking about the music she wrote, she laughs because her songs started out “incredibly dark.” Writing music and performing is in her bones, though. Despite hearing the realities and probabilities of making it in the music industry, she hasn’t thought of a plan B because she says you only get one life — and she wants to live it as a professional musician. 

“I want to do this forever. I want the Willie Nelson career. I want to do this until the day I die,” she says. “I’m not going to stop.” — Henry Houston

Jade Jackson performs at Hi-Fi Music Lounge 10 pm Thursday, July 12. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door.

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