Actor, Musician and Activist Tom Jackson Releases "The Essential Tom Jackson"
There are entertainment legends, and then there is Tom Jackson, a triple-threat actor, musician, and activist whose achievements in each discipline are downright head-spinning. Jackson’s career is unparalleled, not to mention wildly acclaimed, abundantly decorated, and almost ridiculously interesting. Heck, Jackson could be a pub night trivia category all by himself.
Now, at an age when most are pulling back, the 69-year-old Calgary-based star is barrelling towards the busiest and most glittering chapter in his towering 40-odd-year run at the forefront of contemporary film, TV, and music. And it starts with The Essential Tom Jackson, a dazzling two-disc, 21-track retrospective spotlighting Jackson’s inimitable talent as a folk-pop singer/songwriter of the highest order and an artist intrinsically linked to the world around him, both the real and the ethereal.
A simple spin through The Essential Tom Jackson drives that point home via songs like the plaintive anti-war throw-down "I'm Not Saying, I'm Just Saying," and the environmental sonnet "Blue Water" — evergreen anthems for the ages and two of Jackson’s personal favourites. “You can have love,” Jackson offers of the latter song, “but if you don’t have water, you don’t have anything.”
It’s impossible to regard Jackson’s music separately from the other aspects of his remarkable career which include (but are not limited to) countless marquee TV roles on hit shows like North of 60, Shining Time Station, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Law & Order, Little Mosque on the Prairie, Street Legal, and Relic Hunter.
There’s also movies, lots of movies, including a forthcoming thriller (title TBD) opposite Liam Neeson. The Irish actor joins a long and very boldface list of onetime Jackson colleagues — also including but not limited to — Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde, Kris Kristofferson, and Sissy Spacek (in 2012's Deadfall), Bruce Greenwood (2005’s Mee-Shee: The Water Giant), and Bryan Brown (1999’s Grizzy Falls). Notably, many small- and big-screen parts have leveraged Jackson’s Indigenous heritage for their dynamic characters; still others have employed his mellifluous tones for voiceovers.
Jackson is understandably proud of all that. Yet it is his extensive charitable work — in particular, helming the long-running Huron Carole Christmastime concert tours for Canadian food banks plus multiple other initiatives benefitting disaster relief — that is arguably his crowning achievement.
With an estimated $200 million (!) in combined cash/in-kind value for food banks and disaster relief raised to date, it’s no wonder Jackson, currently an Ambassador for the Red Cross, has been inducted as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2000, and received the 2007 Juno Humanitarian Award, and the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in 2014.
Multiple additional honours, including the 2007 Gemini Humanitarian Award, have been bestowed on our man over the years. But those above-mentioned three, perhaps more than any others, have cemented Jackson’s status as one of Canada’s most influential, distinguished, and revered sons. In a country that lays claim to Leonard Cohen, Donald Sutherland, and Norman Bethune, to namecheck VIPs who’ve soared worldwide in areas also deftly navigated by Jackson, that’s massive.
Not that the convivial and down-to-earth Jackson bears his esteemed rank with any airs. Far from it.
“I’ve said many times that it’s not about the award, it’s about the reward. Anybody who gets one of these very prestigious accolades will ask themselves, ‘Why me? Why do I deserve this?’ I guarantee it,” Jackson says, before launching into an entrancing story about making a pact with his creator years ago during a difficult time and how that pact changed his life.
Indeed, Jackson — erudite, hilarious, and filled-to-bursting with killer anecdotes — is the kind of guy you pray to be seated beside on a long-haul flight.
He continues: “Awards raise the profile of the work, which is really the point. Being an Officer of the Order of Canada is awesome and it has helped me create a lot of change. But when I got the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in 2014… I don’t know that there’s anything greater than being acknowledged by the people who were in that room and in my life at that time.”
More praise will be incoming with the release of The Essential Tom Jackson. As he explains, compiling the retrospective gave Jackson the rare opportunity to review and revisit himself, to take stock. For fans old and new, meanwhile, the collection offers a comprehensive snapshot of Jackson’s musical canon, something occasionally overshadowed by his more mainstream acting work.
“Originally the idea of the compilation was to help raise my profile as a musician outside of Canada. A lot of people will say, ‘I thought he was an actor. Oh, he’s released music — original music — as well? I didn’t know that.’ So, I had to painfully go back and listen to my own tunes,” Jackson howls.
“What emerged was two volumes: one a collection of songs about women I've loved, the other a collection of songs about other things, including vampires, peace, concerns about the environment. That wasn’t intentional, just kind of how it happened. And the timing is good as there’s a lot going on with me this year. It’s a little intimidating, even for a guy like me who’s been around for a long time, to think: ‘What if someone decides they like this stuff,’” he laughs.
Jackson had his work cut out for him in cherry-picking the songs for The Essential Tom Jackson, having issued 16 albums overall, many Christmas-themed and in support of the annual Huron Carole tours. His proper studio album total is an impressive eight, including 2015's universally fêted Ballads Not Bullets and 2001’s I Will Bring You Near, which Jackson characterizes as “featuring a lot of songs about helping others.
“Doing this compilation was like opening up a trunk,” Jackson says. “It’s easy to lose focus; you might be looking for one thing and end up finding something else completely. But I was ultimately reminded that music is meant to create change for others. It can have a powerful impact.”
The ability to effect change clearly galvanizes Jackson, who will doubtless toast the arrival of 2019 with a list of thrilling new aspirations to rival his stack of recent successes.
“I have another album planned called Nothing Like the Blues. One for the bucket list,” he says. “Right now, I have two series running on television: there’s a rerun of North of 60 and an APTN series called Red Earth Uncovered halfway through the first season.
“I did a third season of (internationally celebrated series) Cardinal. I have two other guest roles that I can't talk about but look promising. One could take me to Scotland, the other to outer space. Huron Carole will be hitting the road again this year for year 31 or 32,” he chuckles, “I can’t remember.
“Much of this stuff is in the can and where it all ends up, I don’t know. But all of this continues to give me the opportunity to create change. I am very excited about that. And I am having as much fun now as ever.”
The 21-Track Retrospective Spotlighting His Career is Available Now
The Essential Tom Jackson
WAVs — The Essential Tom Jackson
YouTube — “I’m not saying, I’m just saying”