From Wiregrass football fields to Nashville concert halls and Middle Eastern deserts, drumsticks have taken Olajuwon “O.J.” Jackson further than he ever imagined.
Last week they landed him on national TV playing drums for country/Southern rock singer Brent Cobb on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” – an experience he will never forget.
“TV’s pretty awesome, though it’s a long day,” he said. “Jimmy Kimmel is really nice, a down-to-earth guy. We met his mom and dad, and they loved us. They came up to us after the show and said they enjoyed (our performance).”
The Kimmel appearance provided Jackson, a 2008 New Brockton High School graduate, a mountaintop experience in a rather lengthy career in music. It is a path that began in churches in rural Coffee County and has taken him to other peaks – like the ones currently surrounding him in the American West.
Rooted in music
As long as Jackson can remember, music occupied a place in his family’s activities and legacy.
“Everybody in my family can play an instrument or sing,” he said while on tour with Brent Cobb and Them in Montana. “We played in church. I had family members in high school that played in the band. I was never an athlete, but I always had music.”
Jackson learned the drumming craft from family members, and before he even graduated from high school, Jackson had already begun his ascent in the music industry.
In the mid-2000s, Randy Halcomb of Enterprise decided to shoot a reality TV show called “Making of a Country Band,” focusing on the talents of teenagers in the Wiregrass area.
An enthusiastic Jackson, with drumsticks in hand, attended the first audition in February 2007 at the old Enterprise High School campus with big dreams. He and one other drummer made the finals of the competition.
“It always came down to me and this other guy,” Jackson, also known as “Juice” to those who know him, said. “I kinda won the position by default. We had a second audition. The other guy didn’t show up.”
The band that emerged from the competition eventually became The Springs, now just a duo featuring Halcomb’s son Stewart and his wife, Holly. As a band, though, The Springs toured locally for a few years before trying their luck in the hub of American country music, Nashville, Tennessee.
Nashville nights become more
Jackson and a couple of others split from The Springs after a stint in Nashville. Not wanting to surrender his musical career, he opted to turn solo – performing for various bands in a vast array of genres.
While Jackson arrived in Nashville with great confidence, he admitted a solo career in music has provided a litany of challenges.
“There were times when I asked myself, ‘What am I doing?’” Jackson said. “It’s a lot of work for a little pay.”
But Jackson said two pieces of advice buoyed him through the lean times. The first came from Halcomb.
“Mr. Halcomb said one of the ways to be successful is to make one good decision after the next, and that’s what I tried to do,” he said. “That’s what I tried to do, and I tried to have a little faith that something will work out.”
The other piece of advice came from an acquaintance he met in Nashville.
“He said, ‘It’s not about who has the most talent. It’s about who can stay with it the longest,’” Jackson said.
With that in mind, Jackson pressed on. He toured with The Matte Gray Band for a bit before a stint with The Farm landed his favorite gig to this date in 2014.
“I got to go to Qatar, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) playing for the troops,” he said. “Without them we couldn’t do what we do. That’s my favorite, with Jimmy Kimmel second.”
Earlier this year Cobb needed a drummer – and an act of kindness Jackson performed years ago earned him a shot to play with the “up and coming” singer from Georgia.
Jackson heard of the opening from Cobb’s bassist, someone he knew. The bassist secured an audition for Jackson, and as a final act of verification, Cobb talked to his roommate – someone who also knew Jackson.
The roommate relayed a story about how Jackson allowed him to borrow a pair of sunglasses. Jackson never asked for them back, something that resonated with him and Cobb.
Since April, Jackson has performed with Cobb.
Juice on the big stage
In June, the group learned it would appear on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on July 25. Of course Jackson greeted the news with elation.
On the day of the appearance, the band had just performed in Utah and flew into Los Angeles. Jackson said the band arrived at the studio on Hollywood Boulevard at 10 a.m. to unload their equipment, set up the equipment, conduct a sound check and shoot a two-song performance.
In between those actions, the band had down time as TV crews filmed other segments of the show. Despite the lengthy day, Jackson cherished the experience.
“I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from it,” he said.
While that has provided Jackson a recent highlight, Jackson has no plans on stopping. In fact, more great memories are in the future.
Brent Cobb and Them is currently on tour with Chris Stapleton and Marty Stuart through several states in the West. Beginning in September, though, the group will head out on its own European tour.
On the night his classmates conduct a 10-year reunion later this year, Jackson will be performing at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium – famously the home of the Grand Ole Opry.
“I’ve done so much, and there’s still so much to go,” he said.