The Energetics, Planet Patrol & Space Soul:JayQuan with Planet Patrol Founder Herb Jackson
Updated: Feb 11, 2021
In 1982 my 12 year old mind was blown by a song called Planet Rock, by Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force. As one who would read the liner notes, production credits and even the run out grooves on records; I noticed the credit: music by Planet Patrol. I wondered who comprised Planet Patrol. Were they studio musicians? Were they an extension of the Soul Sonic Force? At the last part of 1982 the question became even more complex when I heard a song called Play At Your Own Risk. It had the same beat as Planet Rock, but it contained more instrumentation, a different arrangement and some guys who sounded like a hyped up version of the Temptations warning this chick that, if she played with them, it was at her risk that they would set her free (set her free, set her free, set her free).
Play At Your Own Risk gave new life to Planet Rock and was blasted from every boom box, passing car & house party and it received heavy airplay on urban radio. The record was credited to Planet Patrol as the artists this time, and released on the same label as Planet Rock – Tommy Boy Records. If I had been fortunate enough to catch Planet Patrol perform on Soul Train in November of ’83 some of my questions would have been answered, but only some because with no music videos by the group, and not many outlets that aired music videos featuring Black artists in existence yet, I still had questions concerning the origins of this group. Even their 1983 full length lp didn’t have the group pictured on the cover, and there was no biographical info anywhere on the lp. Luckily in 2007 I had the opportunity to interview Michael Jonzun of the Jonzun Crew (MJ is a Bostonian like Planet Patrol, and was also label mates with the group), and I asked if Planet Patrol was just a random group of guys singing on the those tracks. Michael Jonzun informed me that Planet Patrol formerly went by the name The Energetics, and that they were a very important part of Boston’s Soul music history. It is my honor to speak with Herb Jackson of The Energetics & Planet Patrol.
JQ: It’s an honor to speak with you. Where were you born & raised and what were your early musical influences?
HJ: I was born & raised in Boston Massachusetts in a non-musical family, and I grew up mainly in the city of Roxbury. I was introduced to music through family parties and gatherings. I loved to dance as a kid, and I was first influenced by seeing and hearing James Brown back in the mid-sixties. I used to emulate James Brown, and I was convinced by my Aunt and Grandmother to get up and dance at one of our family gatherings. I was shy initially, but I noticed as I got into it, people started throwing quarters and 50 cent pieces at me. That was really motivation for me! I would do a split, put the money in my pocket and keep dancing. It became a regular thing at our gatherings, and I didn’t mind doing it because I could make money doing something that I loved anyway.
That was motivation for me to continue to become a great dancer. My Aunt and Grandmother lived in Brooklyn & Queens New York, and I would visit them in the summer, and do the same thing there. One day my Grandmother took me to the Brooklyn Theatre for a show, but she didn’t tell me beforehand who was performing. It ended up being Little Anthony & The Imperials, Jackie Wilson and a female group who I can’t remember. But I sat in the balcony and watched Jackie Wilson come out, slide across the stage and the light hit his suit and it changed colors. I thought that was the most amazing thing that I had ever seen, and it was then that I knew that I wanted to be an entertainer! It seemed like these performers had super powers, and I wanted to do that! And that’s basically what influenced me to be an entertainer.
JQ: I know that you were part of the Energetics. Is that the first group that you were involved with?
HJ: Yes JayQuan, over the years I looked for groups to join and I couldn’t find one. But I’d heard about the Energetics who ranged in age from about 9 to 15. They were the most popular group in Boston and other groups were trying to come up and compete. I was with a group of guys that I went to middle school with called the Witherspoons. They were four brothers, and I was the most experienced and fluid vocalist of the group. I auditioned for them and we got together and started singing, but one day my Aunt took me to a club in Roxbury that’s still here called the Hollands Tap where I saw The Energetics sing One Bad Apple by the Osmond Brothers and The Love You Save & ABC by The Jackson 5.
When I saw them I was floored because they sounded just like the records and they had the costumes, the choreography and a 4 piece band. They were performing in this hole in the wall on a stage that was no larger than 10 by 8 with 3 microphones and one microphone stand like the Temptations. I said to myself if I could get with these guys instead of the Witherspoons, I’d be much more advanced. Ironically my Aunt got me an audition with them. I did my James Brown songs and I did the Osmond Brothers song One Bad Apple and they told me that they would get back in touch with me because they were looking for a 5th member. I made the cut, started going to rehearsals with them; and that’s how I became a member of the most popular local boy band The Energetics.
JQ: What year was that?
HJ: That was between 1971 and ’73.
JQ: So the Come Down To Earth album in ’79 was the Energetics first record deal?
HJ: The first major label deal, yes. We tried to get deals with various people from the time I got in the group until around ’78 or so. We went before some very prominent producers, song writers and record companies. We did some local things, then we got interviewed by Gene Redd Jr, who was connected to Philly International and wrote a lot of Kool & The Gang’s music back in the day. He came and saw us at a club in Boston called Roscoe’s lounge. The owner Roscoe Gorham would later become our manager. Gene fell in love with us, and took us to the studio to produce some demos on us. It didn’t work out with Gene, but in the interim we got an opportunity to audition for Leon Huff of Philly International Records. We got the chance to see his desk with the HUFF in giant letters.
Well our initial interview with Leon Huff didn’t work out too well because our voices were shot, we were tired and hungry after driving more than 8 hours from Boston to Philly, and we had car problems on the way. It was a nightmare. Leon told us to return the next day after we had gotten some rest. When we were leaving Philly International, we met Sam Peake who played sax on Shame by Evelyn Champagne King. Sam said that he would work with us if it didn’t work out with Leon Huff. Consequently it didn’t work out with Leon because Philly International was in the process of signing the Jacksons who were leaving Motown, so the Jacksons kind of just bumped us right outta the box. So after Philly we drove all the way to Los Angeles, California and we met up with Eddie & Brian Holland & Lamont Dozier and they produced 9 songs on the Energetics and that became our first album, which was released on Atlantic Records and titled Come Down To Earth.
JQ: How did that album perform?
HJ: Well they actually released it regionally and test marketed it. But JayQuan, music at that time was going through a few transitional changes in genres. It went from Soulful R&B to dancing and disco mania then from disco to techno & Hip Hop dance music. The Energetics Down To Earth album was disco-ish, but disco was fading out and the techno & rap was beginning to emerge on the scene as the new genre for the decade. The album sold about 50,000 copies in various markets so it didn’t do too well, and that didn’t allow us to remain on the label and do another project. It did take us to various parts of Switzerland, Berlin, Germany and throughout all of the provinces of Canada, and it allowed us to perform our own music versus doing cover songs and that’s a beautiful thing. So when the album didn’t do well Atlantic dropped us and we were on the verge of giving up and throwing in the towel. Even our manager at the time had exhausted his funds that he was investing in the group. It was those funds that sustained us until we got our deal with Atlantic. Then the Johnson Brothers aka Maurice Starr & Michael Jonzun of the Jonzun Crew connected us to Tommy Boy Records through Arthur Baker.
Maurice at the time actually wanted to take us on & manage us and get us a record deal, but our current manager wasn’t having it because of how much he had invested in the group until that point. Maurice was a bit disappointed that he couldn’t have the Energetics - who he was crazy about – he advised us and mentored us, then he was motivated to get his own group. And this is the truth and the history that will be in my book as far as the birth of New Edition. He held the talent search at the local high school, he discovered and mentored New Edition for about a year and he even asked me to be their choreographer, but I declined because we were establishing our relationship with Arthur Baker as Planet Patrol. We were finishing up our album and I could not see doing that and fulfilling my role in Planet Patrol. One thing that I want to add JayQuan is that when we were still the Energetics Arthur Baker sat me down and asked If I was interested in becoming Planet Patrol and I said no, and the group said no as well. We were the Energetics and we had established that name. We were known on the East Coast, in Canada and all throughout Europe. How can you just come and change our name? We were young and naïve and didn’t understand the business. And the name Planet Patrol was already established worldwide from the Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force record (Planet Rock). Arthur Baker & John Robie were actually going be Planet Patrol, but he was interested in putting a group together also and if we took the gig, our names would be household for years to come. Arthur convinced me, but I had a hard time convincing the group. But we were all exhausted and even though we got the Atlantic deal, from ’79-’81 was a 2 year struggle to stay together as a group. But Arthur stepped in in ’81, we recorded the album and the rest is history.
JQ: As a group that came up in the 70’s singing Soul music , and doing an almost disco record in ’79, produced by Holland Dozier Holland were you pleased with the outcome of this electro record that was your first single (Play At Your Own Risk)?
HJ: I wanna thank you JayQuan for asking that particular question, and I just dealt with that question in a chapter of my book. The thing about music that’s great is how it evolves. We emulated the Temptations and the Jackson 5 when we danced. We sang like The Temptations, The Whispers, The 4 Tops, The Jackson 5, Blue Magic and Black Ivory. That’s who we emulated. That’s how we were raised musically. We could harmonize, we could sing leads, ad libs and it was authentic R&B singing & showmanship.
In the transition of us becoming Planet Patrol, Arthur sent me the tracks and they were techno, electro, European, electronic funk, Planet Rock type tracks. And as we sat around listening we were like “what the hell is this? It’s like Space Music”. He asked us to write to the tracks and see what we could come up with, and brother we were so lost trying to write to those tracks. It was so outer space for us that we didn’t know where to begin. We were wondering where the Spinners and 4 Tops style of music was. That was nothing at all like what he sent us, and we initially were not pleased at all, and we felt that it would be a disaster. We already had to change our name, and now the music was electro.
So Arthur took us up to New York to record and he says Herbie you sing the falsetto (because I had the Eddie Kendricks falsetto), Joseph had the second tenor David Ruffin/Dennis Edwards voice and our Melvin Franklin had the same voice as Melvin Franklin (Blue) from the Temptations. Which was coincidental.
JQ: Wow, that’s crazy. I got into the biggest debate with this cat who kept trying to tell me that Melvin Franklin from the Temps sang on Play At Your Own Risk, and he kept telling me that Melvin Franklin was part of Planet Patrol. Of course I was really clowning the dude. I see the source of the confusion now. That is a big coincidence. Same name and same vocal style.
HJ: Yeah that was a crazy coincidence. So much so that Record World, Billboard and some of the other trade magazines started calling us the Temptations of the 80’s when they reviewed us. And when you listen to Play At Your Own Risk with my falsetto, the bass & tenor parts - people knew that we could really sing. And that’s what made that such a powerful song the soulful vocals infused with that techno/electronic beat. It was a great chemistry & formula for a new sound. Once we saw how it was gonna work, we spent 3 and a half days in the studio day & night recording the album. We slept and ate in the studio – doing tracks & stacking vocals. It was a style created for us and by us with Arthur Baker & John Robie.
JQ: So who wrote Play At Your Own Risk. Did you guys write that or did they?
HJ: They wrote that. The only song that I wrote with them on was Danger Zone. We contributed some things on other songs, but that’s the only one where we were credited. But you have to be about your business, and at that point in our careers, we were more concerned with chasing girls, doing drugs and being stars.
JQ: Now you were the last person to join the Energetics, but you referred to yourself in our previous conversation as the founder of Planet Patrol.
HJ: We didn’t have a manager, and I assumed the managerial role of getting us gigs prior to us becoming Planet Patrol. I was the group spokesperson and leader, choreographer, and I coordinated radio & television interviews and all of that stuff. I actually held the Energetics together. After the Atlantic album flopped in ’79 I told the guys to give me one year, and if I couldn’t make anything happen in a year, then we could just dissolve the group. When Arthur reached out to us, some way he found me. He called me at home and I was shocked to get the call from him. We talked and I began to negotiate with him, and then I persuaded the guys to take this opportunity and that’s how I became the founder of Planet Patrol through Arthur Baker.
JQ: By the time you guys did Play At Your Own Risk the only huge rap records were Rappers Delight, The Message & Planet Rock. As singers how did you guys feel about rap music. Did you respect it?
HJ: As singers we felt insulted. But we did shows with Sugar Hill Gang, Whodini, Melle Mel and all those guys. But the biggest rap act that we did a show with back then was Run DMC. We did a club in the college section of Boston called Mount Thisis with them .They had It’s Like That out at the time. They were telling us how huge our music was in the city and we told them that singing over Electro beats was the next big thing. They all looked at us like each one of us had 4 heads and they told us that we were crazy. They said that rap was about to take over everything. We were like nah man, no way…. Well you see what happened right?
JQ: Yes!...lol. Did all of the Energetics members become Planet Patrol members?
HJ: No, 2 members left during that period between ‘77-’79. They both actually went into the ministry and have churches here in Boston. John Withers the III. He was the leader, choreographer and spokesperson, and when he left I took over his role. And Roscoe Mills left as well. We replaced them with Michael Jones and Rodney Butler.
JQ: What’s your favorite Planet Patrol song?
HJ: Don’t Tell Me is my favorite. I believe that it could have been a huge hit, had the label pushed it. We had some good songs on that album. Cheap Thrills, Danger Zone, Didn’t Know I Loved You ‘Til I Saw You Rock & Roll.
JQ: How was the business at Tommy Boy?
HJ: That’s in my book, but I will say this: we weren’t business savvy and we weren’t knowledgeable about being business men. We were more entertainers, and worried about becoming stars. Tom Silverman (Tommy Boy Records CEO & founder) took us all out to dinner at this swanky New York restaurant. He said to us “you guys are phenomenally gifted singers. You can dance better than anyone. Your live performance & showmanship is mesmerizing, the only thing that you need to do is handle your business”. We didn’t know what he meant. We had a record deal and were signed to him. But we found out that we actually had a production deal with Arthur Baker and he had the contract through Tommy Boy. But he was telling us to handle our business and we never got it.
JQ: The ol’ production deal. Did you see the New Edition movie?
HJ: Yeah man, that’s what inspired me to get back into writing my book. I got up the day after I saw that movie and wrote like 7 chapters in a couple of days. I was right there for that history!
JQ: Im a big fan of Don Cornelius and Soul Train, and I have the episode with you guys & Al Green. How was the experience recording Soul Train & how was Don Cornelius?
HJ: I wanna thank you again brother for asking me some of these questions.You’ve really stirred my memory and given me some different topics for my book. I’ll tell you a couple of things about Soul Train. A&M Soundstage Studios is where Soul train was taped. You couldn’t fraternize with any of the dancers. That was a no no. You would get fined, penalized or possibly kicked off the show. You know the Asian chicks with the long hair that used to dance on the show? One of the members of the group couldn’t help himself and he had to slide her his number at the hotel and all that. The dressing rooms are in trailers on the set, and we were there with Al Green, Midnight Star & Atlantic Starr. We filmed a couple of episodes. We were indulging in cocaine back in those days like many groups did.
We hit a few lines in the dressing room, and went out and did our thing. We had on these white capes and they had to do the light balance and everything because those white capes were causing a glare. We had to have the lights off, and then they came on when we threw the capes off for Cheap Thrills. We didn’t talk to Don at all until it was time to do the interview on stage. He didn’t socialize with us, but he was kickin’ it with Al Green. I guess if you’re a legend and you’ve been on a few times he would rock with you, but not the newbies. We did a couple of takes, but it was definitely no more than 3, because we had our choreography down. They were lovin’ us. They called us some dancing and singing fools, because we sang on there too. The vocals were there on the track, but we sang on top of ‘em too. Al Green messed up a few times. It’s a union venue so they pay you by check. I think it was 3 or 4 hundred dollars per man. The limo picks you up and takes you back to your hotel and that’s it.
JQ: That’s great information. What’s next on the horizon for Planet Patrol?
HJ: We are about to release a new song called Do You Believe. It’s an inspirational song about hope, triumph and overcoming adversity if you just believe in yourself and a higher power. It will hopefully be released this Fall. And I'm working on a couple of books, one of which is about my experiences with the Energetics, Planet Patrol & the entertainment business.
JQ: That’s great brother. Keep me posted and thank you for your time.