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'It's a labour of love'

The Reminder is making its archives back to 2003 available on our website. Please note that, due to technical limitations, archive articles are presented without the usual formatting.

The Reminder is making its archives back to 2003 available on our website. Please note that, due to technical limitations, archive articles are presented without the usual formatting.

It's nearing 2 o'clock on Thursday afternoon and one of the biggest names in Canadian entertainment, Tom Jackson, has just stepped onto the stage at the R.H. Channing Auditorium. Still dressed in the blue jeans and a tie he wore at a speaking engagement earlier in the day, the performer makes his way to a stubby stool to begin a brief sound check for the evening's concert, his first in Flin Flon since the 1970s. While it may be just an informal warm-up, the seasoned entertainer soon captivates his small entourage with precision guitar skills and a warm, baritone voice. Following the brief musical treat, the spectators still seem in awe of Jackson's raw talent and engaging style. After years of hearing his music on television and radio, it's hard for Canadians to fathom Jackson not sharing his musical gifts. But had his original career aspirations bore fruit, we would be watching him on TSN rather than CMT. "I wanted to be a world-champion snooker player Ñ I wanted to be the best pool player in the world," he says with a slight smile. "I was good enough to make me believe that I could reach a higher level, but I never actually went there. Who knows, at the end of the day I might not have had the talent to reach those aspirations, but that's what I wanted to do." Thankfully for the millions of fans of Jackson's music, fate intervened. Although he came from a musical family and owned a guitar as a child, Jackson didn't turn to music until he was 15. That's when he met Graham Jones, the program director at a Winnipeg Indian-Metis Friendship Centre and a member of a musical trio. "I was a great admirer of him and his group. They were just unbelievable, and I was inspired by what they did," Jackson recalls. "I then asked Graham if he would teach me how to play guitar." Graham agreed and helped set the wheels in motion for an amazing career that today shows no signs of slowing down. As he mastered the guitar, Jackson simultaneously taught himself how to sing, inspired by the likes of Kris Kristofferson and Paul Simon. The native of the tiny One Arrow reservation in Saskatchewan was green when it came to vocals and admits that it showed. "I'm positive that when I started singing, I probably was pretty pitchy. I was probably not that great," he laughs. Eventually Jackson became part of the lounge scene in Winnipeg and beyond, playing in smoke-filled rooms with bands with names such as The Damaged Goods. Eleven albums and more than two decades later, he clearly has no regrets about his chosen field. "It's a labour of love," says Jackson. "With any labour of love, it never feels like work." Of course, music isn't the only area of expertise for the 54-year-old, as his resume is also filled with a variety of acting roles. He first stepped behind the camera to read stories for segments on Sesame Street. It wasn't an acting gig per say, but it was enough to lead to an unexpected invitation to a 1981 audition for the Prairie Theatre Exchange's production of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe. See 'Music' P.# Con't from P.# "Somebody had suggested to the director of the play that I was an actor, so I told him, 'Well no, I'm not,'" recalls Jackson. "But I did the reading for it and got the part. The secret is, I actually knew the soliloquies of Dan George, who had previously played the role that I was auditioning for. I knew his soliloquies because there was a record of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe that I was familiar with." Jackson, who had no acting experience or training, shone in his role and followed the production all the way to New York City. More acting jobs came his way over the years, including roles on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Chicago Hope and North of 60, the critically-acclaimed CBC series on which he starred for six seasons. Along the way, Jackson received nominations for a Genie award and two Gemini awards, proving beyond a doubt that he had succeeded in a second creative field. Still, music remained his first love. "I enjoy playing now as much or more than I did when I was young," says Jackson. "Acting, I have found in the last couple of years a new level of enjoyment with that, too. But I think I like playing music just a teeny little bit more than I like acting, and I like acting a lot." In addition to singing and acting, Jackson is fast becoming known for a third attribute Ñ generosity. A man with the less fortunate always in mind, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2000, received the Queen's Jubilee medal in 2002 and was named by Time magazine as one of the nation's best activists. "I understand in my world what it means to reap the seeds of what you sow," he says. "The seeds that I am most efficient at sowing are kindness and smiling, and making people smile. That's where I get my greatest rewards. I know why Santa Claus loves his job." Jackson's success seems unprecedented for a man who dropped out of school at 15, spent seven years living on the streets of Winnipeg and battled drug addiction as recently as 1988. It's because of that dark past that he is reluctant to acknowledge himself as a role model in the aboriginal community, which he undoubtedly is. "A lot of the things that I have had happen or that I was part of or caused to happen in my life are darker and should not necessarily be looked upon as me being a role model," he says. "So I have to question myself as to whether or not my influence with everyone has been a great thing, because I haven't always influenced everybody in the right way. I made some mistakes." Whatever errors in judgment he may have made, Tom Jackson certainly proves that the past does not dictate the future.