Grammy-nominated songwriter Tim Jackson partnered up with Ike Bartley for a song they hope will bring peace to a divided world.
SANTA ROSA BEACH – Not too long ago and for the first time in his life, Tim Jackson grappled with writer’s block.
The Santa Rosa Beach songwriter writes at the same frequency as he eats meals, but suddenly couldn’t muster a lyric. Inspiration struck after Jackson visited his son Lyndon in Tallahassee and they stumbled upon a Black Lives Matter protest and march following the murder of George Floyd.
His grandson, Madden, was deeply moved by the scene.
"My grandson made a statement to me that he didn’t feel like it was right what happened to that man," Jackson said. "He didn’t say, ’I don’t think it’s right what happened to that black man.’ He said, ‘I don’t think it’s right what happened to that man.’ I was looking in his eyes and he knew that the police had taken the life of this guy, but he didn’t understand why. Then Lyndon, my son, looked at me with almost the same kind of look and said, ‘Dad, it was so powerful hearing all these people.’"
Tim Jackson immediately got in his car, drove home, sat down and – in 10 minutes – had a new song before him, "I Sing Hallelujah."
"That song was gifted to me," Jackson said. "I didn’t set out to write it that way. There was no agenda of what to write, except the emotions I had felt from my son and grandson and daughter-in-law. Sometimes we’re just given songs and that’s one that was given to me."
Well there’s a part of me that must protest/He’s 12 years old but he feels the stress/That’s my grandson standing on the street/Well it’s true what they say, history does repeat – "I Sing Hallelujah"
Tim Jackson presented the song to his brother, Tommy Jackson, the founder of the record label First Note Entertainment, which has a 90-acre retreat and studio along County 393 in Walton County.
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"I called him over and I said, ‘Tim, this is crazy big. This is crazy powerful,’" Tommy Jackson said. "I said, ‘I can’t just go into the studio with this song. In my mind, it’s not finished because it’s going to be viewed really one-sided. It’s a song of love. For that to be represented, I think there’s only one person that I will let sing this song.’"
The Jackson brothers had the same person in mind – Ike Bartley, their friend since the 1990s.
"The reason why Tommy and I knew (Bartley) was the right person for the song is it was very important for this song to not become this big production," Tim Jackson said. "The simplicity had to stay as it was when I wrote the song. In order to say true to the song, (Bartley) is the only person who could have done this. When I called (Bartley) about doing it, he said, ‘Let me hear it and I’ll see.’ When he got back in touch, he said, ‘That brought tears to my eyes. I’d like to do this and be a part of it.’"
What Bartley identified in the song was what everyone seeks – the truth.
"I examined every line of the song – in these times, you want to do the right thing," Bartley said. "Once I heard it and the way everything came across to me, I could validate every line of the song was something I could represent. We’re supposed to love God and love our neighbors. If we all do that, then things will be better. What I’m hoping is that this will have that kind of effect on everyone who hears it."
The song is soothing, too, he said.
"It’s the kind of song you can listen to over and over and don’t get tired of it," Bartley said. "And it’s informative every time you listen to it, if you examine every line in the song. Tim is a great songwriter, and I’m happy to be a part of it."
Bartley knows why they chose him.
"He knew and I knew we weren’t going to do it 12 times to make it perfect," Bartley said. "When you do it 12 times to get it right, you lose a lot in it."
Once they recruited Bartley to sing the first two verses, they went into "full-blown production," Tim Jackson said. Producer Andrew Rudd was conveniently in town.
"To be in a studio singing a vocal at 12:30 at night is pretty unusual for me," Tim Jackson said. "I was doing a vocal at midnight so (Bartley) could be ready to do this the next morning."
They quickly decided to create a support video, recruiting videographer Shawn Yabui.
"I’ve done a lot of videos with (Yabui) – called him up and said, ‘Is there any way possible you can do this?’ because I knew it would be close to his heart," Tim Jackson said. "He listened to the song and said, ‘I’ll drop what I’m doing and do it. This is really important.’"
"This thing, from start to finish was written, recorded, mastered, the video shot, edited and put out within no more than two days," Tommy Jackson added.
The video is modestly shot, featuring only Tim Jackson and Bartley singing side-by-side as Madden holds up a sign facing the street. They didn’t want any distractions from the message.
"We wanted it to be as simple as the song – that’s gotta be one of the most simple songs I’ve written in my life," Tim Jackson said. "What was really cool, there was a very famous record producer who commented on the song and his description was, ’A very simplistic approach to a complex situation.’ I thought that was probably one of the biggest compliments the song could’ve gotten. We wanted the video to be that as well. It couldn’t be any more straight up – two guys sitting there who share a lot of history and we feel the same way."
You can paint it black/You paint it white/Pick a side/Who’s wrong or right – "I Sing Hallelujah"
They didn’t go to great lengths to stage anything for the video, Tim Jackson stressed.
"The honesty from (Bartley) and I and also from my grandson Madden – he was serious," Tim Jackson said. "We didn’t tell him what to do. He made his own sign and he went out there with conviction by himself. It’s amazing what one person can do. One person can change the world. I sat there watching my grandson, like the song says, hold that sign with so much pride and so much heart, it really makes me tear up knowing my 12-year-old grandson has that kind of heart."
"I’m a very emotional person, and it was really kind of hard for me to hold it together, watching Madden do the whole thing," Bartley said.
The response was overwhelming.
"Tim’s a very good songwriter — been nominated for two Grammys and he’s been able to write with the best writers in the world – but he doesn’t have a huge following," Tommy Jackson said. "When we launched it on Facebook, his goal was 1,500 views. When we had 1,500 views in the first 30 minutes, we were like, ‘What’s happening? We don’t understand.’"
The video has since had more than 149,000 views and 4,000 shares on Facebook.
First Note Entertainment has eight full-time songwriters, who have songs on the radio, on TV and in film.
"We’ve had things written that have messages we were proud of," Tommy Jackson said. "Nothing has ever been adopted by strangers from all across the world."
What Tim Jackson hopes for the song is that it will quiet the noisy world.
"The anxiety level of the world seems to be so high," Tim Jackson said. "My hope was that when the song was finished and I listened back to what was written, I was like, ‘I hope it makes people feel love and peace.’"
So I’ll sing hallelujah late at night when I get home/And I’ll wonder to myself/How long can this go on – "I Sing Hallelujah"