#420: Master Jack by Four Jacks And A Jill
Peak Month: June 1968
7 weeks on Vancouver’s CKLG’s chart
1 week Hit Bound
Peak Position #2
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #18
YouTube.com link: “Master Jack”
“Master Jack” lyrics
Clive Harding was born in South Africa in 1944. At the age of eighteen he met Graham Woods in October 1962. Woods was in a band called The Atoms. Harding agreed to join the band if he could be the leader. The band changed their name to the Nevadas just before Graham Woods died from injuries sustained in a car crash in January 1963. Till Hannemann and Tony Hughes were among the new members of the ever-changing lineup in the Nevadas. The band changed their name again to the Zombies (different from the Zombies in the UK who had a hit called “She’s Not There”). The South African Zombies wore Beatles haircuts. At a concert in Cape Town the Zombies met Glenys Lynne Mynott who was a solo recording artist. She soon became a member of the Zombies, and shortly they changed their name to Glenys & the Zombies.
Glenys Lynne Mynott was from Boksburg, South Africa. She began singing when she was twelve. When she was fifteen, Mynott won the nationwide “Search For Talent” contest. Subsequently, she came in second place in L.M. Radio’s “Talent Parade” in Lourenço Marques, Mozambique. At age sixteen Glenys Lynne Mynott recorded her debut album, Teenage Time, with Columbia Records. After graduation from school, Glenys sang with the Harold Roy Band in Benoni, Gauteng, in northeastern South Africa for seven months. In 1962 she starred in Jy’s Lieflik Vanaand (You’re Wonderful Tonight) in which she sang the song “‘n Bietjie Te Jonk” (“A Little Too Young”). Next she went on a four-month tour of South Africa with Johnny Kongos and the G-Men. In 1963 she released her first single “Not Because I’m Bad”, this time with RCA. Then in 1964 she got a four- year record deal with Teal Records.
In January 1965 Glenys & the Zombies went on tour in South Africa opening for Peter And Gordon, who sang their international hits “A World Without Love”, “Nobody I Know” “I Go To Pieces” and “True Love Ways”. As the year moved along, more and more bands in South Africa were adopting Beatles haircuts and playing “beat” music. The manager of Glenys & the Zombies decided to change their look, cut their hair, and forge a folk-pop sound. They were also given a new name: Four Jacks And A Jill. At this point the group consisted of Glenys Lynne on vocals, Clive Harding on bass guitar, Tony Hughes on drums, and Bruce Bark on guitar.
In 1966 Four Jacks And A Jill had a Top Ten hit in South Africa titled “Jimmy Come Lately”. The song was a cover of the 1962 Brian Hyland hit “Ginny Come Lately”, which peaked at #9 in Vancouver (BC). The song was written by Gary Geld and Peter Udell who also wrote Hyland’s #3 hit in the USA, “Sealed With A Kiss”.
This was followed by several Top 20 hits in South Africa: “No Other Baby” and “The House With The White-Washed Gable”. The former song had some baroque-pop accents, and the latter had some British Dance Hall effects. They had a number-one hit in South Africa in the fall of 1967 titled “Timothy”. But their biggest success came with the recording of “Master Jack”. At the time of the recording Till Hannemann had joined Four Jacks And A Jill as an additional guitarist.
The lyrics assert the right of individuals to their own interpretation of the world as “Master Jack” presents it to them. Upon release “Master Jack” the consensus of journalists and South African citizens was that the lyrics were being critical of the pro-Apartheid propaganda of the far-right National Party elected by the country’s white minority. Specifically, “Master Jack” could be interpreted as a reference to Prime Minister, B.J. Vorster, who styled himself “John” Vorster. He became Prime Minister after Hendrik Verwoerd was assassinated. Years later Glenys Lynne commented that “In certain mines the foreman is called ‘Master Jack’, and the song tells the story of a labourer who works diligently for this master for years and years and then decides to go out on his own and exercise his desires and aspirations as an individual to be something other than a labourer.” However, songwriter David Marks wrote the song on September 10, 1966, the day South African Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd was assassinated. And it seems that South Africa’ political turmoil and the Apartheid system was on the songwriters mind.
In the lyrics the person who is subservient to “Master Jack” exclaims “It’s a strange, strange world we live in Master Jack.” Master Jack has taught those under him “to tie up all your problems and make them look neat, and then to sell them to the people in the street.” This seems more like what politicians and journalists do, by framing a topic in a certain way to persuade ordinary people how to understand things. The servant of Master Jack sees the manipulation and propaganda for what it is: “I saw right through the way you started teachin’ me now, so some day soon you could get to use me somehow.” The matter of how Master Jack seeks to manage the perceptions of those who must follow his directives is challenged in the final verse:
You taught me all the things the way you’d like them to be
But I’d like to see if other people agree
It’s all very int’resting the way you disguise
But I’d like to see the world through my own eyes.
Hendrick Verwoerd had described apartheid as a “policy of good neighbourliness.” Apartheid regulations forbid any non-white person from registering to attend an “open university” without the written permission of the Minister of Internal Affairs. Pass laws were adopted with the intent to control and direct the movement and employment of black residents, who were subject to influx control measures into urban areas. Individuals over sixteen were required to carry passbooks, which contained an identity card, employment and influx authorisation from a labour bureau, name of employer and address, and details of personal history. The passbook laws were met with protests which, on one occasion resulted in the Sharpeville Massacre of 69 people in a crowd of 20,000 protesters on March 21, 1960.
The Apartheid regime forbid any sports or cultural body from including black South African residents from being on its team, music group, orchestra, dance or theatrical performance. South Africa was banned from participating in the Olympics as a result of their laws. Additionally, South Africa refused to receive any ambassador or diplomat from any other nation who was black. Under Apartheid, non-white voters were also stripped of their right to vote in national elections, giving only white people the right to vote. Trains, hospitals and ambulances were segregated. Dating, sexual relations and marriage between a white and non-white person was a criminal offense.
As well, 20 Bantustans (homelands) were established in land-locked regions, each surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. This made residents of the Bantustans non-residents of South Africa, and granted nominal autonomy. Those living in the Bantustans carried passports instead of passbooks. And the nation segregated itself between white, Indian, coloured and black. In the song “Master Jack” the songs’ narrator tells Master Jack “you took a coloured ribbon right out of the sky, and taught me how to use it as the years went by.” The reference to the ribbon may be a reference to rainbows, and the diversity of ethnic skin-tone. As the song “Master Jack” observed later in the decade, it was “a strange strange world” for people living in the Republic of South Africa.
On November 6, 1962, the United Nations passed Resolution 1761. The resolution deemed apartheid and the policies enforcing it to be a violation of South Africa’s obligations under the UN Charter and a threat to international peace and security. Additionally, the resolution requested Member States to break off diplomatic relations with South Africa, to cease trading with South Africa (arms exports in particular), and to deny passage to South African ships and aircraft.
In 1962 Nelson Mandela, a young organizer for the Africa National Congress was arrested in South Africa, with the help of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency. At his trial in 1964, Mandela gave his three-hour “I Am Prepared To Die” speech. He concluded it by remarking, “During my lifetime…. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for. But, my Lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Mandela was sentenced to 27 years and imprisoned at Robben Island.
“Master Jack” was written by David Marks (born Spiros D. Markantonatos). He also wrote “Mr. Nico” for the group. Marks toured the USA as a sound engineer. He also mixed and designed sound for many of Africa’s marquee festivals in Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Botswana, Malawi and Angola as well as in Europe. Marks has documented and recorded what was to become the “Hidden Years Story” of recording artists from the classic rock ‘n roll era.
“Master Jack” was one of a number of songs about racial prejudice that appeared on the pop charts in the Sixties and in the following decades. In 1965 Sam Cooke posthumously charted “A Change Is Gonna Come” to #5 on the Vancouver (BC) pop charts. The song was inspired by Cooke’s experience of being turned away from a hotel booking in Louisiana when hotel staff refused to honor his reservation once it was obvious he and his band were black. Sonny Charles sang “Black Pearl” in 1969, about African-American women working as domestic workers because they won’t get hired for better paying jobs, and a reference to beauty shows that don’t choose “black” women because of their skin color. In Stevie Wonder’s “Living For The City” the narrator describes the circumstances of his family members. “Her brother’s smart he’s got more sense than many/his patience’s long but soon he won’t have any. To find a job is like a haystack needle/Cause where he lives they don’t use colored people.” War recorded “The World Is A Ghetto”, a song that lamented the run-down neighborhoods of African-Americans, while lauding the love they share that can offer a kind of paradise. And the Temptations in “Masterpiece” described the “rat infested” tenements that many African-Americans lived in “and no one’s interested.” Racism was systemic, and political decisions impacting housing, skill training and community-police relations created an environment that hampered the efforts of many living in the ghetto from getting ahead.
“Master Jack” peaked at #1 in Edmonton (AB), Winnipeg (MB), Canton (OH) and Toronto, #2 in Vancouver (BC), Eau Claire (WI), Denver, La Crosse (WI), Vancouver (WA), Billings (MT) and Ames (IA), #3 in Madison (WI), Syracuse (NY) and Jackson (MI), #4 in Cincinnati (OH), Charleston (SC) and Houston, #5 in Des Moines (IA), Chicago, Sault Ste. Marie (ON), Minneapolis/St. Paul and Newport News (VA), #6 in Salt Lake City, Boston, Philadelphia and Regina (SK), #7 in York (PA), Tulsa (OK) and Hamilton (ON), #8 in Reading (PA), San Diego, San Francisco, Fort St. John (BC) and Erie (PA), #9 in Columbus (OH), Louisville (KY) and Miami, and #10 in Milwaukee (WI), Cleveland, Burlington (VT) and Pittsburgh. But over ten states across the USA, the single got little chart action. Nationally in the USA, “Master Jack” peaked at #18 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Over fifty years since “Master Jack” was a hit in Vancouver (BC), the song still resonates as news stories depict the strange ways people are treated in various nations and societies because of the color of their skin.
In South Africa, “Master Jack” spent fifteen weeks in the Top Ten, and five non-consecutive weeks at number-one between February 2, 1968 and March 22, 1968. The next single release by Four Jacks And A Jill was “Mister Nico”, which in August ’68 peaked at #2 in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Their subsequent release, “Hey Mister”, climbed into the Top 30 in Calgary and Lethbridge (AB) that winter.
In March 1968, Four Jacks and a Jill were the supporting act for Canadian singer Lucille Starr and her husband Bob Reagan on their South African tour. On June 21, 1968, Four Jacks And A Jill flew to Hamburg, Germany where they appeared on the German television program, Schaubude, in colour. They travelled to Holland where they were featured in a made-for-TV film. Several TV appearances followed in London, England. Then the group flew to America for a tour. This included an appearance in the WVOK-AM Summer Spectacular in Birmingham, Alabama, alongside Herman’s Hermits, The Troggs, The Ohio Express, The Buckinghams, and Boyce and Hart. Four Jacks And A Jill were guests on the Jerry Lewis Telethon which had a viewership of 20 million people. Four Jacks and a Jill also performed in Tampa (FL), Montgomery (AL), Buffalo (NY), and Muskegon (MI).
Sandie Alvey Thurston, recalls : “Back in the late 1960’s, the 4 Jacks & A Jill drove through my town, Dumfries, Virginia, while on their US tour. They stopped for the night at the Holiday Inn where I was the night desk clerk on duty at the time. They were hungry, and there were no restaurants opened at that time of night, so I brought them to my house for tomato sandwiches. They stayed for a while, sitting on our dock talking, and left town the next morning. I lost track of them after that, but have always wondered if they remembered me and my family.”
Four Jacks And A Jill did more touring in Germany and Holland before returning to North America. They gave a concert in Montreal and toured Nova Scotia with The Sandpipers and Mitch Ryder. They performed in concert in in Montgomery, Alabama, at the WBAM-AM winter show. They shared the stage with Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, Billy Joe Royal, Davy Jones (of The Monkees), Andy Kim, The Buckinghams, The Grassroots and others. They also performed in Atlanta, Washington D.C., New York City, Philadelphia and Columbus (OH).
In 1969 Four Jacks and a Jill won South Africa’s SARIE Award in the category Best Beat Group. In 1970 Percy Sledge was allowed to perform before an all-white audience, but Four Jacks And A Jill were not allowed by the Apartheid government to sing at a concert for a black audience. More tours to various countries in Europe, Africa, Australia and New Zealand followed. Till Hanneman left the group at the end of 1969.
In 1974 Four Jacks And A Jill had a Top 20 hit in South Africa with “Universal Feeling”. By 1983 Four Jacks And A Jill had toured to South America, North America, Europe, Africa and Australia/New Zealand. Their seventh and final album, Sell A Million, was released in 1976.
In 1982, Tony Hughes left the group. Then in 1983 Glenys and husband Clive (who married in the late ’60s) became born-again Christians. They dedicated their lives and music to the Lord and, after recording a Gospel album in 1983, Clive disbanded Four Jacks And A Jill. Four Jacks and a Jill performed at over 3500 concerts during their 18 years of touring. Tony Hughes became an insurance executive in greater Johannesburg. Bruce Bark has continued to perform as a musician.
July 10, 2020
“About Us,” 4JacksAndAJill.co.za.
Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, (Back Bay Books, 1995).
“Four Jacks And A Jill Scored At No. 18,” Lewiston Tribune, Lewiston, Idaho, April 14, 2006.
“David Marks (Songwriter),” Wikipedia.org.
“Boss 30,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, June 1, 1968.
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