We all know the tale which has become the stuff of legend but something that is often not talked about are the young boys and girls who also discovered the music, the culture, and the love and who have grown, matured and passed on those glorious memories to a new generation.
One such former lad who can tell the story is Don Jackson, more commonly known as Headstrong. In 2005 and with nearly 16 years having passed since the explosion, his memories haven’t faded and indeed the essence of those years still reside within him.
In a heartfelt chat with RA, he tells us about his struggles to finally break through, how one of his idols has taken him under his wings, and how life’s heartaches always arrive when you least expect it.
Don Jackson is like many inspiring music producers who sit inside their bedroom, their basement, or their studio, and make endless amounts of music because they enjoy it. Money has not been the driving force that has made him pursue a career in music, but the experience and connections it offers.
“Around ’89, ‘90, and ‘91 was an amazing time. The atmosphere everywhere was electric; I was making so many new friends from all over the U.K and having a great time everywhere I went. Everyone was enjoying a brand new scene with a new kind of music. The vibe was awesome,” recalls Jackson.
Listening to him speak, you can tell how refreshing it must have been back then; how profound an experience it was to have a spiritual and emotional connection with strangers and friends alike, converging at small parties with this new music that had just been discovered by the UK's youth.
His fascination was cemented when he first journeyed to Leeds and Wakefield and then “The Eclipse” in Coventry. Right at the time, some of the most influential DJs to have ever graced turntables were getting recognized for their ability to move the crowds in droves - Sasha, Oakenfold, Carl Cox and the Prodigy just hitting the headlines with “Charlie” still providing him with fond memories to this day.
For a name like Headstrong, you'd think Jackson would be a stubborn man with his own set of rules, but in fact nothing could be further from the truth. “I just wanted to record under a name that was one word and easy to remember. I’ve always been ambitious so the name seemed to suite my personality".
I first discovered Headstrong’s music via an MP3 copy of one of his songs, ‘Euphoria Sunset.’ Having not listened to many trance songs in some time, I prepared for the worst but was in fact pleasantly surprised. It was circa ’94 trance. Hearing undiscovered talent can be exciting; finding new songs and artists that few know can make you feel that little bit special for knowing something not every Tom, Dick, or Jane does.
When I asked Headstrong how the initial support of ‘Euphoria Sunset’ from Radio 1’s Judge Jules happened, his answer was surprising to say the least.
“I went to Judge Jules’ website and found an email address. I then sent Jules an email with a link to an mp3 of my tune, ” says Jackson as I think to myself, “What?!!? Globe-trotting DJs actually read their email AND download mp3s from unknown sources!”
“Luckily he picked up on the tune and started playing it on Radio 1. Jules is someone I have massive respect for. He really does give new producers a listen,” reveals Jackson, from personal experience.
With a few spins from Jules, Headstrong quickly became bombarded with emails and request from the biggest names in trance, but it was one DJ in particular that made the difference - one of trance's biggest heroes in th form of Matt Darey. Over the course of a few months, not only did Darey play Headstrong's track, but the two become good friends. “Matt's helped in everyway he can. He's the nicest bloke I've met in the business too. His remix of 'Close Your Eyes' is awesome and that really helped the single. He's always advising and pointing you in the right direction. He's really 100% dedicated and so am I. We tend to feed off each other, but Matt's 10 years of experience in the business is priceless to someone like me, who's still breaking through,” says Headstrong.
It was the friendship with Darey which resulted in him being introduced to Headstrong's current vocalist, Tiff Lacey. Lacey has been one of the most prominent female vocalists in trance music for years and Headstrong has been thrilled to work with her, saying “Tiff's fantastic. A great singer and really nice person.”
The last 18 months have been the most intense, emotional, and fulfilling experience of Jackson's professional life; the exhilaration, the rush of hearing your song played on the radio for the first time and some of the most popular DJs around the world supporting your music. However it has also been the most agonizing time of Don Jackson’s life. “When Judge Jules first played one of my tunes on Radio 1, my baby son had just been born and was very poorly and weak. I was at the hospital and I sat at his bedside knowing my tune was going to be on the radio for the first time. It seemed so unimportant to me as my son was so ill. Months later, he pulled through fine and life is sweet again. I have since got a massive buzz from hearing my tunes on the radio and in the clubs. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Having released his first single with a follow-up with Tiff Lacey waiting in the wings, Headstrong is already at work on his debut artist album. He says the final results of the many tracks he has been working on will be a mixture of styles. Influenced by his peers and the reaction to ‘Close Your Eyes,’ he simply wants to continue this ride, getting the chance to work with vocalists who will bring to life his tracks. Getting the buzz from club goers who hear his work is also a big payoff as is “receiving fanmail is awesome. That’ll really drive you on.”
Starting at a young age, Headstrong learned the basics of music fundamentals from his older brother with the tried-and-true tradition of playing the guitar. From there, he taught himself a few instruments, most notably, the piano, yet, he’ll tell you that he’s no more than a guitarist at heart. These days though, you’ll find an abundant of hardware, software, and music equipment on hand when creating music. From high-end keyboards to a low-end Behringer sound mixer, whatever is at his disposal will work, but Headstrong stresses its always best to get the best equipment you can afford.
"Most of my sounds come from hardware synths, but some people prefer software plug-ins. I work faster with hardware and know my synths really well so that’s the best way for me. Some gear you just have to pay the price for. You're never gonna get a cheap mic going through a cheap FX unit sounding like a top spec mic going through a lexicon reverb; not with vocals anyway. Some of the VST stuff is great like the Spectrasonics stuff and it’s great that producers who are just starting out can have a complete studio in their PC. What takes time is learning how to use it all. Ebay is great for second hand stuff”.
During his time off from listening and creating dance music, Headstrong is a big lover of Indie Rock music from the likes of The Killers, The Strokes, and Kasabian. At the moment he’s also the label manager for Matt Darey’s Darey Products. “It’s cool as I mainly work from home in my studio.”
Lucky bastard that he is with more forthcoming singles to follow and an album Headstrong's Don Jackson is just that, headstrong and focused on whatever lies tomorrow.