Between Takes: McKinley Jackson Learns to Sweeten the Track

In Episode 015 of Between Takes, McKinley Jackson talks about working with hit producers, Holland–Dozier–Holland.

Welcome to Between Takes; where artists and musicians tell stories about what happens behind the scenes.

WDET’s Sam Beaubien has been dedicated to making music in Detroit for 20 years, and this series connects you with the stories he has heard on gigs and at recording sessions.

Get a look into Stevie Wonders audition for Motown Records, sessions with funk master George Clinton, renowned hip-hop producer J Dilla’s first days with a drum machine, and many more stories about what shaped the legacy of this musical city. 

Episode 015

McKinley Jackson has been called upon by many musical icons to assist them with their music and has been a session music, songwriter, arranger, producer, on many hit albums. He has also served as music director for large tours by Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, and many others.

Ken Knox
Ken Knox

Holland–Dozier–Holland produced and wrote many hit records for Motown for the 1960’s, and during that time they met McKinley Jackson. When they left Motown to form their own labels, Invictus Records and Hot Wax Records, they asked Jackson to be an artist on the label. Though their intent was for Jackson to be a featured artist, he instead began arranging and producing many acts on the label. Working for HDH, Jackson learned how to “sweeten” a track with horn and string arrangements.

“In the sessions and in the companies, they call it “sweetening”. You know, you bake a cake and they say it’s not done until you put the icing on it… that’s the sweetening… I’d see how they would take what I had done and maybe elevated it or lift it up to the sweetening. That gave me an insight on how to do strings and horns.”


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  • Sam Beaubien
    Sam Beaubien is a musician, composer, producer, and educator in Detroit. He is also the founder and leader of the acclaimed ensemble, Will Sessions.