‘Master Jack’ has been one of the most successful South African songs on the US Billboard charts. Yes, we had seen Hugh Masakela top the US charts with ‘Grazing In The Grass’, but that was recorded and produced in the US while the Four Jacks & A Jill version of ‘Master Jack’ was completely recorded and produced in South Africa. With its simple guitar tune, Glenys Lynne’s innocent vocals and positive lyrics, the song made its way to number 18 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would also make it to number 33 in Germany as the band recorded a German version of it. This would inspire cover versions by the likes of Trini Lopez and German singer Heidi Bruhl.
The song was written by David Marks and some interpretations of the lyrics are that it was referring to BJ Vorster, who would become the Prime Minister of South Africa, while others think that it related to Hendrik Verwoed, the architect of apartheid. Some say that Master Jack refers to a mine foreman, an interpretation that holds water as Marks did work on the mines. Marks himself has also said that the assassination of Hendrik Verwoed helped him to complete the song, so it seems there are a number of ‘faces’ to this Master Jack.
However you chose to interpret the song, nothing can take away the beauty and simplicity of the Four Jacks & A Jill version which is a gentle track that floats on a cloud of melancholy with a pensive angel on lead vocals, harmonising with the other angels who have traded in their harps for a folk guitar. ‘Master Jack’ is a South African classic and will be with us for a long time, as long as we live in a strange, strange world.
Where to find it:
The Heart And Soul Of – Four Jacks & A Jill (2001), Gallo, CDREDD 661