Born in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, David Jackson (as he was then known) spent his first year in neighbouring Swadlincote, Derbyshire. He grew up in the Paulsgrove area of Portsmouth, where he attended the City of Portsmouth Boys' School. His parents later moved to nearby Gosport when he was a teenager.
He initially learned to play the violin but soon switched to piano and prevailed on his dad to install one in the hall of their Paulsgrove council house. From the age of 16, he played in bars, and won a scholarship to study musical composition at London's Royal Academy of Music.
Jackson's first band, in Gosport, was Edward Bear (not to be confused with the 1970s Canadian band fronted by Larry Evoy). The band was later renamed Edwin Bear and later Arms and Legs, but dissolved in 1976 after two unsuccessful singles. Although he was still known as David Jackson while in Arms & Legs, it was around this time that Jackson picked up the nickname "Joe", based on his perceived resemblance to the puppet character Joe 90. He then spent some time in the cabaret circuit to make money to record his own demos.
In 1978, a record producer heard his tape, and got him signed to A&M Records. The next year the newly dubbed Joe Jackson Band released their debut album, Look Sharp!. For its mix of energetic New Wave rock and bitter British punk, Jackson was frequently lumped together with similarly described young rockers Elvis Costello and Graham Parker. The album enjoyed wide critical success: in 2013 Rolling Stone magazine named Look Sharp the #98 best debut album of all time. Some commercial success also followed, as the debut single "Is She Really Going Out with Him" reached the top 40 in 5 countries and #9 in Canada.
The Joe Jackson band wasted little time in following up, and in 1979 released I'm the Man. The album followed a similar musical pattern, and resultingly received good, though not as strong, reviews. I'm the Man did nonetheless produce the single "It's Different for Girls" which would become Jackson's highest charting UK single, peaking at #5. Mimicking so closely the style on the debut, it received reviews that were good, but not as strong as its predecessor. Oft-curt critic Robert Christgau responded to I'm the Man with simply "Oh yeah? Then get the knack back."
Beat Crazy followed in 1980. He also collaborated with Lincoln Thompson in reggae crossover.
Jackson at the El Mocambo, Toronto, 21 May 1979
In 1981, Jackson produced an album for the British power pop group The Keys. The Keys Album was the group's only LP.
The Joe Jackson Band toured extensively. After the break-up of the band, Jackson took a break and recorded an album of old-style swing and blues tunes, Jumpin' Jive, featuring songs of Cab Calloway, Lester Young, Glenn Miller, and most prominently, Louis Jordan. The album, and associated single release, was credited to Joe Jackson's Jumpin' Jive.
Jackson's 1982 album Night and Day was his only studio album to reach either the United States or UK Top 10, peaking at No. 4 (US) and at No. 3 (UK), and the cuts "Steppin' Out" and "Breaking Us in Two" were both top 20 chart hits. The tracks "Real Men" and "A Slow Song" pointed obliquely to New York City's early 1980s gay culture.
Almost two years later, Jackson recorded the US No. 20 and UK No. 14 album Body and Soul, also heavily influenced by pop and jazz standards and salsa, showcasing the US No. 15 hit single "You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)".
Jackson played piano on Joan Armatrading's 1985 album Secret Secrets.
In 1986, he collaborated with Suzanne Vega on the single "Left of Center" from Pretty in Pink's soundtrack (with Vega singing and Jackson playing piano).
Jackson followed with the album Big World, with all-new songs recorded live in front of an audience instructed to remain silent while music was playing (they slip up once during the breakdown of "Soul Kiss"). Released in 1986, it was a three-sided double record; the fourth side consisted of a single centering groove and a label stating "there is no music on this side". The instrumental album "Will Power" (1987), with heavy classical and jazz influences, set the stage for things to come later, but before he left pop behind, he put out two more albums, Blaze of Glory (which he performed in its entirety during the subsequent tour) and Laughter & Lust.
Sony Classical released his Symphony No. 1 in 1999, for which he received a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Album in 2001.
In 1995, Joe Jackson contributed his version of "Statue of Liberty" on a tribute album to the English band XTC called A Testimonial Dinner: The Songs of XTC.
In 2003, he reunited his original quartet for the album Volume 4, and a lengthy tour.
In 2004, Jackson performed a cover of Pulp's "Common People" with William Shatner for Shatner's album Has Been.
Jackson's album Rain was released by Rykodisc on 28 January 2008 in the UK and one day later in the US.
Joe Jackson and the Bigger Band, featuring Regina Carter, played fourteen shows in the USA and 21 shows in Europe from September to November 2012.
Jackson was previously married to a woman named Ruth until divorce.
Joe Jackson (born David Ian Jackson, 11 August 1954, Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire) is an English musician and singer-songwriter now living in Berlin, described as a unique and critically acclaimed recording artist, whose five Grammy nominations span 1979 to 2001.
He is probably best-known for the 1979 hit song "Is She Really Going Out with Him?", which still gets extensive FM radio airplay; for his 1982 hit, "Steppin' Out"; and for his 1984 hit, "You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)".