By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"It's not weird." She smiles. "Certainly, it's not any weirder than some of the things that used to go on at Chuy's."
@body:Jackson is the very picture of domestic bliss. She sits on the couch, cuddling her daughter, 10-month-old Sommer Lee--an active, smiling child with flashing eyes--and sighs contentedly.
A tall blonde with a pleasant, oval face and a razor wit, Jackson insists that her only real problem is that she is 30 pounds overweight. "This is what happens when you have a baby," she says, smiling. "Otherwise, things are roses."
It was not always so. In the spring of 1991, Jackson, then 36, was a mess--beginning to feel the strain of running a maniacal business like a nightclub.
Jackson and Simmons had opened Chuy's a decade earlier because they both loved music. "Since I was a child," she says, "I was always tinkling with the piano or singing, and I was determined to open a nightclub where others who truly loved music could come and listen."
Borrowing the seed money from her father, a millionaire Ohio businessman, the pair set out in the club business to "do it right."
"I was a perfectionist, never happy with anything," she remembers. "It was seven days a week, 14 hours a day of running the club, doing business." And business was good.
Jackson's meticulous nature brought reason to the legendarily disorganized world of the concert promoter. She ran the club like a Fortune 500 company, maintaining computerized records on every band that played, occupancy per show, the dollar amount that people drank per head and what they drank. In some cases, that info was matched up to demographic data--detailing the likes and dislikes of the music fan who walked through the door. The resulting list was then wedded to a mailing list, used for the promotion of future shows.
The atmosphere of the club was carefully designed and monitored, as well. The third Chuy's locale, in Hayden Square (there had been two other, smaller incarnations over the years), opened in 1989 as a stylishly dark, black-lighted marvel, full of polished chrome and plush seats. It was a posh place to listen and drink, aimed at a sophisticated set of patrons who had exchanged Guns N' Roses for Thelonious Monk, beer for burgundy and the Corvette for a bassinet.
"I admit it. I'm a musical snot," Jackson says. "With Chuy's, we wanted to attract a certain type of clientele, one who was ready to listen to the best of the best in a top-quality atmosphere. We didn't want a rowdy audience, screaming for more beer. It was supposed to be more elegant than that.
"And it was supposed to be the best show in town."
A bustling Chuy's became a locus of weekend nights on Mill Avenue, which by 1990 had established itself as the trendiest asphalt in the Valley; the local equivalent of Georgetown's M Street and Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade.
But Jackson, at the peak of professional success, was also at the nadir of her personal life.
The stresses of running the club with such insistence on detail had left her with a drinking problem. "I had to have my champagne," she laughs, remembering the night too much of the bubbly led her to "tell off" singer Francine Reed, who was performing at Chuy's.
"I was engaging in destructive behavior, lashing out at people and just acting ridiculous at times," Jackson says. "I was living a lifestyle where my friends were killing themselves, some with heroin. I didn't want to end up that way."
Adding to the stress level was the hard realization that she would never have a child. After three surgeries aimed at making a pregnancy possible, Jackson was told that she was out of time--and that a hysterectomy seemed a certainty.
On top of it all, there was an increasing void in her life, brought on, ironically, by Chuy's success. The better the club did financially, the more attention it demanded--and the less time Jackson had to indulge her own passion for performing.
"We originally opened Chuy's because of those magical moments that take place between musicians," she says. "I mean, that's what we were doing it for, really. But I didn't seem to be getting that feeling as much anymore."
Anyone who has ever been in a band--or attended an exceptional concert--knows about "that feeling." That mystical moment when the notes practically fly off the frets and the fingertips kiss the keys with precision; all the voices, strings and skins flashing in one perfect moment of rhythmic synchronicity.
"I wanted more of that and less BS," she says. "But how, I didn't know."
In May 1991, Jackson retreated to a Tucson resort to ponder. Alone in a hotel room, she experienced an epiphany that she calls her "wake-up call."
"Suddenly, running down the list of things that were wrong with my life, I got very scared," she says. "And I began to pray. I prayed for a child, I prayed to rework my lifestyle, I prayed that I would be able to make and enjoy music again."
And like a lightning bolt from beyond, her prayers were answered.
A short time after returning from Tucson, a friend told Jackson about Eagle's Nest. Jackson was suspicious.