After leaving school he studied graphics at Newcastle College of Art and Industrial Design, where he met Laidlaw.
He designed the group's logo and the sleeve of their debut album Nicely Out of Tune. Alongside his activities in the group, he also played mandolin on Rod Stewart's solo albums Every Picture Tells a Story (1971), Never a Dull Moment (1972), and Smiler (1974). His playing can be heard particularly on the songs "Maggie May", "Mandolin Wind", and "Farewell". On the sleeve of Every Picture Tells a Story, he was not credited by name, only a reference: "The mandolin was played by the mandolin player in Lindisfarne. The name slips my mind."
In 2003 Jackson threatened legal action against Stewart, claiming that he should have been credited as co-composer of "Maggie May" alongside Stewart and guitarist Martin Quittenton for writing the musical "hook" of the song. Rod Stewart had called in Jacka to play on "Mandolin Wind" and was so pleased at the results that he asked Jacka if he had any ideas for the unfinished "Maggie May." Ray wrote the famous and instantly recognizable mandolin hook. In a statement he said, "I am convinced that my contribution to 'Maggie May,' which occurred in the early stages of my career when I was just becoming famous for my work with Lindisfarne, was essential to the success of the record. Furthermore, a writing credit would have given me a writing status which would have encouraged my writing efforts and could well have opened doors for me." His manager Barry McKay said that Jackson was asked to write something in the studio for the then unfinished record and wrote the hook. At the time, he had no idea he would be entitled to part ownership as joint composer, and was merely paid a £15 session fee. A spokesman for Stewart dismissed his claim as "ridiculous".
In Lindisfarne, Jackson generally took lead vocals on the songs written by bassist and fiddle player Rod Clements, including "Meet Me on the Corner", their first hit single. He stayed with the group in 1973 when three of the five original members left to form Jack the Lad. He designed the sleeve for Jack the Lad's third album Rough Diamonds, and played harmonica on the record. He also played mandolin on Chris de Burgh's debut album Far Beyond These Castle Walls.
When Lindisfarne disbanded in 1975 Jackson embarked on a solo career with EMI. The contract, signed in October 1975, included a clause that the company would release three singles within the first year. Only one, "Take Some Time", was issued; it sold around 300 copies and no further releases were forthcoming. Jackson and McKay later sued EMI for ruining his solo career, on the grounds that they had failed to promote the record properly or record the promised three singles. EMI's defence was based on their belief that musical material provided by Jackson 'was not satisfactory and would have been a commercial failure." In March 1985 the case came to court, and the judge ruled that according to the contract Jackson was not obliged to provide his own material. Jackson and McKay were awarded damages and costs against the company to a total of £23,304.
Also in 1975 he formed Harcourt's Heroes with singer-guitarist Charlie Harcourt, with whom he had formed a songwriting partnership while both were members of Lindisfarne between 1973 and 1975. However, the original Lindisfarne line-up reunited for sell-out Christmas concerts at Newcastle City Hall in 1976 and repeated this in 1977. In early 1978 they decided to get back together for good, and by summer of 1978 their first single "Run For Home" was not only a Top 10 hit in the UK but also gave them their long-awaited breakthrough into the US Top 40, reaching No. 33. The album it was taken from, Back and Fourth, also reached the UK top 25.
Jackson also recorded a solo album, In The Night, released in 1980, produced by Hugh Murphy, which included material co-written by him and Harcourt, as well as songs such as "In the Midnight Hour", "Little Town Flirt", and the Stealers Wheel hit "Everything Will Turn Out Fine". "Hugh Murphy and I were asked to compromise and record a number of new songs from other sources to make it sound more commercial to the emerging market, leaving out some of the self-penned songs," he said. "Regardless of this, I had a great time making the album and some great musicians played on it with me. Today, I feel that some of the performances and the songs are old-fashioned sounding. However, there are still a few which stand the test of time quite well."
By the mid-1980s Lindisfarne were no longer enjoying the success of former years, and after a disagreement with the band around the time Lindisfarne recorded a re-worked version of Fog on the Tyne with Gazza, which Ray Jackson did not take part in or appear on the Gazza/Lindisfarne promotional video, he retired from performing and joined a sports marketing agency as promotional manager, working on sports sponsorships. Jackson did not appear with Lindisfarne again for 15 years when he appeared onstage to rapturous applause at a memorial concert at Newcastle City hall celebrating the life and music of Hull in November 2005.
Later he decided to resume his creative and artistic interests by opening an art studio and picture framing business at Witney, Oxfordshire. He is particularly known for his skilled paintings of period buses in their correct street settings with perfect detail.
In recent years Jackson formed the band Gathering – Legends of Folk Rock with Jerry Donahue, Clive Bunker, Rick Kemp, Doug Morter and Kristina Donahue.
In February 2013, in support of Newcastle City Hall which was then under threat of closure, Ray Jackson announced he would return to the iconic venue for a Christmas show for the first time in 23 years. Tickets for Ray Jackson's Lindisfarne Christmas Show sold out in 6 hours. Second and third shows were added for 20/22 December 2013 which also sold out. Ray Jackson announced the permanent return of Lindisfarne after 10 years. Ray Jackson's Lindisfarne is his third career line-up. The band is composed of five former members of Lindisfarne and Roxy Music drummer Paul Thompson.
On 12th January 2015 the 'Lindisfarne Official' Facebook page posted the following announcement; "It is with regret that we have to announce Ray Jackson's retirement from Lindisfarne. Although his decision has come as a surprise to us, it was always Jacka's intention to hand things over at some point and ensure the great name of Lindisfarne continues to keep the songs and spirit alive well into the future. The band intend to honour all diary commitments through 2015 and will be announcing more details very soon."