Steven Ivory On Living Michael Jackson’s ‘Off The Wall’

Sources: EurWeb – By Blue Olive| All Things Michael


“You’re not gonna believe it—Michael’s got a little platform that he dances on, right there in the studio.    He’s doing all kind of moves while he’s recording his vocals!”

That was the first thing photographer Bobby Holland, my roommate at the time, told me when he returned to our mid-city Los Angeles apartment one evening in 1978 after spending some time at Allen Zentz Recording, a nondescript  studio in Hollywood, where Michael Jackson was recording the Epic/CBS solo album with producer Quincy Jones that would become the iconic Off The Wall.

Holland was hired by our friend Ed Eckstein, who then ran Quincy Jones Productions, to shoot casual, not-posed photos of Jackson and Jones working in the recording studio, for publicity purposes.

You read correctly—publicity. Back then, Michael and Quincy, while accomplished and famous, weren’t cultural icons. In fact, both were at stations in their careers where they had something to prove. Entering his twenties,  Michael wanted to create an album that reflected who he’d become musically.

Quincy, while renown as a bandleader, award-winning arranger, producer, composer and soundtrack scorer, was looking to solidify  his reputation as a mainstream producer.  Yes, he’d produced his first hit single  in 1963 with Lesley Gore’s pop classic, “It’s My Party” and in the ‘70s produced hits by Aretha Franklin, the Brothers Johnson, Rufus & Chaka Khan, as well as his own albums. But in the ’70s he wanted to be seen as a certified hit maker.

Executives at CBS Records (which later became Sony) respected Quincy—everyone respected Quincy–but didn’t see him as the man to produce Michael Jackson.  Not that they viewed Michael as invaluable; at that time, he was just another artist.

But to produce Michael they preferred someone like Maurice White–founder/producer of the label’s biggest black band, Earth, Wind & Fire–who’d also had success producing Deniece Williams, keyboardist Ramsey Lewis and the Emotions.

Even the Jacksons had ideas about who  should produce Michael’s  solo album.  They felt they should do it, and  told Michael as much in front of me one afternoon in September 1977.

Jackie, Tito, Marlon and Randy and I were  sitting on a leather sectional in the den of the family’s original ranch style Encino home on Hayvenhurst (before Michael had it demolished and built the new mock tudor mansion) while  a Sanyo Ghetto Blaster on the coffee table  blared instrumental tracks–no lead or background vocals yet–from Destiny, the first album, save the track “Blame It On The Boogie,” that they’d been allowed to write and produce themselves.

Michael was sitting on a wooden chair across from us, making the occasional rhythmic movement to the music.  It was something to behold–Michael Jackson dancing in his seat–but I did so through my peripheral vision, for fear that if I simply looked, he’d become self-conscious and stop.

“We been waiting to produce our own stuff for a long time, man,” Jackie  proudly said,  when the cassette ended. “After this album, Michael’s doing a solo record.  He’s  talking to different people, but he’s thinking about keeping it in the family and letting us produce HIS album, too.   Right Mike?”

Michael looked away, as if he didn’t really hear it, his silence speaking volumes.

In any case, it was through Holland, Eckstein and Quincy Jones himself that I was unwittingly afforded a front row seat to the creation of what arguably ended up the most important album of Michael Jackson’s solo career. When Bobby returned to our apartment that evening from the studio, I grilled him for details.

“Well, he was laidback and quiet about everything but the music,” Bobby said of Michael, while reaching into the fridge for a beer. “Quincy did have him laughing at some of that shit he says—you know how Quincy is, always telling stories—but it was when the music started that Mike turned into a tiger.   While  singing,  he’d actually be doing a lot of the shit he does on stage,  like a mini-concert.  It was a trip.”

Some days there wouldn’t be enough light in the room for Bobby to take photos–when Michael was behind the mic singing, the singer insisted the studio be dark. “The only lights in the room,” said Bobby, “were on the recording console and the light on the music stand with the lyrics on a piece of paper in front of Michael.”

It was a no-frills operation. No limos, no elaborate security detail, no chef-catered gourmet meals. Quincy doesn’t drive, so at about noon he would arrive at the studio driven by a man behind the wheel of Quincy’s car, “a regular ol’ Buick.”

A Buick, Bobby? You sure?

“Hey, my daddy was a Buick man. I know a Buick when I see it. It was a Buick.”

According to Bobby, Quincy carried a briefcase that, when Quincy opened it, contained music charts and…a bottle of hot sauce. They’d order lunch and dinner from menus of places nearby, but Q had to have his own hot sauce.

Michael would arrive shortly afterward, someone driving him, too. “Not Bill Bray, though (the longtime Jackson family security man),” said Bobby. “Some other guy.”

One day Michael showed up dressed like actor Charlie Chaplin. “From head to toe,” Bobby said. “Make-up; the whole nine.  And he worked like that.  Nobody made a big deal of it.  Imagine  Charlie Chaplin jammin’ to ‘Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.’”

Some days, there’d be musicians, but often it would be just Michael, Quincy, Quincy’s longtime engineer Bruce Swedien and, as Bobby told me one evening after returning from the studio, “this white guy named Rod Temperton.”

I’d heard of him.  A lanky, quiet chap from England who was a member of Heatwave, the monstrous interracial R&B band wearing out the top acts they opened for on the road and burning up the charts with hits like “Boogie Nights,” “The Groove Line” and the ballad, “Always and Forever.”

Temperton was a phenom—a square-looking white boy who looked as if he should have been selling insurance policies–with a simply ridiculous command of R&B grooves and a penchant for lyrics that somehow always included  “hot” and “street.”

One afternoon, maybe a year before he started working with Temperton, I was hanging out at Quincy Jones’ office on the A&M Records lot with   Eckstein, when Quincy, sitting behind his desk, turned serious and, asked, “Ivory, what do you think of Rod Temperton? Would the songs he writes for Heatwave translate to other artists in general?” Quincy Jones is asking my musical opinion.

“Hmmmm,” I said, thoughtfully. “I don’t know, Q. Those songs work well with that band, but…I just don’t know.”

Quincy looked at me and shook his head, as if to say, ”You’re probably right.” Obviously,  the man was indulging me. Even as he asked the question, he’d already locked up Temperton in a contract.

If Michael and Quincy had something to prove with this production, without a prior collaborative success breathing down their backs, they also had the luxury of making an earnest record. Unlike later Jackson releases, Off The Wall featured no gimmicks—no rock songs meticulously designed to appeal to a demographic that wouldn’t normally listen to Jackson’s music; no star musician cameos recruited purely for show.

Rufus (as in Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan) basically served as the production’s studio band.   Before Rufus’ Quincy-produced Masterjam album and Off The Wall,    Rufus’ new drummer, John “JR” Robinson, hastily recruited by the band while in the midst of a tour, had never even played on a major recording session.

Singer Patti Austin was a superb duet partner for Michael during “It’s The Falling In Love,” but if that song had appeared on Thriller, chances are a bigger name would have been hired for marquee value.

During the album’s production, some evenings Eckstein would come by our apartment with a cassette of rough tracks from a week’s worth of sessions and we’d light up a joint and listen.   I was taken aback. Temperton’s mighty “Burn This Disco Out” was my immediate favorite. It was a big, aggressive, glossy groove that, vocally, Michael ate alive.

It was intriguing  to hear things to which the world wouldn’t be privy—like Michael’s voice cracking during the Stevie Wonder song, “I can’t help it,” as he struggled to move into an even higher falsetto register than he was already in during his ad-libs at the end of the song. Who knew Mike was anything but perfect?

When Off The Wall was released in August of 1979, Bobby and I might have been as excited as Michael. All the insight we’d gleaned into its production  made its success feel personal.   It was an immediate smash, ultimately selling some   six million copies. (Since its release the album has sold some 20 million copies globally.)

Despite its triumph,  that the album only won a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for its first single, “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” so upset Michael  that after the ceremony, Quincy said Michael was limoed home, where he  “cried himself to sleep.”

Reportedly, Michael told CBS Records CEO Walter Yetnikoff that he felt Off The Wall should have won Record Of The Year. Meanwhile, Yetnikoff  was said to have told label execs that while Off The Wall’s sales were a welcome windfall, Michael’s insistence that his follow-up album would be even bigger was but an artist’s fantasy.

Of course, we all know how that worked out.


Coming soon: Steven Ivory’s Tuberose Press e-book, “Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Michael Jackson.” Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via STEVRIVORY@AOL.COM

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Also read: Today In Michael Jackson History – May 16: Motown 25 Airs Michael’s Coronation On TV – By Steve Ivory

Flashback: Bart Simpson Does ‘The Bartman’ With Help From Michael Jackson

Sources: Rollingstone – By Andy Greene | All Things Michael

The Simpsons - Do The Bartman (Single 12-1990)

By the fall of 1990 Simpsons mania had swept the country, even though the show had been on the air for less than a year. Bart was the breakout star and merchandise featuring the slingshot-wielding delinquent flooded stores, though schools across the country banned his “Underachiever and Proud of It” shirt. Needless to say, that did little but elevate Bart to near God-like status among schoolchildren. This was such a cool cartoon character that you literally couldn’t walk into school with him on your shirt.

Bravely forging ahead with no apparent fear of overexposure, the people behind The Simpsons decided it was time for the cartoon family to starting churning out pop hits. This may sound a little crazy these days, but this was just after Paula Abdul’s “Opposites Attract,” featuring a duet with MC Skat Kat, exploded onto MTV. If an animated cat could have a hit, why not Bart Simpson?

The Simpsons Sing The Blues was rushed into production at the end of the first season of the show. It hit shelves just in time for Christmas, and almost immediately, “Do The Bartman” began receiving airplay. Rumors swirled that the track was ghost-written by Michael Jackson, a huge Simpsons fan, but the show’s producers denied it. It wasn’t until many years later that Matt Groening fessed up that Jackson did indeed co-write the song. He just had to keep his mouth shut because he was contractually forbidden from writing for an outside label.


The video features Bart hijacking a school recital with a New Jack Swing song about his own hijinks. The kid was such a rebel he put mothballs into his mother’s beef stew. The song was followed up with “Deep, Deep Trouble.” It was another Bart-centered tune, though this time it focused on the consequences for his behavior. The album was a huge smash, peaking at number 3 on the Hot 100. It was in a lot of Christmas stockings that year.

Somehow, the show survived this early onslaught of merchandise, and it quickly moved its focus from Bart to Homer. FXX is airing all 522 episodes in a row over the next 12 days. They probably won’t show the “Do The Bartman” video, so check it out right here.

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The Story Behind the Photo: The Jackson 5 On The Beach – 1969

Sources: Rockabye Baby | MJ Upbeat | All Things Michael

Behind every photo, there is a story . . .

Today, acclaimed photojournalist, director and screenwriter Lawrence Schiller shares how this famous 1969 Jackson 5 photo came to be. Read on to see how it all started with a little help from one of their friends, Diana Ross.


In Lawrence’s own words:

dianaross (2)The New York Times had given me an assignment to photograph Diana Ross and Motown Records, and one day when I was shooting Diana in Central Park, she said to me, “You should also photograph a new music group that I discovered.”

And I said, “I didn’t know you were discovering music groups.”

Diana replied, “Somebody discovered me and I’m doing the same . . . the group’s name is the Jackson 5.”

The Jackson 5 didn’t mean anything to me . . . Jackson 5, people, 5 kids, whatever.

So I asked the president and owner of Motown, Barry Gordon Sr., to arrange for me to photograph them. Diana had also mentioned the group was coming to California, where I lived, to make an album. Back home, one afternoon I got a phone call from one of Barry Gordy’s sisters who said, “The Jackson 5 are in Los Angeles, where would you like to photograph them?”

“Well, have they been to California before?” I asked.

“Nope, they have never even seen the Pacific Ocean . . .” she replied.

What ran through my mind was that I should be there as they had the experience of seeing the Pacific for the first time.

So she arranged for them to meet me near the Santa Monica pier . . . and next thing I know a group of kids drive up in a big Mercedes. They had a chauffeur and everything they might want.  But what hit me the most . . . sitting in the back seat of the limo, one of the boys looked so small.  And that was when I was introduced to Michael, by one of his brothers.
schiller2 (3)

I suggested we move down to Malibu, where there would be more privacy. . . I didn’t have really anything in mind of what I wanted to do. When we arrived near the Malibu Pier, they just all jumped out of their car and headed toward the water.  But Michael ran to the trunk their car and pulled out a ghetto blaster. . . .

“Are we going to listen to some of your music?” I asked.

Michael replied before I even finished my sentence. “We always carry our music with us . . .”

When I looked back toward the rest of the brothers, they were already down on the beach looking at the water. That was when I started taking some pictures of them with their feet in the water. Later I would later discover they had actually never seen an ocean before. Before I knew it, Michael had the ghetto blaster going as his brothers began to dance to their own music on the beach.  It’s sad I don’t remember what song it was. . . .

They were still shy in a way, but the minute the music played they came alive. Michael Jackson was like a balloon filled with helium. He just took off to the sky. He became an entirely different person . . . you could just see the beginning of his insecurity. But when the music came, he just exploded.

There is no question that the Michael’s brothers were already playing second fiddle to him, and they had to accept the fact that his innocence and talent was what was driving the group.  But still, Michael, as I remember him that day, was just an innocent little kid dancing to the beat of his own music.

jackson 5 on the beach

For the full interview, click sound file below!


Learn more about Lawrence Schiller and see his iconic photographs at

And hear our Lullaby Renditions of Michael Jackson by clicking the album cover below.


Read more at Rockabye Baby

Throwback Article: The Jackson Find (The Lost Jackson 5 Recording) – By Jake Austen

This was supposed to be the story of the Jackson Five’s first single, cut in Chicago in 1967. But while writing it, Jake Austen picked up the trail of a tape nobody knew existed: the earliest known studio recording of Michael Jackson and his brothers.


When the world paused this summer to look back on Michael Jackson’s extraordinary career, one chapter was missing from all the retrospectives, which skipped straight from the Jackson Five’s formation in Gary, Indiana, to their explosive rise to stardom on Motown Records. Though every last recording by Elvis and the Beatles—the only other pop stars of Jackson’s magnitude—has been meticulously documented, not even the most obsessive collectors have the whole story behind “Big Boy,” the Jackson Five’s first single.

Die-hard fans know it was recorded in late 1967 and released early in ’68 on Gary’s Steeltown Records. But most of the rest of the information out there is flawed or incomplete. The 1992 miniseries The Jacksons: An American Dream fictionalizes the session, placing it in 1966 and pretending, probably for licensing reasons, that the Jacksons recorded a cover of “Kansas City.” Even Michael’s 1988 autobiography, Moonwalk, gets most of the details wrong—not surprising given that he was nine at the time. And to my knowledge no published account has ever mentioned that “Big Boy” was cut in Chicago.

What you’re about to read is not only a detailed account of the Jackson Five’s Steeltown session but also convincing evidence that by then the group had already been in development with one of Chicago’s most important black-owned labels—an episode previously completely lost to history. More compelling still, this label’s efforts included an even earlier recording session. My efforts to jog the memories of the people closest to that session have resulted in the discovery of what many of the King of Pop’s fans will consider the ultimate artifact: a studio master, by all appearances recorded by the Jackson Five, that predates the sides that for more than 40 years have been considered the group’s earliest. In other words, Michael Jackson’s first professional recording.

Anyone attempting to fill in some of the blank pages of the Jackson Five’s early history will shortly find there are few facts upon which any two witnesses agree. Virtually everybody who encountered the group during its formative years, for instance, claims to have discovered Michael. Some claims are reasonable: Roosevelt High teachers Genevieve Gray and Yjean Chambers showcased the Jackson brothers in momentum-building talent shows starting in 1965. Others are ridiculous: Motown exec Berry Gordy fabricated Diana Ross’s 1969 “discovery” of the group to whip up hype. Steeltown Records cofounder Gordon Keith, 70, is the man with the largest body of tangible evidence to back up his claim: he estimates that “Big Boy” sold more than 60,000 copies.

Many have made and lost millions on the backs of the Jacksons, but Keith’s fortunes have remained largely unchanged since the mid-60s, when he founded Steeltown with four partners: Ben Brown, Ludie Washington, Maurice Rodgers, and Willie Spencer. The former steel-mill worker still lives at the Gary address that’s printed on the first pressing of “Big Boy.” These days most conversations he has about the Jacksons turn toward bitter reflections on the “double cross” he says took them from him—Joseph Jackson and Berry Gordy are the worst of many antagonists in these stories—yet he still sees their appearance on his doorstep as divine intervention. God, he says, gave him the gift of a group that was ready.

By 1967 Steeltown had released several singles without scoring a hit. Keith had seen enough Jackson Five show placards around town to convince him that the group was hardworking—he figured they might be the rare young act that combined talent with discipline. He got the family’s number from a group that studied with the Jacksons’ music teacher, Shirley Cartman (another reasonable claimant in the Jackson Five discovery sweepstakes), called patriarch Joseph Jackson, and was invited to the family’s home for a private performance. Before they’d even played a note Keith saw something that convinced him Michael was extraordinary—something he says he’d never seen before and never saw again. “They were setting up in the living room,” Keith recalls, “and Michael walked over to Tito’s guitar cord, which was stretched between the guitar and amplifier, chest high to Michael, and I seen him flat-footedly jump over that guitar cord . . . not a running jump, flat-footed! I was pretty sold right there.”

The boys’ performance lived up to Michael’s acrobatics, and Keith decided to negotiate with the Jacksons’ management to take over their contract. Even then the question of who managed the group was complicated—Joseph would strike deals, often overlapping, with anyone he thought could help the boys get ahead—but two of the major players were WVON disc jockeys Pervis Spann and E. Rodney Jones.

Pervis Spann Image credit: From the collection of Jake Austen

Pervis Spann
Image credit: From the collection of Jake Austen



In late 1965 or early ’66 a triumphant Jackson Five talent-contest appearance at Chicago’s Regal Theater had so impressed Spann that he and Jones offered to manage the act. (Spann also frequently takes credit for discovering Michael.) Keith remembers Jones (who died in 2004) claiming to have spent tens of thousands of dollars promoting the group to no avail. Keith thought that was odd, considering how polished they were and how influential Spann and Jones were, but he was thrilled to sign them anyway.

Gary had a recording studio, run by Bud Pressner, a saxophonist who in the course of a 50-year career as a performer and engineer worked on everything from his own Buddy Pressner Orchestra tunes in the 40s to raunchy late-80s house music. But Keith decided this recording deserved big-city gloss, and arranged for the boys to head into Chicago.

So after school one afternoon in November 1967, Michael, 9, Marlon, 10, Jermaine, 12, Tito, 14, and Jackie, 16, piled into the family Volkswagen with Joseph and rode across the state line to Chicago’s West Englewood neighborhood, parking in front of Sunny Sawyer’s recording studio on West 69th. Today that address is a vacant lot overrun by six-foot weeds, neighbored by the last surviving commercial buildings on the block—a tavern called Mitchell’s that’s attached to Rainbow Food and Liquor and a boarded-up pharmacy. But in the late 60s it was at the heart of a busy business district.

The Jackson Five: Marlon, Tito, Jackie, Jermaine, and Michael, with Johnny Jackson (no relation) on drums FROM THE COLLECTION OF GILLES PETARD

The Jackson Five: Marlon, Tito, Jackie, Jermaine, and Michael, with Johnny Jackson (no relation) on drums

An ambitious entrepreneur, Sawyer was running a small record-pressing plant called Apex at 2009 W. 69th when, around 1965, he partnered with an older recording engineer, Vaughn Morrison, who designed and built a studio one door west. Most people knew it as Sunny Sawyer’s studio and others simply called it Apex, but its proper name, painted on its glass-brick facade, was Morrison Sound Studio. In ’61 Morrison had produced a top-ten pop hit, “This Time,” for Indiana native Troy Shondell.

“Morrison was a genius,” says legendary Chicago engineer Ed Cody, who often hired him to make stampers for his records. “Very knowledgeable.” Though relatively small, maybe 1,200 square feet, the recording room had a rounded ceiling designed to disperse sound evenly. “Acoustically it was a live room, instead of a big dead-sounding studio,” recalls Jerry Mundo, a musician and songwriter who frequently worked there. “It didn’t suck up a lot of sound, so most of the things we did came off bright and very definite.” The studio was stocked with high-quality Austrian microphones and an Ampex MR-70 four-track tape recorder, a costly top-of-the-line machine. “Unfortunately,” Mundo says, “only three tracks were working, so we’d have to mix down and ping-pong. It was tedious, but it was better than having one track or two tracks.”

By 1967 Sawyer had bought Morrison out. Early on he did some work as a vanity press—south-side gospel artists would pay to record, then take home 500 copies to sell or distribute at church. A good engineer with a good ear who’d worked at Universal, the top studio in the city, Sawyer also released rock ‘n’ roll, R & B, and blues records by artists like Mighty Joe Young, Fenton Robinson, and Josephine Taylor on his own labels, Palos, New Breed, and Betty—the last named after his wife, who along with another woman operated the machinery at the pressing plant while he ran the studio. Business was decent, but neighbors complained about booming bass leaking into their laundromat and grocery store. “Sometimes, knocking out the jams, you get up there in the dBs,” Mundo says. “To get your hot sound, you’re gonna have some bleed out the door.” According to Mundo, business owners in the neighborhood—which was then predominantly white—were also intimidated by the steady stream of black bluesmen coming in for late-night sessions. By 1969 Sawyer’s landlord had terminated the lease, forcing him to relocate to 72nd and Racine.

Jerry Mundo (second from left) with his group the Galaxies - FROM THE COLLECTION OF JAKE AUSTEN

Jerry Mundo (second from left) with his group the Galaxies – FROM THE COLLECTION OF JAKE AUSTEN

But it’s unlikely any neighbors were intimidated by the visitors on that fall day in ’67. “The Jacksons were little angels,” Sawyer says, “and real professionals, doing their own stuff.” Joseph had trained Tito on guitar and Jermaine on bass, and young family friend Johnny Jackson (no relation, though Motown would bill him as a cousin) was an excellent drummer. All three play on the recordings, but Keith supplemented Tito and Jermaine with adult musicians, including Richard Brown on rhythm guitar, Freddie Young on lead guitar, and Ray Grimes on bass. He brought in Lamont King on bongos and a conga player whose name he forgets (though he recalls he was a nephew of deejay Daddy-O Daylie). Keith and Steeltown co-owner Ludie Washington (who later recorded his own sides as Lou D. Washington and moved to California to act in movies like UHF and House Party) sang backup harmonies on “Big Boy,” along with Gary vocalist Delroy Bridgeman.

Bridgeman had been a member of a 50s doo-wop group called the Senators, who recorded for Vee-Jay subsidiary Abner, and Sawyer’s place was quite modest compared to studios he’d used in his heyday. “You could probably put the studio we were in into one of Universal’s office spaces,” he says. While many operations on Michigan Avenue’s Record Row had offices, rehearsal rooms, and places for musicians to lounge, Sawyer’s studio consisted of nothing more than the live room (where a piano and drum kit took up a fair amount of the space), a small control room, and a bathroom.

In a single lengthy session the group recorded four songs, all of which Keith says were already in their repertoire. “Big Boy” was by saxophonist Eddie Silvers, who at the time was playing in a group called the Soul Merchants and working as music director for Chicago R & B label One-derful Records. Its eventual B side, “You’ve Changed”—the only Steeltown track the Jacksons would record again for Motown—is by Gary native Jerry Reese. “We Don’t Have to Be Over 21″ was by Sherman Nesbary, a prolific Chicago writer who recorded under several names, including Verble Domino and Little Sherman & the Mod Swingers. Authorship of the fourth tune, “Some Girls Want Me for Their Lover,” is unclear.

Eddie Silvers (center) with his group the Soul Merchants - COURTESY LARRY NESTOR

Eddie Silvers (center) with his group the Soul Merchants – COURTESY LARRY NESTOR

Though in Moonwalk Michael recalls being giddy to put on a pair of too-big headphones and sing in a studio with adult musicians, he was far from unprepared. In addition to exhaustively rehearsing at home and hustling amateur nights and talent contests with pristine ten-minute sets, the brothers had also been doing proper shows at Chicago nightclubs like Spann’s Burning Spear and the Confidential Club, and they had a regular gig, sometimes playing multiple sets, at Mr. Lucky’s nightspot in Gary. Joe had even bought a microphone for their home to help the boys get used to singing into one.

Despite the kids’ professionalism, the session was grueling, in part because the Ampex’s dead track meant they had to stop more often to mix down and free up space on the tape. As the night wore on the boys grew weary. “I remember looking at the clock—it was 10 or 11 at night—and looking at these young kids up that late who had been at school earlier,” says Bridgeman. “I left the studio and went and brought sandwiches for them, because they hadn’t eaten since I don’t know what time. They had been too intense with the recording to stop to eat.”

Delroy Bridgeman with the Senators - COURTESY DELROY BRIDGEMAN

Delroy Bridgeman with the Senators – COURTESY DELROY BRIDGEMAN

Though the Jacksons finished all their tracks at that marathon session, Bridgeman says he and two other vocalists, Solomon Ard and George Rias, returned to Sawyer’s to redo some backups. Keith recalls bringing the tapes to Pressner’s studio in Gary for mixing and mastering. In Moonwalk Michael remembers recording in a studio he identifies as Keith’s on Saturday mornings after watching Roadrunner cartoons, but he was likely conflating trips to Pressner’s with the recording session—the only thing the boys did at Pressner’s, according to Keith, was observe postproduction. Keith sent the master to the Summit pressing plant in Willow Springs, Illinois, and when the records came back he set the single’s official release for January 31, 1968. The Jacksons began selling 45s at shows, and Steeltown started working to get local radio to give “Big Boy” a spin.



“Big Boy” is by far the best song from the session. Its author, Silvers, had toured with Fats Domino (he contends he wrote the bridge to “I’m Walking,” for which he was compensated one used pink Cadillac), Bill Doggett, and Ike & Tina, a job he says he quit because he was tired of refereeing the couple’s brawls. An East Saint Louis native, he’d settled in Chicago around 1965, where his relationship with Saint Louis harmony act the Sharpees helped him move up the ranks at One-derful Records, from writer and arranger to the label’s music director.

He’d composed the perfect song for little beyond-his-years Michael: with its combination of juvenile themes (skateboards, Mother Goose) and adult yearning, “Big Boy” would serve as a template for much future black bubblegum music. Silvers’s excellent arrangements shine through the slightly murky mix and showcase the somewhat raw, soulful vocal style Michael had developed watching R & B veterans from the wings of the Regal. Though Keith contends that nine-year-old Michael was “a better singer then than what he ended up to be,” it’s clear from this recording that Motown’s infamously rigorous training regimen still had something to offer him. All the same, his slightly nasal, borderline flat singing and odd enunciation (fairy tales is pronounced “fairy ta-wos”) add to the single’s considerable charm.

Impressed by regional sales, Atlantic Records struck a distribution deal for the single, and on March 5, 1968, Steeltown and Atlantic imprint Atco coreleased a new pressing. Steeltown president Ben Brown says he pushed the record to stores and radio and drove the brothers to promotional engagements. He recalls helping sell influential WLS disc jockey Art Roberts on the Jackson Five, landing them an appearance on Roberts’s local Swinging Majority dance show in early 1968, on the same episode as Berwyn rockers the Ides of March. The record was a local hit, and the future looked bright for Steeltown and the Jacksons.

The master reel of the Steeltown/Sunny Sawyer version of "Big Boy" - COURTESY GORDON KEITH

The master reel of the Steeltown/Sunny Sawyer version of “Big Boy” – COURTESY GORDON KEITH

But in June 1968, just three months after the Atco deal, Motown artists Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers (featuring future stoner comic Tommy Chong on guitar) played Chicago—some accounts say the Regal, others the Burning Spear—on a tour behind their biggest hit, “Does Your Mama Know About Me.” Amazed by the kiddie-soul act that opened for them, the band made arrangements for the Jacksons to travel to Detroit and shoot a short audition film to be sent to Motown’s new Los Angeles offices.

It wasn’t the first time someone had called Berry Gordy’s attention to the Jackson Five. Several Motown artists, among them Gladys Knight, had already been singing their praises. But Gordy wasn’t interested in dealing with a kiddie act—not until after he saw that audition film, where Michael turns in a dazzling impersonation of James Brown (who also said he discovered the Jacksons). Gordy signed the group away from Steeltown, and Taylor became their first producer at Motown.

The Jackson Five’s first Motown release wouldn’t come out till fall 1969. Motown’s story is that they were unsatisfied with the initial recordings and developed the group for a year; Keith says Atlantic kept Motown in court, waiting out the Steeltown contract. To this day he can’t say exactly what happened during all this legal wrangling—Atlantic and Motown clearly considered him a small fish and didn’t invite him to the table—but he’s certain he got played like a fiddle. In the end Keith was left with nothing but the Sawyer tracks he hadn’t yet released.

During this period the people who thought they were managing the Jackson Five could’ve fielded a baseball team. They included Keith, Spann, Jones, a Chicago policeman named Luther Terry, whom Spann describes as “an individual that had thought he had some latitude . . . but didn’t,” and New York lawyer Richard Arons, who reportedly struck his deal with Joseph when the boys went east to play Harlem’s Apollo Theater in May 1968. It was their first pro gig at the theater, booked by soul singer Joe Simon, who takes some credit for discovering Michael as a result—but the amateur-night audience that applauded the Jackson Five to victory in August 1967, on their first visit, deserves at least as big a share.

After he got squeezed out, Keith says, he just tried to grab what he could. In 1970 he released “We Don’t Have to Be Over 21″ to cash in on the Jackson Five’s Motown success, hiring Gary musician Wilton Crump (whose group the Mellow-Tones had played in Roosevelt High talent shows with the Jackson Five) to add string arrangements that echoed the group’s first Motown singles. Keith held tight to his last proper Jackson Five track and instead put a true B side on the B side—a nearly inaudible rehearsal tape of the Jackson brothers and Joseph improvising an instrumental blues vamp, which Keith titled “Jam Session.” Later that year he licensed the final side, “Some Girls Want Me for Their Lover,” to Dynamo Records in New York. The song peaks with nine-year-old Michael imitating a girl (or perhaps some girls) screaming his name in ecstasy. “We Don’t Have to Be Over 21″ appears again on the flip.



This exhausted the pre-Motown recordings of Michael Jackson and his brothers—or did it? Though it’s proved to be a less popular pastime than discovering Michael, you don’t have to dig too deep to find people who say they’ve discovered a “lost” early recording by the Jackson Five. These claims are both encouraged and confounded by the fact that the Jacksons’ 1969 breakthrough was followed by the emergence of hundreds of kiddie-soul groups, many deftly imitating Michael’s vocal style. “Every aspiring kid singer wanted to be like Mike,” says Ken Shipley of Chicago reissue label the Numero Group, whose 2007 compilation Home Schooled collected highlights of this subgenre. “He set off a copycat shock wave.”

In 2006 an English record dealer sold an acetate that he claimed contained two unreleased Jackson Five songs, “Jackson Man” and “Take My Heart,” in an online auction for £4,200 (at the time well over $8,000). The disc turned out to be a 1972 recording by the Magical Connection, a group from Chicago’s Stateway Gardens housing project. The band later became the Next Movement—they still play Las Vegas showrooms—and in a recent interview made it clear that “Jackson Man” was not inspired by the Jackson Five’s patriarch.



Similarly, though the Ripples & Waves’ “Let Me Carry Your School Books” mentions a Johnny and a Joe, they’re not the Jackson Five’s drummer and daddy. But when Steeltown released the song on the band’s only single—the group included one of Keith’s nephews—Jackson mania was in full swing, and Keith wouldn’t have minded if folks made that assumption. In fact he was hoping audiences would assume they were hearing a lost Jackson Five recording, and even renamed the group “Ripples & Waves + Michael”—technically accurate, since they had a vocalist named Michael Rogers. (When I asked Keith if he wanted people to think it might be Michael Jackson, he replied, “I sure did!”) Some online sources still insist that Jackson sang on the recording, but Phillip Mack, drummer for the Ripples & Waves, confirms that it was Rogers.

The Ripples & Waves with Gordon Keith (circled at upper left) - COURTESY PHILLIP MACK

The Ripples & Waves with Gordon Keith (circled at upper left) – COURTESY PHILLIP MACK

There does exist a lo-fi collection of mostly cover songs done by the real Jackson Five on a cheap home tape recorder, probably in 1967. Keith thinks they were made in the basement of his home, though they may also be from the Jacksons’ place—Joseph can be heard speaking and playing guitar on this muddy mess of a session, which just sounds like regular kids banging bongos and tambourines over sloppy guitar and bass. Another story has it that the session was at the home of their teacher Shirley Cartman, and that the tapes were stolen several years later when she had them transferred. This is unlikely, though, because the 1970 Steeltown B side “Jam Session” seems to be from the same recording.

This collection came to light in 1989, after Keith entered an ill-fated business partnership with Jerry Williams, better known as soul-rock eccentric Swamp Dogg. They released an album, The Jackson Five & Johnny: Beginning Years, that supplemented the four Sawyer studio songs with ten of the murky rehearsal tunes, which Williams enhanced with cheesy 80s backing tracks. It made little impact, but the rehearsal recordings surfaced again five years later, when Brunswick Records released Pre-History in advance of Michael Jackson’sHIStory box set.

The liner notes of Pre-History, which also includes the four Sawyer sides, explain that Steeltown president Ben Brown produced all the recordings, working with the Jackson Five on weekends at Bud Pressner’s studio in Gary, and claim that he later unearthed the master tapes at his parents’ home. The notes also say the Jacksons were originally known as the Ripples & Waves, and both sides of the Ripples & Waves single are included as lost Jackson Five numbers. Of course none of it is true—except that Brown did in fact hold the title of president at Steeltown. Keith contends that Pre-History (excepting the Ripples & Waves material) was mastered from a copy of The Jackson Five & Johnny: Beginning Years, and it’s hard to argue—Williams’s 1989 backing tracks are still there.

Brown, billed in the press releases he sent out this summer as “The Man Who Discovered Michael Jackson,” says he had nothing to do with the liner notes and tried to keep the Ripples & Waves songs off the album. “I guess the sound was so similar until they didn’t believe me,” he says. But he also says that his billing as producer didn’t mean he’d produced the original tracks—he admits he wasn’t involved with them till postproduction—but rather that he served as executive producer for the reissue project. Keith, for his part, denies that Brown had anything to do with the recordings, even in postproduction.

The Ripples & Waves single had already fooled others, most notably Jackson biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli, but Pre-History redoubled the problem. Because Brown, as a Steeltown founder, was in a position to know the truth, his involvement made the album’s false claims that much more persuasive. The resulting flood of misinformation still clogs not just message boards, online forums, and wikis but print accounts as well. In 2000 Motown/Universal even released a compilation of early Motown material titled Ripples and Waves: An Introduction to the Jackson Five, which prompted Keith and his nephew Elvy Woodard (a Ripple) to sue the Jacksons for infringement on the Ripples & Waves name. Keith says the suit was settled in part by several Jackson brothers—Michael not among them—making a DVD in which they personally apologize.

Larry Blasingaine today and in 1965, playing guitar with his band the Four Dukes JIM NEWBERRY; CLIPPING FROM THE COLLECTION OF BOB ABRAHAMIAN

Larry Blasingaine today and in 1965, playing guitar with his band the Four Dukes

This past July 5, Chicago soul historian Bob Abrahamian interviewed a guitarist named Larry Blasingaine on his long-running WHPK show (it’s archived, alongside interviews with hundreds of members of local vocal groups, at At the time my best information said the Jackson Five had cut their first single at Sunny Sawyer’s studio—I hadn’t yet learned what it was called—but Blasingaine spoke confidently of a session with the Jacksons at One-derful Records.

The facade of the One-derful Records building - PHOTO BY CARY BAKER FROM THE COLLECTION OF ROBERT PRUTER

The facade of the One-derful Records building – PHOTO BY CARY BAKER FROM THE COLLECTION OF ROBERT PRUTER

Blasingaine, who now goes by both Larry and Hakeem, tells me that on a warm July day in 1967, he headed to the studio in the One-derful building at 1827 S. Michigan. All that year he’d been dropping in after his classes let out at Westinghouse High, and he didn’t stop for summer vacation. Though only 15, he was already a brilliant guitarist and seasoned studio veteran, having honed his skills with a west-side community arts organization called Teens With Talent. He’d been recording since age 13 with his own group, then called the Four Dukes and later to be known as Larry & the Hippies. Though none of the members were old enough to shave, they served as house musicians for One-derful in the mid-60s and played behind Alvin Cash, Otis Clay, and Josephine Taylor, among others. They’d later back the Emotions and Jackie Wilson.

On the afternoon Blasingaine remembers, about four months before the Sawyer session, he went into the studio and found his friends the Jackson Five recording with songwriter Eddie Silvers and producer Otis Hayes. Blasingaine’s band often crossed paths with the Jacksons—they played the same circuit, sometimes sharing equipment, and both were booked by Luther Terry. “Eddie Silvers was producing them,” Blasingaine says. “He wrote the song they were recording, ‘Big Boy,’ and he saw me when I came in and said, ‘Larry, I need you for a minute. I want you to show the bass player, Jermaine, how to keep his bass from booming.'” Then Silvers asked if Blasingaine had his guitar. “Eddie said, ‘Grab your guitar, I want you to play this other part with them,’ and I did.” Silvers had written a melodic guitar part for the song’s intro that was likely too difficult for the less seasoned Tito; Blasingaine recorded it and moved on. “I can’t even remember if I was there when they sang. Once we finished recording I would go. I was young, you know. We had pop machines; we had other rooms.”

Teens With Talent bands: the Gayletts, the Ediquits, and Larry Blasingaine's group the Four Dukes - FROM THE COLLECTION OF BOB ABRAHAMIAN

Teens With Talent bands: the Gayletts, the Ediquits, and Larry Blasingaine’s group the Four Dukes – FROM THE COLLECTION OF BOB ABRAHAMIAN

Blasingaine’s vivid memories of this session initially puzzled me. I’d never heard of any association between the Jackson Five and One-derful, and no collector, historian, musician, or disc jockey I’d spoken to by then had any idea such a session had ever taken place—including Spann and One-derful staffer Larry Nestor, who preceded Silvers as music director.

According to Keith, Spann and Jones had the boys rehearsing at One-derful—many young bands, including some not signed to the label, routinely did so—and had hired One-derful guitarist Jimmy Jones to mentor them. Spann doesn’t recall such an arrangement.

But Keith also contends that when he signed the Jackson Five in 1967 he had to negotiate with four managers. He’s positive that the boys had a contract not just with Spann and Jones but also with the Leaner brothers.

Though less renowned than the Chess brothers, the Leaners were two of the most important figures in Chicago R & B. From 1962 till it closed up shop in ’69, George Leaner’s One-derful Records—one of the city’s few black-owned labels—was a respected resident of South Michigan’s Record Row. While its neighbors were perfecting sweet, smooth Chicago sounds, One-derful released hard, funky, and sometimes crazily comic R & B by artists like McKinley Mitchell, Alvin Cash, Harold Burrage, and the Five Du-Tones, whose “Shake a Tail Feather” became one of the label’s most enduring legacies.

George Leaner and his brother Ernie had learned the ins and outs of the business from their sister—they worked at her record store in the 40s—and from their uncle Al Benson, one of the most influential deejays in the history of Chicago black radio. The label’s second-floor office, with its rehearsal rooms and its studio, Tone Recordings, became an incubator not just for the label’s roster but for much of Chicago’s R & B community. “George was a good-hearted guy,” recalls Nestor, “and he just wanted to promote music in any way.” But this was also good business—the first floor housed Ernie’s United Distribution, which handled records from many local and national labels. It behooved the Leaners to have every label succeed, not just their own.

Deejay Richard Stamz and Ernie Leaner - FROM THE COLLECTION OF ROBERT PRUTER

Deejay Richard Stamz and Ernie Leaner – FROM THE COLLECTION OF ROBERT PRUTER

None of this necessarily illuminates the relationship between the Jacksons and One-derful. Spann is certain he did no business with the Leaners beyond picking up records at United, and it would have been unusual for the Leaners to have a contract with an artist and not release the record themselves. But songwriter and vocalist Billy McGregor witnessed a scene in 1966 that may cast some light on the situation. One day when he was at One-derful, working with Eddie Silvers on arrangements for his excellent debut single, “Mr. Shy,” he saw Joe Jackson and another man (he’s sure it wasn’t Spann or Jones) bring Michael in alone for an audition. “He was a little boy,” says McGregor. “He sang a cappella ‘Tobacco Road’ for George Leaner, who said he has talent but it would take a lot to put him out there because of his age—he’d have to have someone with him all the time.” Though this suggests a theory as to why Leaner didn’t release a Jackson Five record on One-derful, it doesn’t explain why the group would’ve recorded a track at his studio, or what happened to that recording.

None of this necessarily illuminates the relationship between the Jacksons and One-derful. Spann is certain he did no business with the Leaners beyond picking up records at United, and it would have been unusual for the Leaners to have a contract with an artist and not release the record themselves. But songwriter and vocalist Billy McGregor witnessed a scene in 1966 that may cast some light on the situation. One day when he was at One-derful, working with Eddie Silvers on arrangements for his excellent debut single, "Mr. Shy," he saw Joe Jackson and another man (he's sure it wasn't Spann or Jones) bring Michael in alone for an audition. "He was a little boy," says McGregor. "He sang a cappella 'Tobacco Road' for George Leaner, who said he has talent but it would take a lot to put him out there because of his age—he'd have to have someone with him all the time." Though this suggests a theory as to why Leaner didn't release a Jackson Five record on One-derful, it doesn't explain why the group would've recorded a track at his studio, or what happened to that recording.

Billy McGregor (far left) with the Antennas – FROM THE COLLECTION OF BOB ABRAHAMIAN

Ernie Leaner’s youngest son, Eric, was able to help, though he’d turned five years old in 1967 and was unaware of any Jackson Five session at One-derful. He put me in touch with Otis Hayes, who was with the label from its inception as a producer, engineer, writer, and accountant. Hayes describes a previously undocumented chapter in the development of the Jackson Five. He recalls being approached about the Jacksons by Louis Jefferson, aka J.J. the DJ, who was one of the “Mellow Fellows”—a popular group of disc jockeys on the Chicago Heights radio station WMPP.

Though it was a low-power station, WMPP had an influence on black music buyers in East Chicago and Gary out of proportion to its wattage, and this seems to have led Joseph Jackson to enlist J.J. the DJ as yet another agent for his sons. Hayes says Jefferson brought the group in to audition for Hayes, Jimmy Jones, and George Leaner, probably in early 1967. Leaner was apparently more impressed than he had been when Michael auditioned alone the prior year, and according to Hayes he decided to develop the Jacksons at One-derful, intending to sign them to a recording contract.



The Jackson family, including Joseph and his wife Katherine, would drive in from Gary after school three or four days a week, Hayes continues, arriving at One-derful around 5 PM—about when Larry Nestor left the office, which could explain why he doesn’t remember any of this. Hayes, Silvers, and Jimmy Jones would coach the boys for two or three hours as they studied chord progressions and vocal harmonies, rehearsed their sets, or just jammed, impressing Hayes with their creative tweaks to popular songs. At times the adults would accompany the boys to gigs at clubs and record hops in Gary or Chicago. This went on for perhaps five months, helping transform a talented teen band into an act on the verge of greatness.

As Hayes remembers things, no outside management was involved after Jefferson set up the original audition, which might explain why Spann says he’s never heard of this arrangement. “As far as I knew then,” Hayes says, “there was no other agent. Joseph was the man. He was pretty strict on ‘em.” In Hayes’s eyes this fatherly discipline was more constructive than problematic, turning the boys into perfect students. “They were all great kids, they would listen, and I think that’s what carried them a long way. The father got that in them to learn and learn and learn.”

Hayes was convinced that the Jackson Five “had what it took,” and says George Leaner was impressed by their progress. “He probably would have signed them up,” Hayes recalls, “but when it got into the legalities of it, there was a lot involved with them being minors. They have to have costs in there for tutoring and all that, in case they had to go on the road. Once he checked into it and found out what it involved monetary-wise, he wasn’t able to do it at that time.”

With the benefit of hindsight it’d be easy to characterize that decision as shortsighted, especially if One-derful already had some kind of preliminary development deal with the group. The label worked with other minors—Blasingaine’s band, a young Deniece Williams, members of Alvin Cash’s entourage—both before and after the Jacksons. But in all likelihood it was because Leaner realized how big the Jackson Five could get that he chose to be cautious—a runaway hit could bankrupt a small label, because up-front costs ballooned much faster than profits.

One of the strangest things about this chapter in the Jacksons’ history is that the major players have kept it to themselves for so long. Discretion and humility often seem to be in short supply whenever the Jacksons are concerned; many of the people who claim to have had a hand in discovering them do so on the thinnest of premises. But Louis Jefferson appears to have taken the story of his role in the band’s development to his grave in the early 70s. Amos Cobb, who worked in radio with Jefferson in 1969 and ’70, the peak years of Jackson Five mania—and who himself boasts about being the Jacksons’ driver, touting his role in their development—says Jefferson never mentioned it, not even privately. Otis Hayes, Jimmy Jones, and Eddie Silvers (who also died in the early 70s, reportedly during a session for Chess) have never gone on record about preparing the Jacksons for megastardom. And the Leaners never loudly lamented the Ones That Got Away, at least not in public.

Tony Leaner, another of Ernie’s sons, never heard anything about a Jackson Five session at One-derful either. But he does recall that the label’s dalliance with the group was family lore, something they would sit around the kitchen table and joke about during the 70s—he says with a chuckle that his brother Eric, ten years his junior, missed out on all the stories. In the label’s waning days, Tony handled promo work alongside his brother Billy (now deceased), and he’s quick to point out that his family knew it was far from certain they’d be able to turn the Jacksons into Motown-esque million sellers. “To think that One-derful Records could have had the same success would be a stretch,” he says. “And remember, even Berry Gordy was reluctant to work with kids that young.”

Because the group spent so many hours at the label’s studio, Hayes didn’t attach any great significance to the day they recorded “Big Boy” and strains to recall details. It seems unlikely that the session was just a casual rehearsal being taped, but it’s not necessarily a given that it was intended for release. George Leaner might have wanted to hear how the band sounded in the studio, or Eddie Silvers might have been documenting his tune and arrangements, making something halfway between a demo for the group and a songwriter demo.

Silvers seems to have been approaching it as a serious endeavor, since he asked Blasingaine to help Jermaine muffle his bass. Blasingaine was certainly experienced enough in the studio to know the difference between a rehearsal and a real session—and if I were inclined to doubt his memory, I would’ve reconsidered when I saw how upset he was when it came up in conversation that his version of “Big Boy” wasn’t the one that got released. For more than 40 years he’d believed that he played on the Jackson Five’s first single. Though he’d always had a hard time accounting for the song’s middling production quality (“It was kind of a rinky-dinky mix for a One-derful recording,” he recalls), he’d never heard that another version had been recorded. When I told him he wasn’t on the Steeltown release, he was seriously rattled.

While it’s not totally impossible that Steeltown had access to the One-derful tracks, the label definitely had the group rerecord the song with Sunny Sawyer. Silvers could’ve passed his version along to Steeltown to use as a template, and Ben Brown claims he and Keith listened to it at Pressner’s studio, but Keith says he never heard it.

After Ernie Leaner’s death in 1990, his children inherited One-derful and its assets, and they’ve since organized and maintained an archive of more than 700 masters. Unfortunately One-derful’s holdings weren’t maintained to the highest standards between the company’s demise in 1969 and George Leaner’s death in 1983. Things got pretty grim in the late 70s, when they were opened up to deep-pocketed record collectors from Japan and Europe. English collector Rod Shard remembers a 1979 visit: “I’m mooching about and trying to avoid things and I’ve got tape all wrapped around my feet. . . . I try to extricate myself with little luck and I traced it back to a spool with ‘Twine Time’ written on it. I had to snap the tape to get out of it.”

Though the reel Shard saw may not have been the master, Alvin Cash’s “Twine Time” was the label’s biggest hit. Many tapes less valued by the elder Leaners would’ve been recorded over or discarded and never even put into storage. The odds of the One-derful version of “Big Boy” turning up seemed slim.


“Big Boy” reel and studio worksheet from One-derful Records JIM NEWBERRY

After our initial conversations, Eric and Tony Leaner said they’d try to find the Jackson tape among the surviving masters. They’d just made a deal with a new music-administration firm to digitize their holdings, but though the tapes were finally well organized the brothers weren’t optimistic about uncovering one that neither of them had known existed.

On the morning of August 17, though, I received an e-mail from Eric Leaner informing me that his sister, Phyllis Newkirk, had just found two very promising tapes in storage. One reel, dated July 22, 1967, was labeled “Jackson 5 band tracks” and “Young Folks band.” (The Young Folk were a former Teens With Talent group with whom Blasingaine often played.) Unfortunately the tape itself looked to be badly deteriorated, warped and discolored and with its magnetic coating coming off in flakes. This made it all the more amazing that the other tape, dated July 13, seemed to be in excellent shape. It was labeled “Jackson Five—I’m a Big Boy Now.”

It will likely be some time before anyone, even the Leaners, can hear this recording. Its significance necessitates high-level precautions to protect against damage or piracy. Even after the music is transferred to a digital medium, the Leaners would be wise to explore their options before playing it for the world. Its value—in both historic and monetary terms—is potentially huge. Because of Keith’s prickly relations with both Joseph Jackson and Motown, Steeltown’s “Big Boy” has never been included in any major-label Michael Jackson or Jackson Five box set or collection. If the unearthed One-derful tape turns out to be what it seems, the song might finally see widespread release—which could turn out to be a very good thing for Keith, especially if it sparks interest in the Steeltown recordings.

The find has also lifted a weight from Larry Blasingaine’s shoulders. Still disappointed about the Steeltown single, he was very happy to learn that he played on what might be an even more important Jackson Five recording, and that his memories of the session—almost certainly the group’s first—led to the discovery of the tape. When I told him the good news, he was at a loss for words. “Man, oh man!” he declared, the joy plain as day in his voice. “I don’t know what to say.”

The decades to come may well bring a wealth of unreleased Jackson songs, on par with the from-the-grave output of Hendrix or Tupac. But most observers expect this onslaught to consist principally of overproduced late-period jams, many of them unfinished at the time of Jackson’s death and augmented posthumously. The possibility that the first unreleased track to surface will instead be a decades-unheard recording of the Jackson Five’s first studio endeavor—a stripped-down 60s R & B tune, cut without adult ringers at a better studio than their debut single—is almost too good to be true. The One-derful session is worlds away from the slick and calculated work the Jacksons would soon do for Motown. It captures an eager, unjaded nine-year-old only months away from the end of his childhood, a childhood he would pursue for the rest of his life: Michael, a big boy now, soulfully lamenting that “fairy tales and wishful dreams are broken toys.”

Many thanks to Bob Abrahamian, Rob Sevier, Wilton Crump, James Porter, Larry Nestor, and Robert Pruter for their assistance with this story.

Read more at Chicago Reader

See recent video interview with Jake Austen

Sources: Chicago Reader – By Jake Austen (Published September 10, 2009 | Windy City News | All Things Michael

Video Tour Of Michael Jackson’s Ranch

Sources: La Curbed – By Biance Barragan | Today’s Show | All Things Michael


Colony Capital, owners of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, are putting the famed property up for sale. The Los Olivos ranch, which once had a giant slide and carnival rides on the premises, occupies over 2,600 acres of land. We’ve found a video exploring the expansive grounds but mostly focusing on the less-often-seen interior of the main house, which used to contain knickknacks (the Academy Award forGone With the Wind!) and still has flooring ripped from an Eighteenth-Century French home. Elizabeth Taylor got married here, Marlon Brando hung out here—the house is full of stories.

Read more at LA Curbed

Brad Sundberg Shares His Fond Memories Of Visiting Neverland

Source: In the Studio With Michael Jackson | All Things Michael (Pictures)

The Pinnacle List

It would be hard to estimate how many times I had been to the ranch. That’s what my girls called it. “Dad’s going to Michael’s ranch tomorrow, so he’ll be home late.” For fifteen years I had periodically driven the winding roads from my house just a few miles from the Rose Bowl across the 118 to the 101, through Santa Barbara then up the mountain to Los Olivos. It was almost exactly two and one half hours each way, if traffic was kind.

1 (1)
The funny thing about driving to the ranch was that I never got tired of it. There was always a bit of excitement going on in my head, like when I was young and going to an amusement park or the beach. Yes, it was work, but it was more than just work. We were building a place that was magical, and it made people happy.

A general view of a pond next to the main house

A general view of a pond next to the main house

I remember my first time at the ranch, likely in 1988. Michael had purchased it and brought a real estate book about it (it’s former name was Sycamore Valley Ranch) to the studio to show us pictures of it. He quietly pulled me aside to ask if I would install some studio monitors in his bedroom, and the next thing I knew I was driving to Neverland for the first time.

When you arrived at Neverland, the first thing you saw was the security gate, and the buzzer. Even though I have driven through that gate countless times, and the guards knew me and my big green Chevy Tahoe, I never had the freedom to enter the property if my name was not on the pass list. Once they found your name, the giant wooden gate would open, and you would drive to the guard shack just on the other side.


Vehicle departing Neverland

Security was always professional and friendly, but never casual. I was asked the same questions almost every visit, and asked to sign in.

“Do you have a camera?”


“Do you know where you are going?”


Having been cleared, you would be allowed to proceed.

The drive from the first gate to the second gate was perhaps the better part of a mile. There were no lawns or flowers, and the hills were usually dry and dusty with bushy shrubs and lizards. You would never think it was the driveway of a global celebrity.

Michael's Giving Tree

Michael’s Giving Tree

Before too long you would see the “Boy On The Moon” logo welcoming guests from a sign on the side of the road. Finally you would pass over that last hill and start to round the corner. Whether by chance or design, I always liked this little buildup of waiting to see the manicured lawns and gardens. It was like a long, slow introduction to a great song or movie. You would start getting glimpses of lush green grass and white fences.

MJ Neverland Ranch
As you drove, more things would come into view: the lake, giant oak trees protecting a huge house, guest houses, the train tracks and a train station, statues, and far off in the distance, there were more buildings, and of course the amusement park and zoo.

Michael's Giving Tree

Michael’s Giving Tree

inside-neverland-ranch-photos inside-neverland-ranch-photos_0
Even though I had crested that hill perhaps 250 times, I still got that little twinge of excitement every single time. It would be impossible not to.

As you would drive down the last hill leading to the ornate gate, you would see a huge parking lot for buses and guests to leave their cars. This was all part of the drama of visiting Neverland. You didn’t get the whole show at once, it was delivered in stages.

First you would leave your car and take a short walk through the ornate gate. At least that’s what we called it, the “Ornate Gate.”

Neverland wasn’t really set up for a lot of traffic, as the primary roads are barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other without driving on the grass. Also, most guests (and Michael) drove customized golf carts on the ranch, so it was safer to keep as many guest cars and trucks in this lot as possible.

Michael loved to create build-up and drama, and it started with the arrival of the guest at this gate. Guests would leave their cars and be greeted by a uniformed ranch employee, and escorted onto a private amusement park train. This was a great way for them to enter into Michael’s world.

The Pinnacle List
He understood how to tell a story and how to set a stage, and it all started at this gate.

There really was no place on earth like Neverland, and it will never be the same because its creator is gone. Still, it will always be fully alive in my memory.

I recently read that the ranch will be put up for sale. I guess I have mixed feelings about that, but there is no Neverland without Michael, so I suppose this makes the most sense. Still, I would like to try to tell you what Neverland what like, from the music, to the rides, to the zoo. And I can’t think of a better guy to share some stories with me than Brad Buxer.

Join us next month at the “Bradx2 – Extended Mix” seminar in Orlando, featuring a special segment on our memories of Neverland.

Tickets are on sale now. Will You Be There?


“I Know It’s Out There!” – A Tribute to Michael Jackson

Source: Superheroyou – By Thomas Bähler | All Things Michael


We were recording at Westlake Studio A on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles. Quincy Jones was producing Michael Jackson with Bruce Swedien, our masterful engineer. I had just finished recording a special sound on “Beat It,” Michael’s new song.

Michael and Quincy called me in because I owned a Synclavier, a revolutionary new digital synthesizer that was taking the business by storm, even though its cost was that of a small home. Michael wanted a particular sound, that he had heard on the Synclavier demo record the company had sent him, to be the first sound you heard on “Beat It”. He then asked me to play it once again, to announce Van Halen’s iconic guitar solo in the middle of the song.

I had come out from New york to do the gig and hang out at the studio as Quincy, Michael, Bruce and I had worked closely together for years and it was great to be with them again.

I soon found myself in the midst of a search for a snare drum sound for this song that had been going on for almost three weeks.

For those of you who don’t know what a snare drum is, play any pop song and listen to the drum that plays on beats two and four (the beats we clap on at a concert). Snares come in a wide variety of sounds, from sharp ‘piccolo snares’ to booming ‘field snares,’ and Michael had a sound in his imagination that he wanted to find in physical form.

We joined him on that search.

“Beat It” was somewhat of a departure for Michael because it was a rock song, and a killer one at that.

Normally, the production team would have already run its patience to the breaking point, listening to every snare drum type we could find in Los Angeles. But Michael’s enthusiasm kept our spirits running high.

“It’s out there! I know it’s out there!” he’d exclaim.

As he listened to each snare, they were either logged as possibilities or sent back, with Michael saying “I like that one,” or “That one mixed with another could do it.” It was clear he hadn’t yet found what he was hearing in his limitless imagination. But never through this process did I hear him say, “That doesn’t work,” or “No, that one’s no good.” When he listened to a snare that wasn’t going to make the cut, Michael would simply smile and say, “Let’s hear the next one.”

In all the years I worked with Michael as his principal vocal arranger, not once did I hear a negative word leave his lips – from the time he was 13 until his untimely death in 2009. In my opinion, Michael’s determined optimism played a major role in his phenomenal success.

I mean, isn’t that a Superhero quality?

Determined Optimism. It’s a powerful tool.

Determined optimism is what I call using my free will to decide that I am focusing on what I want.

If you’d like to see this process for yourself, watch the film created after he left this planet, This is It, and you’ll see firsthand what I mean. And it was obvious in the studio as we searched for the snare sound only Michael could hear. His positivity shone like the sun as we tried snare after snare, and he repeated often, “I know it’s out there!”

One afternoon, we received a Gran Cassa, a large symphonic bass drum that Michael and Quincy planned on using in another song. It took two guys to carry it, housed in its black fiberboard case.

They set it down in one of the isolation rooms next to the main room in Studio A and began unpacking it. When they set down the top half of the fiberboard case, a fairly large object fell off an adjacent shelf and hit it.

“That’s it!” cried Michael, his eyes gleaming with recognition. “That’s the sound! Svensk (Swedien’s nickname), let’s mic it!”

Then Michael jumped around the booth of Studio A, repeating, “I knew it was out there.”

Next time you listen to “Beat It,” you’ll notice there are two distinctive snare drum sounds. The first is a somewhat normal snare sound on beat two of each measure. The second snare sound occurs on beat four. It’s there you’ll hear the added resonance and weight of that big fiberboard case!

So how did Michael know that this sound he was looking for was out there?

He didn’t.

He used his superpower of Belief.

Michael believed.

When we believe, we open the door to limitless possibilities. When we doubt, we shut that door. It’s that simple.

If Michael had slumped into his chair saying, “We’re never going to find this sound,” he would have been right.

It’s like putting a fire under a teapot. We don’t stand there and watch it boil because that’s a waste of time. Instead, we pay attention and super-tune our awareness to hear the telltale whistle of the teakettle.

If you notice in this story, Michael was the only one who heard this sound when it happened. None of us responded to it, but Michael did. He was listening for it.

When we declare what we want, like Michael did, we command things to happen. When we declare what we want and it serves others, the universe responds and we get it.

This is another superhero trait, and yet so accessible.

The next time, you feel overwhelmed, stuck, lost, indecisive or full of doubt, stop and ask yourself:

What do I want?

This philosophy of trusting our intuition is an attribute of virtually all the great artists and CEO’s I’ve had the pleasure to work with. From Quincy Jones, Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, and Diana Ross to Henry Ford II, they all listen to and believe in their intuition. Quincy calls them goosebumps.

I understand and live this philosophy because my father instilled it in me as a young boy. It has worked for me throughout my life and has placed me in concert with the greats I’ve listed here.

Recently, this philosophy revealed itself to me as a tangible formula that has unwittingly ignited my imagination throughout my life. I am now thrilled and compelled to share it with you as a book and virtual program entitled, WHAT YOU WANT WANTS YOU: How to get what you want…every time.

I dedicate this article to ‘Smelly,’ our nickname for Michael, who inspired us with his superhero spirit and limitless gifts. We miss you and are grateful for the mountain of love you have left for us to enjoy for eons to come. You truly are a superhero.

Thomas Bähler has enjoyed a long and distinguished creative career, having composed, produced and served as creative director, songwriter, singer and arranger for numerous movies, TV hits, albums and theatrical productions. He has composed music for Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson and Steven Spielberg. Among the many hits he has penned are Michael Jackson’s She’s Out of My Life and Cher’s Living in a House Divided. Thomas has over 30 Gold and Platinum records. The list of his musical accomplishments is extensive.

Thomas has performed as:

Musical Director for the finale of “Live Aid” and conductor of its finale
Creator of the vocal arrangements and associate producer for “We Are the World”
Creative Director for the 1994 World Cup in the U.S.

Music Director for many events sponsored by the White House including “America’s Millennium,” “Concert of the Americas” and President Clinton’s Inaugural Concert.

Thomas has also served as Creative Director at Radio City Music Hall and also for numerous Superbowl half time shows.

ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE, Thomas’ debut novel, has been called an “undeniable force of nature” by A Bookish Affair. Thomas lives in New York City is preparing to release his newest book and virtual program, WHAT YOU WANT WANTS YOU.

Come visit me at my website, on Twitter @tbahler, or on Facebook.

Did you enjoy this article? Let us know in the comments, on Facebook or Tweet us @SuperheroYou.


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Originally posted on 1984 (For the Love of Pop's Greatest Year):


To commemorate the 5th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s passing I’m posting my 6 Favorite Post-Thriller Michael Jackson Releases from 1984 (very specific – I know – but the list fits perfectly within the theme of this blog and the focus of my obsessions).

These are the best songs either sung, written or produced by MJ that came out in the great (greatest) year of pop. Coming up today . . .

MJ 73#5 Farewell My Summer Love.

In 1984 everything and anything associated with Michael Jackson turned to gold (or platinum) so it’s no coincidence that in May of that year Motown ‘found’ this ‘lost track’ in its archives and released it. The label used existing Jackson vocals, originally recorded a decade earlier, and added new musical tracks. Hmmmm – a record label crafts a new release from old recordings completely without Jackson’s permission . . .  why does this seem so familiar? Hmmm.


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