MJFC: Tommy, thank you very much for this interview and for agreeing to answer questions from Michael’s fans. Before we get to their questions, can you please tell us a little bit about your background first? You started playing guitar at the age of 5, right?
Tommy: Yes, I started actually playing songs at age 5 but I picked up my deceased father’s guitar at age 3. My mom encouraged me to continue to play telling me “You sound good, Tommy”!
MJFC: How did you become a professional lead and rhythm guitarist?
Tommy: My grandfather told me to learn to play all kinds of music and said if it sounds good play it. My uncles listened to Santana and Gino Vanelli. My Grandfather listened to country. They are and actually my family is musically inclined. My professionalism comes through God in the name of Jesus Christ. Longevity and playing different genres make your lifespan in music last longer.
MJFC: Who were your early musical influences and idols?
Tommy: My early influences and idols were Gino Vanelli, Stanley Clarke, Al Demiola, Raymond Gomez, B. B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Neil Shine (Journey), Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen), KISS, Styx, Jimi Hendrix, Listen to all musicians and you can glean something from each one. (Even if it really isn’t your forte). Listen to the legends, each has a special sound and know who they are. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t play like someone you admire. You have to know who you are and what you want to be.
MJFC: How would you describe your personal style in music?
Tommy: From learning different genres of music I learned to find who I am and I came to find me through different artists and fusing a few notes from each one. You have to learn from legendary guitar players. I like to describe my personal style as a funky mix of rock and roll and blues. When I play, people have said to me “You’re bad” and I say “I’m okay“ and they say “you’re better than okay” and I say “I know!”. The audiences tell me “I felt like you were trying to tell me something”.
What they (and you) hear is my soul singing out and what you feel is the beat of my heart. It’s all me, even if I’m playing someone else’s music, you’re getting true Tommy O.
MJFC: You are on a worldwide tour with The Jacksons. What are your plans for the future?
Tommy: I am working on my own solo project which is a rock and roll compilation. I’ve finally realized being with a legend like MJ I finally believe in myself that I’m on my way to doing Tommy O. Look forward to it, I hope I can satisfy everyone’s heart and soul.
Yes, it’s an honor to play with the legendary Jackson 5, I still call them the Jackson 5! My future plans include continuing the tour with them in Europe through April and then other parts of the globe the rest of the year.
Come check us out, you won’t be disappointed. The complete tour schedule can be found at www.facebook.com/TommyOrganFanPage.
Sandra: Did Michael direct you on your playing?
Tommy: Never. He always liked the way I played and I was honored for that.
Claudia: Did MJ want the classic sound or wanted some innovations from the band members in terms of interpretation of the songs?
Tommy: No, never interpretations of the songs, the best was to listen to it over and over again. When you do that, you could find that you thought you knew it and the more you hear it, you would find something different.
Michael was looking for the feeling. Once a hit, always a hit. Learn it for what it is, simple is awesome as long as you put your heart into it. Simple guitar parts must have heart and soul and that’s what Michael liked in an artist. That’s what he saw in me and again, I’m honored for that.
Jannelle (USA): Did [Michael] have a big sense of humor in rehearsal?
Tommy: Sure he did! I remember seeing him with a prototype of a spider and he got in it like it was a ride and was told “Michael, it’s not a ride” and he laughed at himself. Michael was the most funloving, beautiful and adventurous human I’ve ever met.
Gamelle (Liverpool, UK) & Denzel: What was your best memory of you and Michael Jackson in rehearsals and why?
Tommy: On “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin”. I went to the front of the stage and played the lead line and looked him in his eyes and he looked me back we both smiled.
Abigail: What were the most surprising things Michael Jackson did during rehearsal? What was it like performing with guitarist Orianthi?
Tommy: The most surprising things Michael Jackson did during rehearsal was when he wanted me to jump off the very top of the riser which was really high. I told MJ I had a change of heart and he laughed because he was like, I don’t blame you Tommy.
It was great, I was honored to stand next to Orianthi, she’s an awesome guitar player.
Lauren (USA): Tommy, I’ve always wanted to know what you saw and felt when you looked in Michael’s eyes? You referenced that experience in This Is It.
Tommy: I saw a godly powerful spirit and I saw that he wanted love and I gave him that love back.
On “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin”, he asked me could I move and I told him there’s a lot of notes and I don’t want to play any bad notes. We stared at one another and I said to myself : ‘This is MICHAEL JACKSON’ and he smiled and I smiled back. My career is confirmed and he walked past me with thumbs up like ‘That’s it Tommy’. Lol!
Valerie: You have worked with Michael on many tours. Which one was your favorite and why?
Tommy: TII was my first tour with Michael, I have worked with the Janet Jackson Rhythm Nation Tour, Randy Jackson on his Band of the Gypsies album, and Marlon Jackson on The Top of the Pops. But this was my first time working with Michael.
Linda: What was your favorite thing about Michael that made you go, damn, he is so good?
Tommy: His whole demeanor, sensitivity, meaning about healing the world. He really meant it, that was really him, he was not just saying that.
Martha: In several interviews with Michael’s family it has been suggested Michael was being forced or manipulated by forces against his will to do the “This Is It” concerts. Having rehearsed with him, could you compare his presence and comment on his level of enthusiasm, energy and attitude during the rehearsal process for “This Is It?
Tommy: Yes, he had all the enthusiasm he always had. He wanted to do this last concert for his fans.
Martine (Antwerp, Belgium): I still wonder if the tour ‘This Is It’ wasn’t putting too much stress on Michael. [Do] you think he could have done the 5o concerts with his condition?
Tommy: Yes, I believe he absolutely could have done those shows.
MJFC: You were on your way to rehearse with Michael when you heard about his death?
MJFC: You also took part in the MJ tribute concert in Cardiff (UK) in 2011. Was it tough to perform?
Tommy: It brought back many memories so it was bittersweet. I was honored to be a part of a tribute to my hero and an icon.
Lauren (USA): What did you learn from working with Michael that you carry forward in your current work?
Tommy: I learned humility. Each day I go to church because the church is in me. Michael displayed this type of spirituality every time that I saw him and I want to continue to do the same. It may be a smile, handshake, hug or saying hello to someone, but each gesture can make a difference – love and kindness, that’s what I want to exhibit.
MJFC: If you had to describe Michael with 3 words what would these be?
Tommy: Humble, ingenious, loving.
MJFC: What do you think made Michael such an exceptional and outstanding artist? What will be his impact in history?
Tommy: Michael was intelligent and learned by teaching others, as well as taught through learning. I hope you understand what I’m saying. His impact on history will be the legacy of talent (music, dance) and charity. You should see his kids, they are amazing, well-rounded and smart.
Valerie: If there is one thing that you would like the world to know about Michael Jackson, what would that be?
Tommy: I have a great relationship with the Lord and I want the world to know that Michael did too. I believe that God welcomed him into heaven with “Job, well done, Michael.”