Michael Jackson's LA session musicians remember

Producer Quincy Jones called on some of the top session musicians in the business to work on Michael Jackson’s albums. And much of that work took place in Los Angeles. KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez talked to some of those musicians and has this story.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: Musician Greg Phillenganes worked on the album Off the Wall. The song “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” includes a lot of his playing.

Greg Phillenganes: I did the bass, the piano, the clarinet, these two clarinet parts at the end of it. I actually came up with that middle section, the only other part of the song that’s different, I came up with that.

Guzman-Lopez: Phillenganes also recorded with the Jackson 5. However, Off The Wall was special because star producer Quincy Jones was in charge, and it was Michael Jackson’s first solo album and his musical curiosity came through.

Phillenganes: He always had very specific ideas and was able to relay them. Methodical. It’s great. He always was very happy when a musical idea that he had was able to be realized.

Guzman-Lopez: Phillinganes worked on six Jackson albums. Many of the sessions took place at Westlake studios near the intersection of La Brea and Santa Monica Boulevard. It was hard work, Phillenganes says, with occasional Michael Jackson shopping breaks. During one, Phillenganes says, Jackson put on sunglasses, an afro wig, and fake teeth.

Phillenganes: Just me and him walked across La Cienega and went into the Beverly Center, and as I’m crossing the street I remember saying to myself, I cannot believe I’m crossing La Cienega with Michael Jackson and nobody knows.

Guzman-Lopez: Bass player Nathan East was also part of the Bad album recording sessions. He remembers an artist at the top of his game, with lyrics memorized and a great voice. “Can’t Stop Loving You” is one of his favorite songs from that session.

Nathan East: The bass covers the low register and sort of marries the drums and the keyboards and guitars – it’s kind of the glue that holds the group together.

Guzman-Lopez: Session musicians are hired guns who are a critical part of the recording process. And that’s what he loves about the work.

East: You do connect. For instance, without that music that’s recorded the artist won’t shine in the same kind of way. However, yeah, we’re kind of the behind the scenes guys – you go, what you do is create the framework for the artist to shine.

Guzman-Lopez: East says Jackson wasn’t immune to the cycles that other musicians face in their careers. It’s unfortunate, he says, that Michael Jackson’s personal life clouded his musical achievements.

East: I’m sure there will be probably multiple tributes and gatherings, it’s so early now – I would suspect that Quincy Jones would probably organize something that would be a tribute.

Guzman-Lopez: East says most of the session musicians he’s talked to who worked with Jackson are still in a state of shock. But they count themselves lucky to have worked with a musical legend.

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