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Recording, Live Sound Pros Remember Michael Jackson

By Clive Young. Fans weren't the only ones shocked and dismayed by the passing of Michael Jackson on Thursday, June 25, 2009; colleagues in the recording and live sound industries were likewise saddened by the news that the pop idol had suffered cardiac arrest at age 50.

By Clive Young.

Fans weren’t the only ones shocked and dismayed by the passing of Michael Jackson on Thursday, June 25, 2009; colleagues in the recording and live sound industries were likewise saddened by the news that the pop idol had suffered cardiac arrest at age 50.

Bruce Swedien
“Michael was, in my estimation, the greatest musical talent I have ever worked with,” engineer/producer Bruce Swedien told Pro Sound News. “And I have recorded all the major artists over the years. Michael was in a class by himself.”

In addition to recording and/or mixing many of Jackson’s albums including Thriller, Bad, Dangerous and Invincible, Swedien has worked with legends including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, Quincy Jones, Muddy Waters, Paul McCartney, B.B. King, George Benson and John Lee Hooker.

“I had spoken with him recently,” Swedien, who shared a writing credit on “Jam,” the opening track from Dangerous, added, “but hadn’t worked with him since Invincible. He was incredible. What a tremendous talent, and such a great guy to be with in the studio. Wonderful.”

While best-known for his albums, Jackson was equally renowned for his concert work.

Paul “Pab” Boothroyd“Michael Jackson had many mysteries and rumors that surrounded him, but my experience of working with him can only be described as a unbelievable opportunity to work with one of the greatest performers that I have ever witnessed,” Paul “Pab” Boothroyd told Pro Sound News.

Jackson’s final public performances were mixed by Boothroyd (Paul McCartney, AC/DC), who handled FOH duties for the two Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary TV Special concerts–held at New York City’s Madison Square Garden just hours before the tragic events of September 11, 2001–and United We Stand: What More Can I Give, a benefit concert held on October 21 that year at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC.

“His performance on stage at that last concert in RFK Stadium was a memory I will never forget. Myself and the late John Roden, who mixed monitors for him on many occasions, were invited to meet Michael before the show in his dressing room by his request.

“Nothing weird about him; totally pleasant and chatty, very considerate. [We were] seeing him being just a simple Dad, dealing with his kids, making sure they got something proper to eat and not to scoff all the chocolate before doing so; making last minute wardrobe decisions; and thanking the both of us for making the long haul trip from the UK to be part of the event and the good causes that would follow from the proceeds. When John and I finally left his dressing room, we both said to each other ‘Wow.’ Totally cool guy, amazing performer and it was one of my career highlights being able to work with him.”

Throughout the height of his career, the performer toured with audio services provided by Clair (Lititz, PA), starting with the Jacksons Victory reunion tour in 1985, and continuing through tours supporting the albums Bad (1989), Dangerous (1993) and HIStory (1997). Throughout that period, live engineer James “Trip” Khalaf (Madonna, Roger Waters) often tackled FOH duties for the singer.

“Michael Jackson was the consummate professional and a dynamic performer,” said Troy Clair, president of concert audio provider Clair, in a statement. “His death is a huge loss to both the music and live production industries, and we are proud to have had him as a long-standing member of our client roster.”

That sentiment was echoed in a statement by producer Quincy Jones, who said, “To this day, the music we created together on Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad is played in every corner of the world and the reason for that is because he had it all…talent, grace, professionalism and dedication. He was the consummate entertainer and his contributions and legacy will be felt upon the world forever. I’ve lost my little brother today, and part of my soul has gone with him.”

Philadelphia soul music producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who recorded two albums with the hits “Enjoy Yourself” and “Let Me Show You the Way to Go” for the Jacksons in the mid-1970s, said in a joint statement this morning they were “extremely saddened by the sudden death of our dear friend Michael Jackson. We were privileged and honored to record him and his brothers here at Philadelphia International Records. We are very honored to have been a part of his music and creative career in helping to write and produce his own music with his brothers; we know his music and legacy will live on for a very long time”.

Jackson’s initial run of solo albums–Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad, Dangerous and HIStory–were the high-points of a career that saw him sell an estimated 750 million records worldwide, release 13 No. 1 singles and become one of a handful of artists to be inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Jackson won 13 Grammy Awards and received the American Music Award’s Artist of the Century Award.

Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy, said in a statement, “Rarely has the world received a gift with the magnitude of artistry, talent, and vision as Michael Jackson. He was a true musical icon whose identifiable voice, innovative dance moves, stunning musical versatility, and sheer star power carried him from childhood to worldwide acclaim. A 13-time Grammy recipient, Michael’s career transcends musical and cultural genres and his contributions will always keep him in our hearts and memories. We are deeply saddened by this tragic news and our hearts go out to his family and to music lovers around the globe who mourn this great loss.” In the wake of the news, the Grammy Museum began displaying a collection of Jackson’s most iconic wardrobe pieces Friday, extended from an earlier exhibit, Michael Jackson: HIStyle.

At the time of his death, the performer was in rehearsals for another comeback–this time, a series of 50 sold-out concerts at London’s O2 arena, which were scheduled to start next month and run through March, 2010. Producers of the shows, AEG Live, had stated that the first 10 dates alone would have earned the singer approximately £50 million. Now, the company is faced with the challenge of refunding more than $85 million on 750,000 ticket sales. According to Billboard, production and advances on the engagement may have already cost AEG as much as $40 million.

Chris Walsh contributed to this story.