Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Thriller Studio Tour - June 28 & 29, 2012

There had been communication for months with the president of Westlake Studios where MJ recorded Thriller. All I wanted to do in the beginning was take a walk through tour with a couple of friends. I had heard a group of fans had gotten in a few times and thought I’d check into it; however like all things MJ in my life since his death my interest and request took on a life of it’s own. Soon I had a Face Book page and was quietly putting the word out requesting others to take the tour with me. In the blink of an eye two tours were booked but with no definite tour happening. I had about 30 people patiently waiting for final tour details. Honestly I sometimes was not so patiently waiting as I didn’t want to let them down, although these MJ fans were fabulous every time I relayed there was a glitch or postponement they totally understood. 'If it worked out... fine... or if it didn’t... then it wasn’t meant to be' was their response over and over. Always thanking me for just trying.... for caring. For many it was a dream, never a reality. I simply LOVE these women so much. The support of these fabulous ladies during this 3rd anniversary was such a huge blessing to me.

Finally I heard back and was ecstatic to let everyone know it was a GO! Not only that but 'Thriller Studio Tour' as it was now called would be running for an entire week to accommodate even more MJ fans with our two days set at the end of the week.

Steve Burdick and Al Machera both friendly, savvy business men who own Westlake Studios were there to greet us and shared stories about MJ recording in the studio. Westlake is a working recording studio still in full use today. Many stars such as Quincy Jones, Neo, Rhianna and many more record here along with many up and coming groups and future stars. Michael’s place in history with this studio is a big draw for artists.

Corey Sheppard, one of two tour guides, was a joy and immediately he was included in the MJ fan fold. An MJ aficionado who shared his very first memory at two years old was of none other than Michael Jackson in the Dangerous concert as he explosively popped up out of the toaster onto the stage and then stood strong in his shiny military costume for what seemed like forever. Then ever so sharply and slowly removed his sunglasses. The anticipation of MJ’s entrance, his explosive appearance, his stance, his movement, his presence worked the audience into a frenetic state of hysteria for at least 15 minutes before he ever sang a note. Then he blasted the audience with JAM. Corey freely and energetically shared this and other MJ memories of songs and trivia winning our hearts over completely. We all volleyed MJ trivia about, heads nodding in agreement. MJ fans know the real deal and the Thriller Studio Tour IS the real deal from start to finish. 

Mike Salisbury Album cover Off The Wall - pic credit to Chris Tal
Ray Brown the main tour guide whose eyes twinkled while sharing wonderful MJ trivia and facts led us on a guided shuttle tour through the streets of Los Angeles between the Beverly Studio and the Santa Monica Studio. I am a Michaeling fool... always searching for new places to visit where I can follow in Michael’s footsteps and although I had been on Melrose to other Michaeling spots the previous day was introduced to two new places on this journey.  One being the ‘Off The Wall’... wall... where the album cover was taken by photographer Mike Salisbury. Adding now to Michael’s history with alleys... Michael and Mike the photog were traveling around looking for a place to take the cover album pic when they turned the corner and saw the brick wall, spontaneously jumping out to shoot MJ in his tux with the brick wall as the background. This cover was the last time MJ ever wore a ‘Fro’ and although it was adorable he didn’t like it. He changed it up to the gorgeous Thriller era Jheri curl hair which was how you saw him for many years after that Off The Wall album pic was taken. Never wearing the Afro again. Thus only the legs, white socks and shoes on the album cover were shown on the general release of the album. Then again.... that’s all you need to see and immediately recognize.... Michael. Ohhhh those feet.

On the right was Motown West Studios where many Motown artists including Jackson 5 recorded after leaving Hitsville for L.A. and just across the street was the park that MJ talked about. The one where he would become so sad while looking out the window watching the children play while he had to stay in and work on the music. Although apparently there are many pictures of MJ playing with Berry Gordy’s children and J5 in this park. I’m still looking for these. If any of you find them let me know. We all know just by Michael’s statement the long hours of work throughout his childhood clearly took a huge toll on MJ.

All this and the tour had not really begun! None of us knew what to expect but already the day looked to be fun and Thrilling. A three hour tour that goes by in the blink of an eye. The first studio was the Beverly studio an inconspicuous place I had only the day before and many times previously driven right by, never realizing that Michael recorded Off The Wall and Thriller here. This fact made me feel a bit unnerved as I live in Los Angeles and wondered how many times in my life had I been so close to Michael Jackson while he was on this earth and never known it.

Stepping into the lobby we are greeted by MJ decor.... everywhere is Michael. Pictures, platinum records of many artists several of which MJ was close to, wrote for or recorded with including Donna Summers, Van Halen, Quincy Jones and more. There is a wonderful video ending with a great clip of Michael speaking... or maybe that was the image I wanted in my head at the end... not sure. There was so much to take in.

We moved on to the very studio where Michael and Quincy worked together. Sitting center of the room is the sound board where mix of the magical music and sound happens and here we received a lesson from the best in adding the layers of sound.

I won’t give every detail of this tour but suffice it to say my mascara was gone... blissful joy of MJ's magical music and then tears streaming. I was very grateful that Westlake kept a good supply of Kleenex tissues. Oh speaking of Kleenex... near the end of the tour the president of Westlake, Steve Burdick, was so kind to bring out a personal possession he obtained while working at Westlake as a runner in the 90‘s. He proudly shared a signed MJ doodled Kleenex box. Only MJ fans could be so excited over an old Kleenex box. This box was doodled on by MJ in his down time while recording. Steve was a runner and part of his job was to run for food and to clean up after sessions. After MJ’s session he came across this Kleenex box signed by none other than Michael Jackson. He also shared a precious memory of being a young intern and meeting MJ briefly when he was there working and recording. Of course we all had to touch the Kleenex box and take pictures of it. For me it was so interesting to look at MJ’s innermost relaxed art expressions on that box. The symbolic doodled arrows reminded me of how MJ used to sign his name with the arrow and circles. 

Studio D was Michael's private studio where Quincy and Michael spent 8 years recording Bad and Dangerous. In both studios the sound boards and speakers were the center of attention. We were given a chance to see how the sound is mixed and hear how layer after layer is added. I couldn’t help but think of Michael talking in several interviews about the layers of his music or sitting at similar sound boards in other interviews. This studio was like home to MJ and Quincy for many years. It was just simply beyond amazing to be standing there where his creativity had flowed so freely. I was over come when MJ’s voice acapella came through those magnificent speakers. Even more so when the sound of just his shoes in Bad was played and then his hand claps. Having heard the record so many thousands of times I never realized the sound was his feet. I could have listened to just his voice and shoes all day. The sound of his shoes sliding literally took my breath away. Visually there is something so spiritual in Michael's heavenly gift of movement but then to hear the sound of Michael’s movements so close... Michael’s God given gift of dance isolated and recorded for all time was just utterly astounding. I closed my eyes to hear his voice so clear as if he was standing right in front of me so close I could reach out and touch him. The sound of his voice wrapped around me then I opened my eyes blinking over and over as I wanted so badly to see him standing there or behind the glass at the mic. It was my first visit to a recording studio and the sound quality of the studio speakers was absolutely breathtaking just as if Michael were standing right there in the center of the room singing directly to me. We all felt the same way. Then we were shown the smaller speakers that both Michael and Quincy spoke of when they would record. Ultimately creating their perfectionist best and then changing it down to listen to it on smaller speakers to see if it held up for everyday folks.
There were also speakers in the mirrored ceiling which were installed especially for Michael for Thriller recordings. In a video shown at the start of the tour Rod Temperton talked of the time that Van Halen played for Michel and the speaker literally caught on fire... which for me gives a whole new meaning to "Let it burn!"

We were all still reeling from this experience when we were led into the next room to sit in the very sound booth chair Michael sat in and sing MJ songs into the very same mic that MJ sang into. I have to say it was unnerving and my heart skipped several beats to be so close to where his lips had been. LOL This is the same room Neo always records in as he says he likes the vibe and sound quality and it is the same recording studio that both he and MJ worked in which must have enormous wonderful memories for him. 

Also to our complete surprise was the shower that MJ showered in and where he recorded his hand claps for Bad. The acoustics and echo in the shower made the perfect hand clap and finger snap sound MJ wanted. Yes ladies MJ showered after long sweaty days and nights of dancing, singing and recording at Westlake Studios. We all took our turn standing in that shower... some even clapping their hands. LOL
picture credit to Chris Tal

To our delight we are shown the lounge where Michael hung out in down time with Bubbles. The room and low window in the room were built with MJ in mind so Bubbles could always see Michael. He would get very upset if he couldn’t see Michael and nothing would calm him. So to help Bubbles keep Michael in view a low rectangular window was installed over looking the recording area enabling him to freely watch Michael while he worked. This successfully kept Bubbles calm.

MJ Stage - Pic credit to Chris Tal

Ray Brown on MJ's stage with MJ's mirrors - pic credit to Chris Tal

The end of the tour was absolutely captivating. A beautifully edited montage of many of MJ’s videos is shown and then the curtain rises and lights highlight ‘THE’ piano that Michael and Paul McCartney used in The Girl Is Mine along with a mic stand, fedora and white studded glove on a stool. We are blown away when we are all invited to stand on ‘THE’ stage and look into the same mirrors where MJ danced, created and recorded. The same stage Bruce Swedien spoke of. It was built especially for Michael because he always danced when he sang and they needed to raise him up off the floor to get better sound quality for his voice while he was moving. I can’t even begin to put into words how it felt to stand on this stage and look into these mirrors and picture MJ practicing. 

Thriller Studio Tour Staff - picture credit to Face Book Thriller Studio Tour 
The MJ fan community is hard to impress when it comes to Michael tributes and with this tour we held them to it and expected high standards. I have to say this is not just a tour but a true tribute to Michael Jackson, his legacy and genius. Only the very best is fitting for Michael Jackson and Steve, Al, Jacqueline, Ray, Corey and all the staff at Westlake Studios, Thriller Studio Tour have done an absolutely phenomenal job of honoring and paying tribute to Michael. This tour is a class act done with the utmost of respect and dignity for Michael.

I want to thank each and every one who work at Westlake for your time and kindness. A special thank you to Jacqueline for all your hard work and patience in scheduling. Thank you so much to all the staff at Westlake for your hard work in creating a standout tribute to Michael and especially for greeting me with arms open wide. I truly felt like family when I was there with you.

I’m looking forward to more tours and maybe even special event type tours!!

If you are interested in booking a reservation for a tour please contact Westlake Studios at ‘Thriller Studio Tour’ on Face Book at:  

** After writing this I realized that many of the highlights mentioned are not in order as the tour presents them...which is fine... let it be a surprise when you take the tour yourself! There is much I did not mention. The Thriller Studio Tour is an absolute MUST SEE and personal experience for any and all MJ fans when visiting L.A. 

Steve Burdick and Me.
Such a great tour! Thanks Steve!
June 28th Group
June 29th Group
Michael's stunning pop-up toaster appearance as in the History Tour. This performance is from the Royal Concert in Brunei 1996. I could picture this so clearly as Corey described it on the shuttle.
Just had to share it! Amazing and Spectacular Michael!!

Bubbles and MJ - This pic is not at Westlake but shows the bond of love
My Face Book picture album of Thriller Studio Pictures from June 28 and 29, 2012:


  1. You have topped yourself with this one, Betty! To see where the magic was made is a delight that is amazing to be available. I'm glad the door is now open to appreciate this place and the history it holds for MJ fans. I am so glad Westlake is so accommodating to provide, as you put it, more than a tour; a tribute. Thank you Betty, and Thank you Westlake. I look forward to being there someday and if my buddy Corey is there too -- all the better!!

    1. Your so welcome. This story was such a pleasure and dream to write. Incredible experience. Yes Corey was a huge attribute to this tour. :)

  2. I would love to see something like this happen again in August for his Birthday. That would be fabulous! Thank you Betty for writing a beautiful account of what had to be a spectacular 3 hour tour. It's to bad this "3 Hour Tour" didn't get lost on a magical island with Michael to greet you all. Now that would be a real Thriller!

    Thank you so much Betty for sharing such a beautiful experience.

    1. LOL Karen I have said many times over the last month..."Not like Gilligan's 3 Hour tour" but you are right. How awesome it would be to be lost on a magical island with Michael on a 3 hour tour that lasts forever. That is how you feel on this tour... lost in Michael. I have never spent such a quick 3 hours... it passes in a blink of an eye.

  3. Happy 4th of July to you, I hope you have a great day.

    I was hoping you would get a little kick out of my comment, I'm glad you got me. <3

  4. This was great to read! Thanks for sharing. I am happy you were able to organize this, and really happy the Westlake Studio people went to such great lengths to present such a quality tour! The best for the best!

  5. Wow...I had never read this..Thanks Betty for such insight of such beauty and love....I could feel the love and magic in yoor words..What an amazing man...God we love him...God we miss him....Lovelove