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|
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.
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.
|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|
|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: https://www.facebook.com/ThrillerStudioTour
** 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|
Just had to share it! Amazing and Spectacular Michael!!
|Bubbles and MJ - This pic is not at Westlake but shows the bond of love|