We were invited into the lobby area moving our mingling and talking inside. The anticipation rose while we waited for Siedah to greet us wondering what was in store. Then she was introduced and stepped into the room. Instantaneously the atmosphere in the lobby changed, the level of chatter rose, the energy rose. There stood Siedah. Even more beautiful in person, her effervescent presence and smile lighting up the room. I wondered what it must have been like with her energy next to Michael’s. She introduced herself and shook hands with all the fans. Immediately I felt a common bond as she shared that as a musician she is a night person, not used to getting up so early. That she was okay after drinking a few few cups of coffee. I laughed out loud knowing the feeling of being a night owl. Excited I was able once again meet her... this time I was not a squealing crazy fan making no sense what-so-ever rambling on and on as I had been last December when I met her for the first time at the Los Angeles MJIWT premier. You will all be happy to know, and I was very happy with myself; albeit maybe it stemmed from a feeling of exhaustion, but I calmly shook her hand and looked her in the eye as I spoke to her. I conducted myself with grownup decorum and responsible, respectful behavior. I shook her hand, said hello and told her I’d met her at Staples Center for MJIWT and was so happy to be there to see her again. However... inside I was yelling “Ohhhh Myyyy God!!! It’s Siedah Garrett holding my hand and saying hello to me!! AGAIN!!” She was gracious, kind and smiled from the inside out. Having just watched the summer Olympics I couldn’t help but think as I greeted her that she looks like an Olympian, so fit and incredibly in shape. I didn’t want to hold up the line so I moved on toward the inner most part of the studio for the tour portion where I was honored to meet Eric Nuri, Siedah’s manager again. We shook hands as he said hello and very much to my surprise learned he remembered me and my name from our meeting at Staples, which in a way was unnerving as I was pretty much, shall we say... an “excited” fan that night. Even Tito Jackson moved down a seat from my “exuberant” self and my good friend, Robyn, after intermission. Eric was very genuine and sweet to me and made me feel very much appreciated as we talked. Then I was able to say hello again to Al Machera and Steve Burdick the owners of Westlake who greeted me with arms open wide and big hugs. Their professional openness and friendliness creates such a feeling of family at Westlake which clearly reflects in all their employees. It’s was really good to see them all again.
After initial greetings with Siedah we are lured toward the inner workings of Studio D. THIS is where the world’s best of the best, the very top of those best being Michael Jackson, have been recorded and still today continue to record as this is still a working studio. We are then led by Ray Brown on a nostalgic, sentimental journey through Michael Jackson’s landmark studio. I already know the drill as this is my third tour; however I’m still just as excited as if on my first. This is the only studio in the world that can rightfully claim that Michael Jackson recorded the Off The Wall, Thriller, Bad and Dangerous albums within it’s walls. Here everywhere you look Michael is honored in this special place. MJ pictures, posters, gold and platinum records adorn the walls and entice you forward.
|Bubbles' window where he watched Michael work below.|
|Recording studio view out Bubbles' window, set up for the breakfast.|
|MJ with Bubbles. Not a picture from Westlake. So precious!|
We are taken for the short tour, the Siedah breakfast version. I am so excited to be back again more relaxed and very happy for the opportunity to snap the picture of the Bubbles window which I missed last time. Sparking my imagination the Bubbles room is one of my favorite places at Westlake. Visions of Bubbles sitting in the window sill gazing down below at Michael while he works, sings and dances fill my mind. It’s in this room I look around and feel Michael’s freely given love for his adorable pet chimp, picture them just hanging out, Michael giggling, smiling and playing with Bubbles who was more like a son in some ways for him at the time. Here I feel all the huge love Michael carried for the children of the world, the huge heart of love he shared with Bubbles and all his pets before he had his own children.
|Ben the Westlake Engineer|
|Siedah sharing about Man In The Mirror|
Listening to those who personally knew Michael Jackson share their experiences with him fills me with such joy. These precious, fun and inspirational stories about the real man behind the scenes are like gold to me.
Here, Sid, as Quincy Jones calls her joins us in the room, the very same room where she met Michael for the very first time. Siedah’s energy is simply contagious her smile lighting up the room. Her presence commands attention as she stands behind the soundboard, we all grow quiet anticipating her words. I think about how powerful, how absolutely amazing it must have been to see and hear them both on stage together. Michael’s glow and energy mixed with Siedah’s. To me she was the very best duet partner he ever sang with in concert. Her effervescent joy and love for Michael over flows from her every pore as she freely shares her heart of love for Michael confiding, with a giggle, that as a young girl, throughout her entire childhood she had dreamed that Michael would one day be her husband. Charmingly, like an old friend, she relayed to us her personal story about writing Man In The Mirror and how it just ‘poured out’ of her from above, her nervous but determined delivery of the demo cassette to Quincy in the middle of a business meeting at his home, his awe struck reaction and then Michael’s reaction, how Quincy called her to tell her it was the best song he’d heard in ten years and then how MJ got on the phone to speak to her. Just like a fan she was screaming on the inside, “Oh My God!! I’m talking to Michael Jackson!! My husband!!” but calm, cool, collected and professional on the phone. I so identified with this as I had just done the same thing with her when I shook her hand in the lobby... well not the husband part.
She expressed the privileged fact, which her incredible talent has earned her, that NO one else on this earth can claim, that this is THE song that made Michael Jackson want to meet the person who wrote it. Humbly and with overflowing gratitude she shared that this song and the wonderful fact that Michael Jackson loved it pulled her from the brink of extinction. Some how I wonder if that truly could have ever been the case as God has always had his hand on Siedah. Just as God had a calling for Michael... the two from the beginning of time, brought together for a heavenly divine appointment. She described her first actual meeting with Michael which evoked the same inner feelings of massive excitement, however she was able to stay calm and collected. Her deep respect for Michael was very apparent as she expressed how humble he was, not ever all about himself, always interested in learning about others. He openly expressed he simply loved her voice, asking her questions, giving her many compliments. She expounded how much it took her back when he stated that he wanted to sing like her. She thought he’d be so different... he was humble. Sharing, "He made you feel like he had as much to learn from you as you did from him." She couldn’t believe that Michael Jackson was standing there saying he wanted to sing like her. She laughed out loud as she shared she had stood there when he said those words thinking to herself, "I just knew NONE of my friends would EVER believe that Michael Jackson was saying he wanted to sing like ME!"
She was asked by Quincy to write five stanzas for Man In the Mirror for Michael to choose from and waited anxiously to see which one he’d choose, simply ecstatic to learn he chose her favorite which we all know and love today... “When you close your heart you close your mind.” Her enthusiasm is absolutely contagious, after all the years of working with Michael awe, respect and wonderment still emanate when she speaks about working with him. In fact clearly the tragedy of his death has seated her respect and admiration deeper, stronger than ever. In this we identify, each in our own way as we also stand in awe sharing our own deep-seated feelings of LOVE and respect for Michael. I looked around the room at nodding heads, smiling faces... thoughts no doubt of Michael as she talked. Siedah shared that when Michael was in the studio recording there was SO much energy in the studio it was just “CRAZY” and how incredibly fun it always was. She giggled as she told the story of how Michael was dressed in his white t-shirt, red corduroy shirt, black pants and loafers but had on two different colored socks, one brown and one green. She laughed and joked with him about his socks not matching and he chided that it was dark in the room when he was dressing that morning. The next time they met he made sure to tell her that his socks matched. Although he had on the same colored clothes as before he proudly showed off his matching socks. Laughing, pointing to his bright sky blue socks he said, “My socks match, Miss Gary.” She ribbed him, “Yeah but nothing else does!” To round off this magical time at the soundboard Ben then played the original demo version of Man in the Mirror that Michael himself heard for the very first time! The feeling was incredible... yes we were hearing what Michael heard for the very first time so many years before.
Siedah shared that after a concert a woman, Penny, Kenny Ortega’s assistant approached her asking her if she knew Bill W. She said no and learned that this is a greeting AA members give. Bill W. was the founder of AA, Alcoholics Anonymous, and that she needed to tell her a story. She conveyed a very heartfelt story that the song Siedah wrote, Man In The Mirror, was instrumental in saving her life. She had planned her suicide but this song began to play and it played and played. It filled her mind and the words began to sink in, take root and as they did they gave her hope and she no longer wanted to hurt herself. This day, Siedah shared she learned the power that music has in people’s lives.
We now moved on from the soundboard to the hot breakfast feast set before us. A plethora of food to choose from: juices, coffee, eggs, potatoes, bacon, sausage, fruit, french toast, sweet rolls and more. Yet I found myself not hungry... too much emotion flowing through me so I took a small portion with some fruit on a plate and generous glass of orange juice then took a seat near the front. There were large round banquet tables filling the recording studio today with lovely orchid center pieces. The beautiful ebony piano was in place near the front. Immediately as my eyes landed on the piano I recalled that this is the same piano that Paul McCartney played while recording with Michael. We all enjoyed our food while Siedah took her seat at the front of the room. Before long as we finished up our breakfast Greg Phillinganes arrived with his precious little girl and his beautiful girlfriend, Jory Steinberg, who is also an incredible vocalist in MJIWT Cirque show. Siedah greeted Greg and his daughter using the nick names, ‘Mouse’ and ‘Mini Mouse.’ Mouse, a nick name Michael, Quincy, Bruce and Siedah gave him which then naturally rolled down to “Mini Mouse” when Greg's daughter was born. The room is filled now with amazing talent. Greg is a hoot, immediately joking around, very friendly and open with all the fans; however what impresses me more than Greg’s amazing talent, fun spirit and wit, elevating him in my eyes to another new level is his obvious love and affection for his little girl. She adores her daddy and clearly he protectively adores too.
The two of them Siedah and Greg begin to share stories about Michael. They both shared at concerts on tour Michael would be on stage and he would be performing not just for the audience but also for the band. They would be watching him as if the audience would just so happen to be there, many times blowing them away. They would literally be so awe struck they would stare, slack jawed at MJ and literally forget what they were doing, having to catch themselves, remind themselves... “Oh yeah I’m suppose to be playing! I’m in the band!!” Thinking, “Oh My God what was that? What did he just do?” It was not uncommon in the middle of a concert for them to look at each other like “Did you just see that?” Greg emphatically said Michael never failed to do something new in each performance to amaze them. He talked about recording with MJ at the Beverly Westlake Studio across from Beverly Center. They had some down time and Michael said, “Hey, Greg, do you want to go across the street and go shopping?” Greg of course said, “Yes, sure” but was thinking to himself, “How on earth are we going to be able to go shopping? Michael Jackson doesn’t just ‘go shopping’.” Michael then proceeded to pull out and put on a big afro wig and disguise. They then walked together across the street to the Beverly Center, went up the escalator and spent the afternoon shopping at the mall. Greg talked about how COOL it was to be walking across the street with Michael Jackson and how he looked around and thought, “If these people only KNEW who was walking in this cross walk”.... but they didn’t and they spent the rest of the afternoon shopping. The only time they had someone recognize them was when Michael pulled out his credit card to pay in a store, the cashier looked at it like, “Huh?” when she read his name, then looked up at MJ and back at the card and back at him very closely... then realizing who he was... dumbfounded she silently rang up the sale, they took the purchase and walked out. She never said a word. They smiled at each other and left the store undetected by other shoppers.
Watching Siedah share about singing with Michael brought a smile, looking around everywhere people were smiling. She shared how thrilled she was to sing the entire first half of Man In The Mirror on the recording with just Michael before the choir came in. In my mind I hear their voices blending so beautifully. Especially poignant was when Siedah and Greg talked about how on the Bad tour at the end of the night after singing, dancing and performing for two hours Michael would close the show every night with Man In The Mirror and the crowd of 70,000 people would hold up lit lighters like torches, waving them in the air, the whole stadium filled with light, the audience would sing along with Michael so loud the band couldn’t hear themselves.
Siedah and Greg giving each other knowing looks, shoulder taps and nodding in complete agreement emphatically stated, “OH! And on tour you NEVER wanted to be staying in the same hotel as Michael!” All night long you’d hear “MICHAELLLL!” MICHAELLL!” and people singing You Are The World outside the window. One time Greg said he went to the window with MJ and the fans screamed as he pointed at MJ and then they screamed again when MJ pointed at him. He then shared they had seen the new Wembly Bad DVD, both nodding, saying, "It is amazing, absolute, raw Michael singing his brains out and dancing like a demon.” They both shared that on the Bad tour there were the greats who came to see Michael like: Lady Diana, Eric Clapton, Barry Gibbs and more. They would all be focused on his show and brilliance. When he performed you could see pure joy in his face and the very end of the show which had gone on for two hours was always so simple. He would gather various age kids and then just simply walk off the stage... so genuine and simple.
Sharing relaxed banter as if just hanging out with friends Sieda talks of one time when she was sitting at the studio soundboard waiting. No one was there so she took out her knitting and began knitting away. Then she heard a song playing over the speakers. Quincy came in the room and asked her, “Do you like this song?” She said, “Yes” and Q pointed to the door and said, “Well go on in there then.” So she went into the recording side of the studio with MJ following behind her. There were two mics and two music stands set up. This was when they recorded, “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” She jokingly looked at us with the total ‘fan face, gob-smacked stare’ and said, “I had goose bumps. There I was singing THAT duet to my husband!” She also said she was just staring at MJ as he sang with his eyes closed and that, “It was such a RUSH!” After Michael passed it was really weird for her to sing the song without him and it wasn’t until she performed it the first time she realized she didn’t even know his lyrics. She joked with us telling us the inside story that in practice the two of them would always sing “I just can’t stop buying shoes.” MJ was the one who added, “You know I do” to the song and Siedah asked him, “Why do you sing that?” His answer, “I just like how it sounds.” I had to nod in agreement... me too.
A great MJ trivia fact Siedah shared was that once on the game show Password one of the questions was, “Who is the only female to ever record a duet with Michael Jackson who was not a family member?” Answer: Siedah holds this distinction. Fans wanted to know if at the Grammy awards did Michael plan the part where Andre Crouch went over and helped him up from the stage floor during Man In The Mirror... Siedah said, “No, it was impromptu. They never really knew what Michael would do in a performance.” Another fan wanted to know if she came up with 'Shamone'... she distinctly said, “No. That was ALL MJ.” One fan asked about the blonde wig she surprised MJ with on stage... she laughed and said yes there was a blonde wig and also a magenta wig in Japan. Also one time a record demo came in to the studio for Michael to listen to. He listened to A side. The B side was a lullaby for the artist’s child not ever meant to be played for MJ but MJ listened to it and when he heard it, he loved it and recorded it... the song “Human Nature.”
Then the tears welled up as Siedah played for us, for the public for the very first time her tribute to Michael. Her new song that she wrote as her love letter to Michael. This song she explained is a love song from her to him written specifically for him. It tells of how he enriched her life and her music and tells the story of how they met. I was so caught up and lost in the song that I couldn’t take notes so I don’t have the lyrics correct. I can’t wait until it’s released to hear it again. It is simply beautiful. The song a follow up to “I Can’t Stop Loving You” is simply titled, “Keep On Loving You” The only lyrics I managed to write (hopefully correctly) before falling under the enraptured spell of the melody and words were, “Remember for the rest of my life... some times I feel I loved then... and I love still... always have and always will... for the rest of my life I’m gonna love you... plays like the sound track from another life and time.” A collective sigh filled the room as it ended, the song bringing us to our feet with passionate, appreciative applause. An incredible honor to hear for the first time this beautiful, moving tribute of LOVE to Michael.
Here is a bit more info on Bruce's NU-47 mic project.
Bruce shared with us all about his dogs, Gordy and Boo Boo, the Great Dane that he says, “Owns the joint.” He smiled a big warm smile as he showed us a clip of the dogs running around the house. He talked about his chickens and rooster, Elvis. Siedah was drooling thinking about and talking about their farm fresh eggs. Both Greg and Siedah were raving about the best Swedish meatballs ever made by Bruce’s wife, Bea, which made us all want to visit for dinner. They all agreed in unison she is a great cook. Her home cooked meals are very high on the agenda when they visit. I laughed as I could see Greg figuring in his head when his next visit would be. Siedah asked Bruce to tell us about his museum and on a roll he joked back, “What?! You think I belong in a museum?” Before talking about the museum walls of his studio, the gold and platinum records or working with Michael, Bruce prefaced his sharing so lovingly and touchingly stating, "Any man who wants to be a success needs to have a wife like my, Bea." Everyone including the men sighed and a collective "awwhhhh" filled the room. I immediately thought how Bea was truly blessed to have such love and thoughtfulness in her life as well and how they so beautifully compliment each other. I could see the success of their long lasting, happy marriage, like a rare gem in this world... let alone show business. It was a very touching, beautiful moment of a man sharing his heart of love for the love of his life. Yes LOVE still does exist in this world.
A fan asked about the Bruce Swedien recording method and how different it is today from how they recorded for Michael. He responded with a giant spitting ‘raspberry’ sound. We all laughed in agreement as we know nothing today compares. He shared he will have a new ‘tell all’ book coming out soon which will 'tell all' about the 'Bruce Swedien method of recording.' In answer to the question Greg also became animated in exasperation lifting his hands extending them through the air, stretched out side to side in a large sweeping box motion saying, “This is how Michael’s music sounds” and then bringing in his hands very close together with a shrug said... “and this is how the music is recorded today.” Indicating there is no comparison, no depth... there are no layers.
I asked Bruce what was one of his favorite memories of Michael. He said there were so many he couldn’t pick one but then the conversation flowed to a time when there was a meeting during the Wiz, the limo pulled up for MJ. Q and Bruce ran, piled in and it drove away as a decoy. The fans thought MJ was also in the limo but instead at the very same time as they were zipping to jump into the limo Bea had piled MJ in the back seat of her Bronco where he lay on the floor as she drove him away to his condo undetected. A fan then asked Bruce what he would do next in his career and his answer, “Well I’ve recorded with three of the top vocalists, Joe Williams and the Count Basie Band, Michael Jackson and Siedah Garrett... after recording those three... I don’t need to do anymore. I’m done.”
Michael Jackson - A Place Without No Name
Thank you for this great video Robyn Starkand
|Siedah, Jory and Greg's precious daughter|
Siedah then stepped to the piano and sang Man In the Mirror for us. I sat there mesmerized, amazed, listening, drinking in the moment. Greg Phillinganes, Michael's music director in person only feet away, playing the rich beautiful sounding piano, masterfully touching the keys and Siedah’s beautiful one of a kind voice, with no mic, just the piano and Siedah's incredible voice filling the room. Tears filled my eyes and the emptiness that so often dwells within every Michaeling experience filled my heart.
One more time... the only thing missing to make this moment in time absolutely perfect... was Michael. Confirming this feeling Siedah shared that some nights still, out on the road, or just anywhere, she'll hear one of his songs or see his picture or have a memory and he is still everywhere and she misses him everyday.
Thank you Siedah Garrett, Greg Phillinganes, Bruce Swedien, Jory Steinberg, Eric Nuri and everyone at Westlake Studios for this amazing and wonderful experience.
Thank you for this life long cherished memory.
|Siedah - The same duet mic!!|
Click on the link below to read my Michael's Heart, Thriller Studio Tour story from June 2012.
Enjoy! In this story there is much more info about the full Thriller Studo Tour at both Westlake Studio D in Santa Monica and Studio A on Beverly Blvd.: