“This Is It”…….Michael Jackson’s Drummer Jonathan Moffett and Percussionist Bashiri Johnson
June 25th, 2009, it was the news that spread around the world…..Michael Jackson had passed away. This was days before he was to head to London to start his “This Is It” Tour. His achievements are second to none…..13 Grammy Awards, 22 American Music Awards (Including Artist of the Century), The Most Successful Entertainer of All Time according to Guinness Book of World Records and the album “Thriller” as the biggest selling album of all time. Michael’s tour was being held as Michael’s Last Tour. It was a big production and Michael was not sparing any expense. To pull off this feat, Michael was using some new and old musicians of the highest musical caliber to achieve this project. From hundreds of top notch musicians to choose from, Drummer Jonathan “ Sugarfoot” Moffett and Percussionist Bashiri Johnson were picked to accomplish this task.
Percussionist Bashiri Johnson is well known in the music industry. His playing has spanned many countries in this world. Bashiri has recorded and/or performed with Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Angelique Kidjo, Madonna, Luther Vandross, Sting and many others. Bashiri has played on many Award Shows and Film Scores. With all of the accomplishments Bashiri has earned, this Brooklyn born, NYC based artist hosts a Percussion Intensive Seminar at his recording studio (The Lab-Brooklyn) for Percussionist of all levels and Children workshops, lectures and clinics to give back to the community and inspire young people. As a writer/producer, Bashiri has written/produced songs for Lionel Richie, Francis Mbappe, LP, Nicole C.Mullen and many others.
Drummer Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffett is a very accomplished Drummer. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Jonathan comes from a family of musicians and began playing the marching snare drum at the age of six. To his credit, Jonathan has played with many top selling artists including the Jacksons, Patti Austin, Cameo, Madonna, Elton John, Tina Marie, Janet Jackson, George Michael and countless others. Jonathan’s skills have taken him all over the world. He has performed on many television shows, numerous music videos and television commercials. Jonathan is also a very accomplished songwriter and producer.
The “This Is It” interview will take you behind the scene with these two remarkable men and give you an inside view of how it was like working with the “King of Pop”. The interview was given by Chris Hart, Marketing Promotions Manager, Remo Inc.
Remo: First, Let me say how much it is an honor, for you to agree to take time to do this interview; I know you two are extremely busy and traveling. I really appreciate the time.
Jonathan; Chris, Thank you, It is my pleasure!!!
Bashiri: Chris, it is an honor to participate and give some insight!!!!
Remo: I would like to conduct this interview in two parts, first I would like our readers to know who you are and second I would like you to tell us your experiences working with the “King of Pop”
Jonathan: That’s fine….Let’s roll!
Bashiri: Ready when you are!
Remo: Let’s start with your first gig? Bashiri….when was your first professional gig?
Bashiri: My first professional gig was with Stephanie Mills. I recorded her album “Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin”. Which by the way, I received my first gold record.
Remo: How about you Jonathan? Same Question!
Jonathan: It was with the Undisputed Truth and New Birth….R&B Icons….lol
Remo: I know Remo drumheads and products have played a major part in you guys sound. I know you both played our drumheads exclusively with pride. Can you tell me what do you use?
Bashiri: My sound relates to the Fiberskyn 3 material. I use Fiberskyn 3 on my Congas and Bongos and Clear Ambassadors on my timbales. I have used other Remo World Percussion products on many gigs and sessions.
Jonathan: I’ve always loved and believed in the sound of Remo, The “FEEL” of Remo, the “RESPONSE” of Remo Drumheads. Throughout the years, I’ve changed different models from Clear Ambassadors to Coated Ambassadors to Clear Emperors to Pinstripes only to go back to Coated Ambassadors. On the resonated (bottom) side, I have gone from Clear Diplomat to Coated Diplomat to Clear and Coated Ambassadors to Clear Emperors to Ebony Ambassadors. I wound up using Clear Ambassadors and Ebony Ambassadors according to which kit is being used for the tour, to give it that visual production effect.
Bashiri: Jonathan….You are all over the place!!!!!.....lol
Jonathan: Yes I am but, I am settled now…..lol
Remo: Michael Jackson…..”King of Pop”
Bashiri: I can’t believe he’s gone
Jonathan: I worked with Michael for many years….and I still can’t believe he’s gone….he was the “King of Pop”
Remo: How did you get the call for the Michael Jackson Gig?
Bashiri: I was called to do the “This Is It Tour” by Michael Bearden, the MD (Musical Director) for Michael. I received the call at 3am on a Tuesday morning, and then I was on a flight to Los Angeles by Thursday.
Jonathan: I have a history with Michael that goes back to 1979 when I auditioned and successfully got the gig with the Jacksons. I have done many tours with the Jacksons and with Michael as a solo artist. So Michael is already familiar with me and what I can do.
Remo: We have many great Music Icons in the Music Industry. I have heard many stories about artists who are very high in their craft that are very difficult to deal with and especially to play for. Was it hard to play for the King of Pop?
Bashiri: Playing for Michael was not hard, for it encompassed me doing exactly what I do, which is perform with great Entertainers, Artists and Musicians. Michael presented a new set of challenges, to which I was determined to succeed at, and enjoy at the same time.
Remo: But Jonathan for you since you have a history with Michael, as time moved on before his untimely death, it had to be hard with different changes that happens in the show?
Jonathan: It was actually easy working for and with Michael. If Michael hires you, he knows and expects you to be able to comply, play and carry yourself on the same level, as he works and carries himself. And if you want to work on this level, you have to deliver on this level of talent and expectations. You just have to do your homework, be prepared, and give it all you got…..Just Like Mike!!!!!
Bashiri; Well Said “Foots”…Well Said!!!!
Remo: I actually got a chance to see the movie “This Is It”. To be honest, I wasn’t going to see it because I felt it was going to show just one side of Michael. Since my kids wanted to see it….I decided to take them. I was wrong!!!! It showed a side of Michael that most people would not see. For the people who are reading this and haven’t seen the movie (which you really should go and see!!!) how was Michael as a leader? Was he controlling? A nice leader? Etc, etc!!!!!
Bashiri: Michael as a leader was a consummate. He was on top of all aspects of This Is It Production. Michael was never controlling but, moreover very communicative about specifically what he wanted or didn’t want, always keeping his fans best interests in mind. Michael was one of the most humble, kind and caring human beings I have ever known, all of which transferred seamlessly to his role as a leader.
Jonathan: Michael was a great leader!!!!! He was in total control. He was a Visionary! Instinctive!!!! Michael had an incredible feel for what works. He is the greatest because he is the greatest at conceiving a great show and all elements of one and pulling together the best team and talents needed to put it together.
Remo: How about the rehearsals, I heard Michael was a jokester? Is that true?
Bashiri: Michael had a great sense of humor, he was fun loving, always smiling and happy before, during and after rehearsals.
Jonathan: I agree with Bash, Michael had a great sense of humor and loved to have fun. He was truly in the most sincere way, a kid inside. He loved to laugh, have pie fights. He loved magic tricks and prankster gadgets.
Remo: I would believe that as hard Michael is on the dancers, he is harder on the band, which is the backbone of the show. With rehearsals winding down and you guys about to depart to London, What was Michael’s view of the band? Was he happy with the band?
Bashiri: Chris that is a great question!!!!!....Before Michael’s untimely death he told Michael Bearden (MJ’s Musical Director) that he was very happy with the band.
Jonathan: Yeah Chris that is a good question!!!! Michael loved his band. He was very happy with us. You’ll see this for yourself in the movie. You’ll hear this in the band’s performance in the film. Powerful…..Record-Like!!!! This band was great and Michael knew it. That’s why we were all still there. Otherwise, he could have made changes at anytime…..He’s Michael!!!!!
Remo: As being professional musicians that have played with the best, what is it about playing with Michael that made you want to give it your all?
Bashiri: Because MJ was the best at what he does, it made you want to be the best at what you do.
Jonathan: Because of his sincere and honest love. It was GOD’LY of sorts, uncanny. You could truly feel it when you were around him or close to him.
He was in touch and sensitized in that manner and it radiated to others. He is a “Wake Up Call” for all the rest of us to learn from.
Remo: Ok…with his extraordinary talent….was Michael a Perfectionist?
Jonathan: Quite Frankly Speaking……Yes He Is!!!!!!!!.....Look at the film “This Is It” See for yourself!!!!!!
Bashiri: lol…..lol...lol….MJ is one of the rare human beings with gifts and talents far beyond those of others. Michael’s performances display those gifts and talents. To most folk, that is viewed as perfection.
Remo: There has been talk about the condition of Michael’s health. I know for legal reason you can’t say much about it but, how was Mike before his death? What was his vibe?
Bashiri: Michael…was the happiest I had ever seen him. He was enjoying himself and full of joy.
Jonathan: Yes……He was happy, upbeat, laughing, focused, creative and leading on that day on the last day of rehearsal before his untimely passing. He was our leader that day, as all days…..his vibe was great!!
Remo: It seems to me that looking at the movie “This is It’, for me was a tease. I am not saying it in a bad way but, I would have LOVED to see you guys run the show from beginning to end. So Guys, with that being said, what was the “Set List” and what did it consisted of? Did you guys have any time to stretch out for solos?
Bashiri: The set list consisted of all of Michael’s greatest hits that the fans had chosen. The Band all had moments to shine, not necessarily via solos but, moreover as a polished and tight unit.
Jonathan: There were no drum solos….Shucks!!!!....lol!!!!! But there were lots of guitar solos. Michael loved guitar solos. We had a set list of lots of his hits.
Remo; What is something you can say that people might not know
about Michael as a person/musician?
Bashiri: Michael lived his life both professionally and personally in the public eye. So there is nothing that I saw of Michael that anyone else would not have seen. Michael was one of the Greatest Entertainers of our time.
Jonathan: He was a gentleman, a leader, a visionary, a mentor. An example, the most creative person and entity you could imagine to meet. A lamb, a lion, a gladiator, A warrior, a commander, a dynamo, a captivator…..A GENIUS!!!!
THERE ‘IS’ NO OTHER!!!
Remo: To play for the KING OF POP is major accomplishment, what would you remember most about your experience with Michael?
Bashiri: What I remember most about working for Michael is that music can not only heal but, can also be used to reveal. We can use our gifts and talents to make this world a better place, for our children and our children’s children.
Jonathan: I like that Bash….I really do….For me I will remember mostly his humility, I’ve always known and witnessed his brilliance and kindness will stay with me forever!!!
Remo: As I end this interview, I would like to say “Thank You” for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this interview. I believe you two are very lucky to have the last experiences with the “King Of Pop’”. Is there anything else you would like to inform our readers?
Bashiri; Working with Michael changed my life and outlook on my art. I’ll never be the same, only better!!!!!!
Jonathan: It will and has become the single most high point in my life and career. For after 30 long years and him having his pick of any drummer in the entire world….he again chose me. I will eternally be honored by this. It has brought me full circle. Be at Peace, You are THE KING OF POP, You are the KING OF MUSIC, You are the KING OF VIDEOS, You are the KING OF ENTERTAINMENT, You are WORLDWIDE……THE KING OF HEARTS…..I Love You, More……..