During the week of the anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death, when fans are gathering in Los Angeles to remember their idol, Westlake Recording Studio offers guided tours in its two buildings where the iconic albums Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad were recorded. This year, on June 27, 2015, the studio will once again welcome fans in its historic rooms. For those who haven’t been there and curious to know what it’s like, here is a story about one of the first studio tours organized in the summer of 2012.
In 2012, on the third anniversary of Michael’s passing, Westlake recording studio opened its doors for the public and fans for the very first time. The 3-hour tour that included viewing of the two studio buildings in Los Angeles was quite pricy, but it was one of those things that, as a fan, you just can’t miss. For a long time I had been curious to peek into those seemingly unremarkable buildings – because that was the place where history had been made. At Westlake, Michael recorded his three most iconic albums: Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad. And so, on June 26 at 7:30 am, I found myself on the back parking lot of Westlake Studio D on Santa Monica boulevard.
With the wave of posthumous interest in Michael Jackson subsiding, books about his life and legacy are becoming sparse – but also, on average, more carefully put together. New book “Xscape Origins” by Damien Shields deservs to be reviewed as it is dedicated to the subject that has long been almost elite in the realm of MJ-related press – Michael’s music.
In the Michael Jackson world, year 2014 was marked by the release of a collection, named Xscape, of eight previously unreleased Michael Jackson songs remixed by modern producers. The release was heavily promoted in the media and enjoyed commercial success.
“…Michael was a lot like Steve Jobs in that each new product – whether an album or video or single – was an event. There was all kinds of hype and anticipation. So the brand was about that excitement, because you knew whatever he was releasing was going to be cutting-edge, unique and of the highest quality.< …>
I think the main thing an entrepreneur or business owner could learn from Michael Jackson is that doing something great requires both vision and work. Michael approached each new project with boundless passion, and that energy was infectious to collaborators.But what really impressed those who worked with him was that he could bring his ideas to fruition. He dreamed big and then worked tirelessly until his dreams came to life.”
On June 23-26 in Los Angeles, Brad Sundberg organized an exclusive series of In the Studio with Michael Jackson seminars called “The Homecoming”. A lot has already been written about Brad’s amazing seminars (check out our story about the ones in Saint Petersburg), and if you haven’t yet attended them, I can’t recommend it highly enough. But the ones Brad did in LA this year were special. Not only they took place in famous Westlake Studio D where Michael recorded his Bad album (hence the name “The Homecoming”), but this time Brad also invited some rare guests.
We attended the seminar on its last day, June 26. After the usual program presented by Brad, all the VIP attendees were treated to a dinner prepared by “Slam-Dunk sisters,” two lovely ladies who used to come and cook for MJ and his team during the studio sessions. The dinner consisted of salads, lasagne and banana pudding (with real bananas in it, as Michael liked it!) and was really delicious.
We are in a small studio located at a musical instruments rental center on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles. The room is crammed with people sitting in rows of chairs in front of a low stage. On stage, Brad Sundberg, Michael Jackson’s assistant engineer and the organizer of this event, and his friend, sound engineer Brian Vibberts, are occupying two tall bar chairs. Brad Buxer, Michael long-time musical director is sitting behind a keyboard. MJ’s engineer of later years Michael Prince is looking at the screen of his MacBook. Michael’s touring bass guitarist Sam Simms has not yet arrived; he would join us a little bit later. With that, a trip to the past, full of stories and music, begins.
Hungarian magazine “Story” published a surprising article about Bela Farkas, the young man from Hungary, whose life Michael Jackson saved 20 years ago. The story was prompted by a happy occasion: Bela recently became a father.
The young man on the picture is Bela, the same little boy whom Michael and his then wife Lisa Marie met in a children’s hospital in Budapest in 1994 (Bela’s story was briefly told in one of the previous articles). He never gave an interview before – this was his first conversation with journalists in 20 years.
Bela was born with a serious anomaly: an undeveloped hepatic lobe, a life-threatening condition that required a liver transplant. Such surgeries were not performed in Hungary at the time and were very expensive abroad. Bela’s parents abandoned him at birth, so he had no hope to get the money.
When Michael visited the hospital, he asked doctors why the boy was so thin and yellow in the face and was explained Bela’s condition. Michael immediately said that he would pay for the surgery. It was a rare occasion when Jackson’s charitable act received publicity and media coverage.
Stopped walking, looked at me and said:
– Ok, give me your card.
His name was Michael Jackson.
I was a music student in Los Angeles and that was my first week in America. The story that precedes this scene and its continuation is kind of simple, except for the magic that surrounds it.
They were my first days in M.I. (Musicians Institute), a college of music in Los Angeles where I studied from 1993 to mid-1994. I had just found a place to live for rent, in a garage of a house in Highland Park – 15 minutes from downtown Hollywood. A quiet home where I lived the 16 months I spent there, whose gentle owner became a great friendship I carry to this day.
In the first week of school, I had the opportunity to take some classes with Jennifer Batten, Michael’s guitarist at the time, who rocked the world with her virtuoso guitar solos and amazing energy.
On my first Saturday in the U.S, after my first day in college, I was invited by Jorge Briozzo, the gentle owner of the house, to know the Santa Monica beach, since I did not have a car. Very cool.