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GREG PHILLINGANES 2012 SOULMUSIC.COM INTERVIEW
ALWAYS ON THE PULSE
Interview recorded June 14, 2012

Like his longtime friend, Rod Temperton, Greg Phillinganes could walk past you in the street and you wouldn’t know. However, the music he has played has been part of the fabric of global pop culture for the last 30 years. Temperton may have written the likes of “Rock With You”, “Off The Wall”,”Thriller” and “The Lady In My Life” for Michael Jackson but it was Phillinganes’ nimble fingers that played all the keyboard parts in Quincy Jones’ productions and it was Phillinganes who was entrusted as the band leader for Jackson’s groundbreaking “Bad” and “Dangerous” tours. That, of course is only a small component of his almost forty year career that started as a a part of Stevie Wonder’s “Wonderlove” and has continued alongside everyone from The Bee Gees to Lionel Richie to Eric Clapton to Anita Baker, Aretha, Quincy himself and most recently Herbie Hancock.

However, it is his work with Jackson, which began as a session musician on The Jackson’s DESTINY and TRIUMPH albums in the late seventies, that inevitably seems to overshadow all his other achievements. Fittingly, with Jackson gone it is Phillinganes who has once again been called in to helm the tribute to his former friend and boss, in his guise as band leader for the “Immortal” World Tour acrobatic/dance extravaganza by Cirque Du Soleil. I caught up with the affable keyboardist while holed up in a hotel room in Virginia as he watched the LA Lakers failed bid to make the NBA playoffs.


Jeff: Hi is this Greg?

Greg: This is Greg.

Jeff: Hey, Greg. What’s up? How’s it going?

Greg: How are ya?

Jeff: Good, man. How are you?

Greg: I’m alright.

Jeff: How’s the tour going?

Greg: Well, it’s going, Jeff. The only question of course-

Jeff: Explain how you got involved with the tour.

Greg: Well this guy named John McClain who is associated with the estate and he called me one day and said you’re doing this. I said okay. I guess I am. I started having meetings with John Branca and Howard Weisman and the Cirque brass and this is back in late 2010 and the negotiations went on and on and on and then we started rehearsals last August, Montreal. It opened last October in Montreal and we’ve been out ever since.

Jeff: How is it for you just constantly being out on the road at this point in your life?

Greg: This is not how I saw it coming, but I’ve never seen anything, I’ve never predicted anything in my career. God has handled everything. So, I never thought that Herbie Hancock would call me and ask me to be his second keyboardist as well as one of his vocalists, either. Which happened directly before this. I never thought I tour with Boz Scaggs. I never thought I’d be in Toto.

Jeff: I know! That was very bizarre.

Greg: Well, it wasn’t bizarre. It was great. I never thought that David Paige, one of the founding members would call me up and ask me to replace him. That was crazy.

Jeff: Right. I mean I guess you’re so well known, you’ve been around for so long, you’re still relatively young and that’s what.

Greg: That was a smooth segue, Jeff.

Jeff: And that’s what, you see credits that you had in the ‘70s and you expect to see some really old guy and you’re still a young guy being a band leader in current gigs, but obviously having toured so much in the past, it’s very different touring at this point in your life. What’s your, other than financial, what’s the motivation for you?

Greg: I have a daughter.

Jeff: Okay. I know all about that.

Greg: So, yeah, I know you know about that.

Jeff: Yeah, I’ve got two of them.

Greg: There you go. You know what I’m talking about. How old are yours?

Jeff: 4 and 6.

Greg: Yep. Mine is 6, she’ll be 7 next month.

Jeff: Yeah, and she lives in LA?

Greg: Yeah. She’s now there with her mother. So, yeah that’s my motivation.

Jeff: How does it differ from you now being on the road, I mean you spent most of your life I guess on the road.

Greg: Yeah, the mechanics are the same. It’s a little different because the artist isn’t here, but the mechanics really are the same. Nothing’s changed that way. It’s still grueling, but I try to, I rest, I get my rest in. I don’t do anything stupid, but we’re dealing with a very large group of mostly kids who stay up all night, but they’re at the age that they can do that.

Jeff: Right. How is it for you, you’re obviously Michael’s band leader on those classic tours, leading a band without the artist, without the conventional structure of a show with a star leading it?

Greg: It wasn’t as difficult as you might imagine. I knew it was going to be a different process very very early on and I just kind of gave the band a heads up. I think the biggest challenge, which really didn’t turn into a challenge at all, was usually when I’m asked to be the music director of an event, after putting the band together and after conferring with the artist on what they want to do song wise and we’ll get charts done and distribute them out to the band and in some cases they’ll have it in advance. They’ll certainly have mp3s in advance of the charts so they can just get an idea in their heads of what it’s going to be like and then you get the charts, you tweak, and then boom, you’re on. That could not happen in this case because you’re dealing with Michael Jackson, who is not here and the wealth and the security involved with his masters, which Kevin Antunes, who is the music designer had the enviable task of doing, going through, he was given access to all the tracks, the masters. Going and making the arrangements that Jamie King, the director had in mind.

So, because of the high security involved, and Kevin was handcuffed to a backpack with these hard drives. He wouldn’t even let me touch it. Because of that we couldn’t pass out mp3s and charts, I figured would be a waste of time. So, when we got to rehearsal I said look, we’re just going to listen to every song one at a time and we’re going to tweak and get every detail just right, but we had the luxury of listening to those masters and being able to listen to individual parts. So, in a situation like “I Want You Back”, rather than listening to the final mix, the record like everybody else does, we had the actual tracks so we could solo the exact guitar parts. So, there was no question as to what was being played.

Jeff: Right. I mean, this band, how did you put it together and were there any mainstays from previous Michael Jackson bands who would know the parts inside out?

Greg: Well, of course. The criteria for me was to have as many people involved who had that musical connection with him as possible. So, I got Jon Clark on guitar and Don Boyette on bass from the Bad Tour. Fred White, one of our background singers, who was in the History Tour and Jonathan "Sugarfoot" Moffett who’s career with the brothers is at least as long as mine, if not longer. And plus he was there for This is It. Everybody wanted in, Cirque wanted him, and obviously it was a no brainer for me, but I chose everyone else.

Jeff: And how has it been for you, Greg, just emotionally performing these songs? Obviously you had such a long connection with Michael Jackson.

Greg: It’s been great. I just every time I do a show, I’m just flooded with great memories between being in the studio and being on stage. I think the most emotional it got for me was opening night in Montreal because I hadn’t seen Mom in quite a while. I saw her after Michael died and I went to the house and sat down and talked with her one on one and hugged her and I told her then when I saw her that I was hugging her for the millions of people who couldn’t. And she is absolutely the loveliest woman on the planet. She’s so beautiful. So sweet and so strong. It’s extraordinary. But, when I started, so I hadn’t seen her since then so I was adamant about seeing her opening night and I went up in the suite where she was and I waited for her because I wasn’t going to do the show until I saw her. And she came in finally and I hugged her and saw her and talked with her for a little bit and then went back and did the show and that was probably the most emotional it got. But since then I’ve been fine. It’s great.

Jeff: How was the Herbie Hancock gig?

Greg: Oh my goodness.

Jeff: I had this one keyboard player, one amazing keyboard player relate to another amazing keyboard player. What do you learn from him and what maybe does he learn from you?

Greg: What does Herbie learn from me? Yeah. Nice try. It’s like getting in the ring with Mike Tyson, are you kidding me? It was unbelievable, please. It was the gig of a lifetime. I cannot believe I did it. I was just so blessed and honored that he asked me. He’s a sweetheart. He’s a maniac, but-

Jeff: Yeah, I’ve met him before.

Greg: This guy - now he’s passed 71 and he still practices, which really pisses me off. And we’d be in sound check and he’ll just be wailing and then after we’re all done, then he’s practicing. It was very inspiring because it inspired me to dig in more, even as far as practicing and just expressing, taking a little more time to express myself. But it was fantastic. And then I had the honor of singing with him. Like he had me sing two of the songs in the show: “Don’t Give Up” and “A Change is Gonna Come” And when I did “A Change is Gonna Come” I would go down front, so now he’s my accompanist, which was really - you talk about bizarre. It was absolutely one of the greatest highlights of my career.

Jeff: Right, I’m sure. I mean, what does he practice? Scales or...?

Greg: Yeah, he has certain scales and he showed me certain things too?

Jeff: What did he show you? This is for all the keyboardists listening to this.

Greg: He showed me, oh no of course, he showed me certain scales he does. I know I videoed at least one of them. And yeah, he would do these bizarre scales and start off slow and then speed it up. And so it was usually that or he’d come up with some crazy voicing and he never runs out of voicing. It’s just mind blowing.

Jeff: Do you still practice, Greg?

Greg: Nah. I’m a lazy fart. I don’t.

Jeff: When did you get to a point where you thought okay, I’ve got this covered, any challenge that comes my way.

Greg: I didn’t think like that because that would be cocky. But it was laziness really. I always managed to find new inspiration in whatever job I was working on. It was like if I knew I was called for a session for whomever, by the time I got there I had more than enough inspiration to do what I needed to do. Or if it was, I don’t know, a TV event or some production, whatever it was, as soon as I started playing with the rest of the band, that’s when it kicked in. And it’s the same today.

Jeff: How does the Greg of 19, mid to late 1970s differ from the Greg today as a keyboard player?

Greg: That’s a good question. I would say, hopefully a little more refined. A little more mature, but I had more of a sense of abandon when I was younger. I know that. I would just do anything.

Jeff: Why do you think you developed so quickly at such a young age?

Greg: I don’t know.

Jeff: I mean what was it?

Greg: I don’t know. I mean, I listened to everything when I was a kid, and I mean everything from jazz to pop, a lot of pop of course growing up in Detroit. Rock. Classical. I was studying classical. Country. I listened to everything and I absorbed everything I listened to. There was this mystical absorption that went on. Like, when I would listen to Stevie, I just absorbed his whole vibe. Herbie too. And that helped in getting the gig with Stevie, which was my first foray into this. The short version of the story is I sent, through a very very dear friend of mine who was asked to audition on drums for Stevie, I sent a cassette in and it was actually my friend that insisted that I play some stuff on a cassette, and I played a few things like “You are the Sunshine of My Life”. I played it like he did on the record to let him know I know how he thinks. And I guess he got it and I mean he got that I was - that was the message I was trying to send. Ever since then I’ve had this ability to hone in to the core essence of what the music is I’m playing. The personality of the music. Music has different personalities just like people because that’s where it comes from. It comes from people, and so I’m able to hone in to the essence of what makes Lionel Richie’s music work from Chaka Khan’s music from Prince’s music to Stevie’s music to Michael’s music, to Eric Clapton’s music to George Harrison’s music to Barbara Streisand’s music. To Willie Nelson’s music. Or Herbie’s or you know, fill in the blank. Ray Charles. So, I think that’s been my strength.

Jeff: Which have been the most challenging gigs for you would you say?

Greg: Outside of Herbie?

Jeff: Yeah. Outside of Herbie.

Greg: One of the biggest, probably the biggest challenge I had was a little something Quincy laid on me, some years ago in Rome. He was doing an event called “We are the Future.” There were a lot, there was a lot at stake with that because there was lot I didn’t know at the time, like Quincy had mortgaged his home to pay for the production costs. It was insane stuff.

Jeff: To pay for the production costs of “We are the Future?”

Greg: Yeah that was for “We are the Future.”

Jeff: When was this?

Greg: This was, shoot I forget, it was like maybe ’06.

Jeff: Oh wow, I would have never though Quincy Jones would have had to have mortgaged his house for anything in this-

Greg: Yeah well, I don’t, there was a lot going on and so there was this artist line up of about 20 acts or so from all over the world, Europe, America, every place. He said, right, I want you to be the music director. It almost took me out emotionally. Santana was one of the artists and it was great because I got to sing “Black Magic Woman” with him and he had me do that. That was fantastic, you know, but then we also played with Zucchero and Alicia Keys and Khaled. It was unbelievable. Herbie did it. Patty Austin. That was a huge challenge, just keeping all that together, keeping it organized.

Jeff: I can imagine.

Greg: It was pretty big.

Jeff: What do you think, what have been the, sort of strangest requests in a way? When you’re a band leader for an artist, to come, say okay Greg, we want you to do this, this and this. Has there been an occasion where it’s been completely different than you would have anticipated, or the challenge has been completely, the requests have been different than you would have estimated?

Greg: No, I can’t say anything stands out that way. Artists are crazy, but nothing. I mean certainly nothing musical, not even personal really. I was never asked, okay right when you’re done with this, come over and have sex with me.

Jeff: No, I just mean on like a musical tip.

Greg: No, I can’t say that. I can’t say there’s been anything that strange musically that was out of my realm.

Jeff: Just really the Quincy and the Herbie stuff was on a challenging level was probably the hardest stuff?

Greg: Yeah, musically. There was a time when I was recording with Eric and it was for the JOURNEYMAN album and I wasn’t like the music director or anything, but I was working on the album and I’ve had different musical challenges like that where he redid the song “Hard Times” from Ray Charles. He wanted me to duplicate the licks that Ray had played and it was, that was a challenge, but I think in the end I got it, but I’ve had things like that.

Jeff: What do you listen to? What’s in your iPod or your iPhone?

Greg: Well, what do I have? I have some Gospel stuff. I have some Maroon 5. I have some Coldplay. I have some Hip Hop.

Jeff: I’m curious, what do you get out of all those different things that you listen to, Gospel, Maroon 5, Coldplay, Hip Hop, what does someone with a musical brain like yours get from that stuff?

Greg: I just enjoy it. I enjoy it on a very basic level and I enjoy the personalities of it, but I also have some... Beethoven. I just have a fairly wide range, I’d say. I have a lot of Earth Wind and Fire too.

Jeff: Sure. As someone who’s played on so many records and toured with so many people, you never went the route of just being a studio musician or just turning into a producer or co-writing with a lot of other songwriters. What was it about just, was that ever an appeal to you?

Greg: Yeah. I’ve always just gravitated to whatever opportunity was given to me and I’ve had many. I have had time co-writing with different situation. I spent a good amount of time in the early ‘80s writing with Lionel .

Jeff: And that was during his peak.

Greg: Yes, and I love producing. I’d like to do more of that, but I never set out to do one thing. It’s just that these opportunities kept coming and the career kept expanding. So, I went with it because one thing I never wanted was to be pigeonholed into one thing. I tried being an artist, and that didn’t work. I just wanted to be Prince so bad, but it just didn’t. I didn’t look like him. I didn’t act like him.

Jeff: What was it about Prince in particular?

Greg: He’s just so damn cool.

Jeff: Yeah. That’s true.

Greg: And, he’s another maniac.

Jeff: You’ve worked with him?

Greg: I never worked with him. I sat in once with him in a club in London. That was it.

Jeff: Okay, how was it?

Greg: It was great. I was sitting on the side of the stage talking to Bonnie Boyette, one of his singers at the time, and she just passed away.

Jeff: Did she really? I didn’t know that.

Greg: Yeah, several years ago, and she, we were just really engrossed in this conversation. It was really, I was pretty much oblivious to everything. All of the sudden, I feel this wet little hand touch my arm and I look up and he goes, "I know you, boy." I went, "Sure." And the next thing I know, I’m on stage with this guy and we’re doing all these covers and it was great. It was great fun, but that was it.

Jeff: How have you structured your life, Greg, in terms of the financial aspect? Obviously, we hear lots of stories about musicians not having good financial plans and how they’re structured.

Greg: All I’m going to say about that is that it’s a work in progress.

Jeff: What have been would you say the biggest learning curves for you?

Greg: Not to get married.

Jeff: Right, I hear that. My wife works, she has a decent job, so I can’t complain.

Greg: Wife's always got to have a gig. That’s where I messed up. I was trying to be captain save it all and can’t do it. Wife’s got to have a gig.

Jeff: Yeah, totally. If my wife didn’t have a gig, we wouldn’t survive.

Greg: I always thought, because of what I do for a living, if I’m married, and especially if I have a kid, then you have the luxury of staying at home and taking care of that kid and there was a time when my wife at the time would ask me about working and I said no, you don’t need to. She said, I can do it. And I would say no you don’t need to. Well, that was my mistake.

Jeff: right. And who have you learned from? Which musicians would you say, wow they’ve really got it together in all aspects of their life?

Greg: Well, I don’t know these people personally, but I’m very impressed with people like Jay Z. I’m very impressed with him. Even Russell. They understand brand marketing. I don’t agree with everything some of them do, but from a business standpoint, they’re really, really quite strong and quite impressive.

Jeff: 450 million he’s worth, Jay Z. How would you brand yourself. If someone had to say, okay, Greg, you’ve got this incredible history. You’ve worked with everyone who’s anyone, but you could walk down the street and most people wouldn’t probably recognize you. We need to brand you. What would be?

Greg: First of all, I happen to like that, but yeah, I get randomly recognized by Fed Ex drivers and, like my girlfriend and I were recently in New York and we walked into FAO Schwarz, the world famous toy store. The door man at FAO Schwarz new exactly who I am. He new exactly, he said, "Oh hi Greg Phillinganes." I’m like, "How do you know that? You work at FAO Schwarz." But he also works at the Garden. So, but I that’s the work in progress as far as how I would brand myself. That’s actually the work in progress and I don’t have all the answers. I have certain ideas.

Jeff: I think it’s fascinating about you. You should write a book.

Greg: Nope.

Jeff: Not a behind the scenes tell all expose type of book, but a book that would appeal to people in the music business, as a musician. How to earn a living as a musician. Maybe do it within collaboration with other musicians, but musicians in this day and age, I don’t know how they earn a living. In the old days, people would walk around, you’d see musicians. Musicians were the stars.

Greg: I know. See, the problem is it’s a different time and a book on my past isn’t going to help in the future because it’s not like that anymore. I was blessed enough to grow up in literally the last golden age. Late ‘70s, early ‘80s, the entire process of making records was different. Yes, musicians were the stars and studios were the sanctuaries and producers meant something. In the Grammy’s one of the most emotional moments of the entire show was who’s going to win Producer of the Year, but it was between guys like Quincy and David Foster and, I keep forgetting, this is horrible, I can’t remember, he produced Chaka, and Norah Jones.

Jeff: Arif Mardin?

Greg: Arif! And Michael O’Martian and people like that. And now, they barely get a mention. 10 seconds, there’s a guy sitting there, okay and Producer of the Year is that guy. Thank you, next. Nobody cares. So, along with the entire music industry literally tanking, which it has done for several years now, at least a decade, the process is completely different. I wouldn't know what to say.

Jeff: Right. I think there’s so many musicians out there who don’t know how, they’ll finish music school, they’ll come up from the church or wherever, and they don’t know how to get a gig. How does it work, a musician earn a living anymore?

Greg: I have no idea. I really don’t know. All I can say is thank God for live music. One of the most viable avenues for music, is live entertainment. If you can be part of a touring band, yeah, that would be great. There are other, there’s Broadway, there’s Vegas, there’s TV, but it’s not like you go down this hall and you end up over on the other side. I just don’t know. It’s extremely tough.

Jeff: Why doesn’t a book talking about some of your experiences appeal to you at all?

Greg: Because you get a momentary excitement - ooh he did that, ooh he did that, so what? There are a bazillion books out there.

Jeff: But your story is unique too.

Greg: My story is unique, yes, but I prefer telling it in person. I prefer telling it in person to kids to inspire them and let them know that they can live their dream because I’m living mine. Yes, on that end, absolutely it’s possible, and the only thing that I see myself doing as far as doing a book is writing a book of my memoirs for my daughter. Like when she turns 16 or something like that and giving it to her as a present and saying okay, this is what your daddy was like when you were a kid.

Jeff: I would love to read a Greg Phillinganes book, and I’m sure lots of other people would too.

Greg: Well, first of all, you’re a really good interviewer and that’s why Prince wrote you a thank you note. He’s never done that for anybody, but while it’s appreciated, I...

Jeff: I think if you got a forward from Quincy, and you had little chapters with Herbie and conversations with them so they were involved. Lionel and other people you’ve worked with. It would inspire a lot of people. I mean, musicians out there, kids who are playing, taking piano lessons, would say wow look at this guy, and they’d go back and look at all the records that you’ve played and learn all those parts and say I want to be like him. That’s what I was like as a kid. I remember, same as you probably, I used to look at, I remember I went through a phase, every Leon Silvers production, I would go out and buy it. I didn’t even care, I didn’t even have to hear the record. I just loved his productions and it would be someone else a few months later. I would go in these phases, and I think that’s missing. People don’t sort of idolize musicians and the producers anymore. And I used to know all the musicians on the Chaka Khan albums and the this album and that album.

Greg: Right, and that’s it. Again, it has to do with the massive difference in the process because now, it’s about the artist and maybe the producer. If the producer is someone with only 2 letters in their name. But basically, it’s about the artist now. It’s totally, it’s a lot more artist driven. It’s like, okay I want to be like Drake because he sounds cool. I want to be like Lil Wayne because he sounds cool. I want to be like Jay Z because he’s a bazillionaire and he freestyles all the time and he never writes any of his lyrics down. That’s what it’s...

Jeff: Yeah, but I think there’s, and it’s for that exact reason that I think a book with you talking to some of the people that you’ve worked with, especially now because your profile is high, I mean we haven’t even talked about PULSE, which I should talk about because that’s why I was asked to talk to you. Actually, because it’s been rereleased, but people are starved. Real fans of music, they go out, they still spend money, people still spend 200 dollars to see the Rolling Stones. They still spend money on shows, but they’re starved of music and musical stories. I mean, the Keith Richards book did so well because you just can’t really get that stuff to read, to be a fan again anymore. I think it would be great for your profile, great for your branding and everything too. But, let’s talk about PULSE because I know it has been rereleased last week in England, I think a couple of weeks ago in England and now it’s coming back out in the states. Just take me back to that time period, 1980, early ‘80s, ’84 I think it was.

Greg: Well, again, I was really trying to be like Prince. I just, I wasn’t that cool. I thought I had a shot because it was during that time I was working on BAD with Michael. I’m sorry it wasn’t BAD, it was THRILLER, right?

Jeff: ’84, yeah THRILLER.

Greg: Yeah, I was working on THRILLER. So, we had a meeting, I had a meeting, I was invited to a meeting at Michael’s house with Quincy and Rod Temperton.

Jeff: Why? Talk about a power meeting.

Greg: Yes. That didn’t suck, right? So, it’s Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton and me. And we’re at the house and so that was when we got the world premiere of "Billie Jean," "Beat It," and "Startin’ Something." Was "Beat It" part of that? I think so. It was "Beat It," no, it was "Billie Jean" and "Wanna Be Startin’ Something" and I think, "Beat It" and there were some other songs too, right? So, at the end of the meeting, and one of the songs was "Behind the Mask." So, and I really latched onto that. I mean, the other songs were fantastic, obviously, but when I heard "Behind the Mask," I was thinking of me. So, I asked Mike after the meeting if it didn’t end up on his album, could I have it? And he said yeah. So, that’s how I got it.

And I thought this is a slam dunk because it was everything. It was pop, it was rock, it was R&B. It was just like this is a slam dunk. He got the song from Ryuichi Sakamoto from the Yellow Magic Orchestra and then he puts like this Levi Stubs/Four Tops bad ass vocal all over it and I’m thinking, okay this is fantastic. This is exactly the kind of thing that I could sink my teeth into, you know? And I did it and I basically did it the way he did, but unfortunately radio was still very polarized back then. I’d go to different radio stations and premiere it? That’s not the word I want to use, but anyway, you know what I’m saying.

Jeff: Yeah, preview it.

Greg: Yeah, and I’d go around, but the white stations would say it was too black, and the black stations would say it was too white. So, I had a lot of that, but I had a manager at the time who actually got me on MTV. The only video for "Behind the Mask," the only video I ever did was for "Behind the Mask" and he got it on MTV. It was only for about 25 minutes, but he did get it on there. I did American Bandstand with Dick Clark, I did Soul Train, I did several others and that’s great, but it didn’t work. So, that was a huge disappointment, so I just thought to hell with it, I’m done.

Jeff: Yeah, well I mean, Greg, you had skills to fall back upon.

Greg: Yeah.

Jeff: What was, I’ve never actually met Rod Templeton, I know he’s from England. Like me, he’s from a place called Grimsby, which is a pretty unassuming place in England. What was Rod like back then?

Greg: Exactly the same way he is now. He’s never changed. He’s just a great, your typical bloke, and he had this insanely amazing talent for writing these epic songs. He oversaw every detail, every nuance, everything, every lyric, every harmony, every beat, every part, everything. All those layers, it all came from him and all I did was duplicate it. And, he was just brilliant.

Jeff: What did, what is he up to now? You never hear from him, he’s so low key.

Greg: Yeah, he loves it that way. He’s still writing, he’s still producing, and he loves going to Formula 1 races all over the world.

Jeff: He’s still involved in music?

Greg: Yeah. Absolutely.

Jeff: So you stay in touch with him?

Greg: Yeah. He, they came to one of our shows and then his wife Kathy came to another one, I think we saw her again in Vegas. We’re obviously looking forward to hooking up again in London when we hit the O2. But yeah we still keep in touch, absolutely.

Jeff: Great. And how did Michael change over the years from those pre-Thriller crazy days to really up until the end?

Greg: Well, really, you know that’s a very long-

Jeff: I mean –

Greg: It’s a long involved answer because he changed not just musically, first of all, you have to remember this, the bottom line to everything is that you are no more of a musician than you are a human being. So, as you change and expand as a human being, that’s how your music expands. Kids like to say, music is my life. No, it’s your life that you live that’s infused in the music. That’s the deal. So, as Mike’s life went on and changed, it effected every facet of his life, every area of his life, including musically.

And some things negatively, and some things positively.

Jeff: Sure. And how was your relationship with him over those years?

Greg: Well, it was really good, but there was a lot of stuff I just didn’t know. But, I would like to think he knew that I loved him. I never wanted anything from him. As a matter of fact, there was a period of time when I disassociated myself with him. I hadn’t seen him for many years because there were so many leeches around and I just didn’t want to be, I’d rather not see somebody - I’d rather not hang out with you then have you think I’m a leech. And, so I just didn’t want any part of it, but I would like to think, that if for nothing else, that he knew that I loved him.

Jeff: As a musician, did you see his talent, you mentioned things go on in your life, it affects you as a musician as well, were there any really pronounced changes in his ability or –

Greg: Yeah, I think that he felt that he needed the, or maybe he just enjoyed it, but I think he felt that he needed the association with all the top producers in the later years. You know the success he had with Quincy and he was never able to really recreate that and that was his doing to a great extent because at the end he kind of pushed Quincy out of the picture wanting to go for different stuff. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t change and you shouldn’t evolve and I do like a lot of what he did with Teddy. And I do like some of what he did with Rodney J, but it just wasn’t the same. It was different. It was cool; it just wasn’t the same.

Jeff: The "song" element really wasn’t there. There was a huge missing link.

Greg: Yeah. I just think the depth, there was some depth that was missing, that was there with Quincy. He kind of went to a island mentality. I can do this on my own kind of thing. He just got to a point where he enjoyed being in control of all these producers and getting them to buy in on this whole hyperbolic life style. You had to be the best, the grandest, the biggest, the widest, the deepest, the everything. The most ultimate thing in the world. He’d spend like months and months on a drum sound, stuff like that.

Jeff: Yeah I remember when Rodney Jerkins was working with him and they were working together forever, for months and months and months on end. I know Rodney, I know Teddy and yeah those guys were never ended. What’s on the horizon for you? How long is this tour going? I looked on the itinerary, it goes on forever.

Greg: Until Jesus comes back. It’s definitely, as far as my understanding, as far as what I expect, the rest of this year, and well into the next. What happens at the time I decide to leave this, I don’t know. I couldn’t say. The thing is, I could never say what was going to happen. I say at certain times what I would like to happen and then something else amazing happens that was greater than what I had thought. So, I just have learned to shut up.

Jeff: What would you like to happen if you had to write down the next five years? What are your ideal things that you want to accomplish?

Greg: Expanding my brand, doing more producing, doing more TV shows, more TV stuff, I like TV stuff.

Jeff: Like what type of TV stuff would you say?

Greg: I well, you know, two years ago I was the MD for the Grammys, which I absolutely loved. I was the MD for the Emmy’s as well and so I like doing that kind of stuff.

Jeff: And, how has it worked out with just seeing your daughter and being out on the road? Does she come to certain shows during school holidays?

Greg: No, it’s been very tough because she has, her schedule is more involved than mine. She’s taking piano, she’s taking tennis, she’s going to school, she goes to church. So her mother has her very involved and it’s been tough for her to come out. Plus, she’s only 6, so that’s the main thing. Whenever I have breaks, I see her. She came to Vegas during Christmas week and that was great. Every break I have, I see her.

Jeff: Is there anything that you want to tell me that I haven’t asked you about? I could carry on chatting forever. It’s always. I know you have a gig tonight?

Greg: No, I’m off.

Jeff: What’s the schedule? How many days per week on and off?

Greg: We average 2 shows each city. Average. This particular city is one show. Most cities, it’s two, some, like New York, it’s 3. I’m just going to chill and watch these Lakers finally do what they should have done in the last game, but we can talk some more. I’m enjoying this.

Jeff: You said the things that you would love to do, and you said more TV, we spoke about, and more producing. Who are the ideal people that you would like love to produce. Like, I would love to do a record with them.

Greg: Okay, that’s another good question. I can’t think of anybody at the moment. Producing is a challenge because you have to click on several different levels. You have to click musically, obviously, you have to click emotionally and when you get that connection, then you get the best out of the artist. That would be just that would be a good challenge. I love being in the studio and I love producing. So –

Jeff: What software, do you use ProTools or Logic?

Greg: Yeah, but I’m not that guy. I’m not the one to start talking tech talk. I’m not the one.

Jeff: Herbie’s that guy, right?

Greg: Herbie’s that guy just because again, he’s a maniac, but then you have to go back and look at his past and realize since he got that degree in engineering, then that’s why he is the way he is. Yeah, he’s the ultimate techno geek. I mean, I am too, but not to the degree he is and as far as ProTools, yea, but see there’s a billion guys who do that so I never had to worry about it.

Jeff: Sure. Yeah, you can just get an engineer and hook yours up.

Greg: Yeah, I just want to get the ideas out. I don’t’ want to have to know, I don’t care.

Jeff: Has there been a production recently that you’ve heard on the radio and you’ve thought, wow, how the hell did they do that?

Greg: No, I can’t say that.

Jeff: I mean, I’m going to throw some names out there, and you just, and it doesn’t matter if you haven’t heard of them, I’m just curious as to how your mind is, what a musician thinks. What do you think of David Guetta?

Greg: That sounds familiar, but I haven’t heard enough of his stuff.

Jeff: He did a lot of, he’s a big French dance guy. Maybe we could email back and forth about him. Let me see, who else is big at the moment? Jay Z was spoken about. Obviously, you know, what’s fascinating to me, and it’s sad in a way, is that R&B doesn’t really exist anymore.

Greg: Yeah, there are failed attempts at it, but it’s really...

Jeff: I mean even black music, black church based, R&B with the chords which are very sort of church derived chords, but that sound doesn’t-

Greg: Again, you have small attempts at it, like Melanie Fiona, who else? Anthony Hamilton, Max. Love Maxwell.

Jeff: Yeah, it’s a shame because you listen to-

Greg: I’m watching TV right now and I’m seeing Monica on TV, she’s working with this producer named Rico Love. I don’t know who that is.

Jeff: Yeah, he’s a guy that’s been around for a while.

Greg: He’s a Grammy Award winning producer. I don’t know who he is and that’s may be nothing more than I’m just an old fart, but I don’t.

Jeff: I mean, Alicia is still I guess waving the musician flag and so is John Legend to a degree.

Greg: Yeah, John. I like his stuff.

Jeff: If they were making a movie of your life, what would be the scenes that everyone would be talking about the next day at the water cooler?

Greg: Wow, that’s another good one. You’ve got some good - um, let’s see. The scene they’d be talking about the next day, jeez, I don’t know about that. Well, okay, more than likely, when I had to confess to my first wife that I was having an affair with Sheryl Crow.

Jeff: Really? Wow.

Greg: That would be the scene.

Jeff: My God.

Greg: You asked.

Jeff: Yeah, that was when you were on the road?

Greg: Yeah, that was during the BAD tour.

Jeff: Well, if you’re going to have an affair, Sheryl Crow’s not a bad person.

Greg: As affairs go.

Jeff: Exactly. And that must have been pretty, why did you have to confess? Just as a guy wondering, why would you confess?

Greg: Because women know, A. And it was just a matter of time and then she, my wife at that time, was just, she just decided she was going to take over the situation and she demanded that we all meet.

Jeff: With Sheryl?

Greg: Yeah. We all met in the laundry room. I’ll never forget.

Jeff: Oh God, I would have avoided that like the plague.

Greg: Yeah, you say that shit now, but you know, come on, man. I was young and so was Sheryl and it was just tough all around because it was - it’s not something that I expected, but it happened. The marriage was going down anyway, which didn’t make it any more right, but it was tough. It was just a very tough situation overall. It was based on needs of mine at the time, but it was a very heavy relationship with Sheryl. It was very heavy because it wasn’t just sexual, it was musical too.

Jeff: Sure, I can imagine yeah, of course. There’s huge connections there.

Greg: Yeah, we did some writing. We did a lot of writing. I shared with Sheryl, man, everything I knew about music.

Jeff: She took it like a sponge, I’m sure. And that was when her career, just before it had taken off?

Greg: No, it was way before that. We were still touring with Michael, it was before, but she was determined back at that time to expand and be a solo artist and she did man. She just went for it.

Jeff: And why did you relationship with Sheryl end?

Greg: Why or when?

Jeff: Why?

Greg: Oh, we just went in different directions and it was never the kind of thing, I knew it would never go the distance, but I just wanted to take it as far as it could.

Jeff: Are you guys still friends today?

Greg: Oh absolutely. It’s way cooler today. We hooked up again, the last time I saw her was when I MD the White House event honoring Berry Gordy. She came in and did “I Want You Back”. I played and sang with her and everything and I introduced her to my current girlfriend, who is on the tour, who is on this tour.

Jeff: That’s good then.

Greg: Yeah, that helps quite a lot.

Jeff: Oh, I can imagine.

Greg: On top of being, on top of having a beautiful voice, it’s great to not have to leave her at home. So, I have a picture of my past with my future. They met and they held hands and hugged each other and I said okay, let’s take a picture. And they both, she was very sweet. Sheryl is very sweet.

Jeff: That’s wonderful. Many men would take off their cap to you for pulling that one off.

Greg: No, I’m not the one. Many men would take off their caps at Quincy because you know, every holiday, Thanksgiving and Christmas, one of them, he will have all of his baby’s mommas at the house. Now that is big pimping. All of them, man. I’ve seen them all. There was one Thanksgiving man, he had all of them. Jolie’s mother, Tina and Snoopy’s (Quincy III) mother. Obviously Rashida and Kidada’s mother, Peggy. And Kenya’s mother, all of them.

Jeff: How does he do it? Because he’s Quincy?

Greg: Because he’s just Quincy like that.

Jeff: Yeah. I’ve interviewed Quincy before. I remember going into his hotel room and there was some young blond girl walking out as he was fixing his collar in the morning. Enough said. So where are you? In South Carolina, at the moment?

Greg: Greenville.

Jeff: Right. So, you did one show last night did you?

Greg: Yeah, well, we did the second of two in, where the hell were we? Not Hartford, but it was Hampton. Hampton, VA. So, we did 2 there, got on a bus to take a plane to take another bus to, because the runway didn’t work here in Greenville, so we had to fly to Charlotte and take another bus here. So, we’re here in Greenville and we’re playing the Baylou center tomorrow night. It’s a big venue. It’s only one show, though and then we go to Worcester, MA.

Jeff: And then when are you in London? Over the summer?

Greg: No. October.

Jeff: Well, I’ve got your email. I’ll shoot you an email. I’m traveling here there and everywhere, but mainly in the New York area because my kids are here and my wife is here.

Greg: Well, the closest we’re coming back there is Boston.

Jeff: Okay. Well, maybe I’ll take a trip up and take the wife up.

Greg: I would like you to do that. I would like you to stay in touch with me.

Jeff: Yeah, absolutely, I’d love to.


About the Writer
Jeff Lorez has enjoyed a long and varied career in the music business. As a journalist he has written for a slew of publications and web sites including, Blues & Soul, Billboard, Yahoo.com and the Daily Telegraph and as a music publisher he has been involved in recent chart topping hits by Alexis Jordan and Cher Lloyd.
  
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