|Timothy White interviews
19-year-old Michael Jackson 
The Jacksons have just finished their Goiní Places album,
Michael has just completed The Wiz film project
with Diana Ross, Elvis Presleyís corpse
is exactly a week old . . .
Are you happy with the new Jacksons album, Goiní
[Cautious, nodding] Umm
Your last album was the first one called The
Jacksons, right? It got a lot of plays in discos.
It did very well. They released a single [Show
You The Way To Go] from that album in London,
and it did very well. Went to Number 1. It was Number 1 for like two weeks
in a row. And now they released Dreamer from that album. Itís one of my
favourite ones from that album. Itís a balladíníall.
Goiní Places is supposed to be the single from
the new album?
So far, theyíve chosen it.
Who chooses it? You?
Kenny Gamble, the producer, and the President
of Columbia [Walter Yetnikoff] .
Do you have any influence?
We talk to the guys and everything, you know,
and tell them. Because they know we know whatís good, and we know what
kids wanna to hear. We dance, and weíre out there all the time while theyíre
in their offices. [Grinning Impishly] So
they know they better listen to what we say.
Are you hot for dance singles these days?
Yes. Both -- ballads and dance singles. I just
love to see the kids have a good time when the music come on. Sometime
I sneak into this skating rink when they put them jams on. And you can
tell when somethingís dirty: the kids be kicking in. Soon as thereís something
hot -- ow! -- they break out. Which is important, because people like to
dance and have a good time.
Speaking of ballads, I think back to Ben. [Ben
was written for the 1972 horror film Ben (the sequel to 1971ís thriller
about befriending rats, Willard) by composer Walter Scharf and lyricist
Don Black. The recording session was co-produced by Freddie Perren, Fonce
Mizell, Deke Edwards, and Berry Gordy, Jr. Michael Jackson had no credit
role in creating the song.] Even though it
was Number 1 in 1972, a lot of people donít know the songís about a rat.
They haven't seen the film, so they see the song as a ballad about friendship.
Umm hmm. I like it both ways.
How do you mean?
I mainly like it as a record. I love rats. And
I like it as a friend, too, as if Iím talking to a guy thatís a friend
of mine -- [blushing smile] but
none other than just a friend! Some people see it the friend way. It works
Youíre big on rats?
I love them. I used to raise them.
White rats? You raised them at home?
Yeah. In cages and things.
Youíve gotten out of it now?
[Nodding] You know,
Ďcause rats have weird characteristics. [Very
sheepish] They start eating one another. They
really do. It just got sickening to me, and I just said forget it. I came
one night and looked in the cage, and the rats had eaten each other. The
father was eating the babies. I got sick of looking at it all and left
their cage outside. I didnít realize how cold it was. The rats, still alive,
frozen to death.[Laughs] I
donít mind talking about it, if you donít. Do you?
Plus, in Beverly Hills thereís a lot of snakes.
I almost got bit by one rattlesnake because of the rats. See, when you
live up in the hills, thatís what happens.
The rats draw snakes?
Umm hmm! Tremendously.
And it was cold enough in Beverly Hills one night
to freeze rats?
Yeah, oh yeah. See, itís high up. There was a
strange mist around, a rainy type of coldness, and the snakes started coming
out of the ground to get the rats. I guess I got caught in the middle of
this thing. It was awful! [Laughs]
How many rats did you have?
Oh, I had quite a few. A lot of them. My mother
hated it. I was up to about thirty rats.
Do they reproduce quickly?
quickly! You wake up one morning, and you see all these little things crawling
around. Itís fun anyway.
Nobody clued you in on the ratís habit of eating
Nope. I just saw it when they ate the babies.
I shoulda separated the father from the children. Iíd never see that deal.
I had no idea, no idea. I donít think anybody knows the reason why -- it
doesnít exist; if they did say it, itís not a good enough reason.
Well, letís go back to the film. How were you
approached to do the Scarecrow in The Wiz?
I was sitting at home one day, and the phone
Home in Beverly Hills?
No, we donít live in Beverly Hills no more. We
moved. See, we built a studio. And where we were staying we had a lot of
room, but it wasnít enough. We always wanted to build a studio, Ďcause
we were rehearsing in out garage in Beverly Hills and the neighbors complained.
And so we moved to Encino, in San Fernando Valley, got a lot more room
now, and we built a studio in our house, and so now we record and do a
lot more stuff in that house. Thatís what itís great for.
But anyway, getting back: I was sitting at home
and the phone rings from our office, and they say, "Hey, Michael! How would
you like to do The Wiz?" I said, "Well, whereíd you get this news from?"
He said, "Well, in New York City Rob Cohen and Sidney Lumet called." I
said, "Yeah! Iíd like to do it!"
The only reason why I said yes was because I
knew a lot about the production and getting it together. And I knew it
was some of the best people in the film industry working on this thing.
Sidney Lumet is the hottest director of the time.
Had Diana stepped into the project at this time?
[Laughing] Oh yeah.
I had called Diana up in Las Vegas, and she was telling me that she was
gonna go to New York and film it, and I said, "Well I hope the best for
you!" Next thing I know is Iím in the film.
So what sort of preparations have you made to
play the Scarecrow? I assume you saw the old Wizard Of Oz movie?
Oh yeah, I have it on video tape. I watch it
sometimes and just turn the sound down and watch the moves. When you see
the old one, you realize -- I had to say this -- but you realize that they
didnít bring out what they should have brought out. Thatís what The Wiz
is all about -- itís bringing out what Frank Baum, the writer, was really
trying to say, in this movie. You can see where a lot was thrown out. We
make it more recognizable to people what the story is all about.
Give me an example.
Well, the different characters, the Scarecrow
with the brain thing. He think he doesnít have a brain, but he does. All
the time itís there, but he donít know it. The whole thing is bringing
What I do as the Scarecrow is, I donít think
Iím smart and everything. And all through the movie I be bringing out these
quotations from out of my sleevesíníall. See, Iím garbage instead of straw;
Iím filled with the stuff, and Iím reading these quotations from all over
me about such and such: "Confucius said this." But I still think Iím ignorant.
So it will have a larger social impact than a
whimsical kidsí story?
[Solemnly] Umm hmm.
Itís a strong movie. Some people will see it as a kidsí film, but it isnít.
You can follow it as you go through your life. Thatís the main answer to
life -- with that whole movie. I mean you can just follow life with that
movie. Itís deeper than what people really think it is.
Have you read the original book?
know I should. I was supposed to read it, but I havenít had the time.
If you do, youíll find itís not precisely a childrenís
book. Diana Ross recently made the point that it never mentions how old
Dorothyís not really in the story at all. Not
that much. Itís just the way MGM did it that makes people think sheís a
big part of it.
[Excited] You can
find so many great things in The Wiz about life. There are so many smart
people walking around that donít know theyíre smart, donít believe in themselves.
Itís helpful for that too.
Thatís what the Scarecrow is all about. Heís
a smart guy! Thereís these crows that come every day and jive me and say
Iím dumb, Iím ignorant, I canít walk, I canít do this. And theyíre so cool
they just walk into my garden and take advantage of me. Iím begging them,
"Canít I get down just for one second and walk in the garden?" They say,
"Man, you canít walk!"
One day my break comes when Dorothy helps me
down. Iíve been reading all these quotes that show how smart I am, but
I really donít know it. I know somethingís wrong with what theyíre telling
me, but I canít put my finger on it, and somethingís still wrong.
It just brings out more. Itís more of a city
story. Instead of straw, itís garbage. The Tin Man is all kinda cans: peanut
butter cans, and this and that. Toto is like a German shepherd puppy. Itís
really great; this is great!
Itís a fantasy look, too. When I say weíre gonna
be on location, a lot of people think weíre just gonna look real-to-life.
With a sky like this one [Points out the window]
No, weíre gonna give it a real fantasy look. Some of the scenes will have
600 dancers! Itís a $12 million production! Thatís how much theyíre spending.
What do you enjoy the most about the filming?
[Very Softly] I
love the amazing make-up and all the costumes and all the excitement. And
I love the dance sequences. We got some dance sequences gonna knock people
Are they working you too hard?
Not at all. Itís just the opposite. I never want
to stop. Sometimes I even come home in my make-up!
Youíre that attached to the character?
[Nodding slowly] It
takes a long time to put it on my face, but I like how different it feels.
I can be in a whole Ďnother place with it. Sometime I wear it at home,
and people -- kids -- I look out the back window of the car and let them
see me. Whoa, they get frightened! They donít know who or what it is! Itís
a trip, itís really a trip. [Softly, guardedly]
a secret; thatís it. I like that itís a secret.
just a warm feeling inside, like I can do anything he does, and everybody
will dig it. Because once he comes down from the pole in that corn patch,
everybody appreciates the Scarecrow.
Youíve never done a film before, have you?
Iíve done so much acting but never in a film.
How do you mean?
Well, all the variety Iíve done, and different
sketches on TV shows. Iíve done so much, you know, long sketches. Iíve
done The Flip Wilson Show and Carol Burnett, all that stuff, Sonny and
Cher. But Iíve never done a movie. This is the first one.
Are you scared?
No. Not at all, not at all. Honest to God, Iím
not. Iím challenged. I love it. Iím not scared at all.
Even when I was very small, all I wanted to do
was get into this performing kind of thing. But no matter how many movie
offers come to me, music will always be my number one thing. Because itís
inside of me, and itís something that has to come out. And itís still there.
[Smiling shyly] Like
when Iím going over my script, music just comes into my head, and songs,
and I run to the tape recorder and put melodies on tape. Constantly. Not
to wait for a piano for stuff, because I canít help it. I canít. I got
to have it.
What was the first time you performed?
It was in a shopping centre, the Big Top, in
Gary, Indiana. It was at a grand opening. All the people come around and
buy the season fashions. We agreed to be in front of the mall, in the middle
of it, and sing. And thatís what we did.
You must have done some performing before that,
to have that come about.
but you know, I canít remember. I wasnít even thinking about that. I just
did it. I was about six. I got started around five.
What is your earliest memory of performing? Did
someone, your father maybe, take you by the hand and ask you to sing?
No, we were just singing around the house, old
folk songs, Cotton Fields Back Home and [sings]
In The Valley . . . We used to wake up singing.
We had bunk beds, and I would shack up with Marlon,
and Tito would shack up with Jermaine, and Jackie would have his own on
top. We would just sing every morning.
See, my father had a group, with his brothers,
The Falcons. And Tito would sneak his guitar and play it when heíd go to
work. When he got caught, Tito would get in so much trouble for playing
Dadís guitar. One day Tito broke a string, and my father go so mad at Tito,
he got so mad at him, so angry, he said, "Lemme see what you can play!
If you canít play that, Iím a really beat you!"
Tito was scared, but when he could play, my father
was shocked. He was so good, by just sneaking and playing. My father thought,
Well, thereís some kind of talent here, and he started saving up money,
buying instruments and microphones and amplifiers.
We would do talent shows in the neighbourhood
in Gary, and later at the high school. [Proudly] We would always win every
one. We have all these trophies in our house all over the place.
One day Gladys Knight told a guy named Bobby
Taylor at Motown about us, and Motown got a hold of us. We did a show on
gigantic estate in Detroit, around the pool side. All the Motown stars
were there: Diana Ross, The Temptations, everybody. They loved us, and
we recorded our first record, I Want You Back, a three-million-seller.
And we went on and on.
How old were you when you got the first hit?
On I Want You Back I was 1, but our very first
one was a record [in 1968] called
Iím A Big Boy Now on Steeltown, and it was a Gary, Indiana, company. It
was a local hit.
Who wrote "Big Boy"?
[Frowning, shrugs] Boy,
I donít know.
Do you remember how the song goes?
[Brightening, smiling] Yes.
Itís a good melody! It goes: [sings] "Fair-y
tales, fair-y tales, have lost their charm. Da-da-da, da-da-da, a-da-da-da.
ĎCause Iím a big boy now!" Itís a good melody. Itíd be a hit today, really.[Insistent]
could! You know, a lot of these people, they take these old songs and say
the same thing thinking, "The kids donít know it."
Sure Rita Coolidge has a hit now with Higher
Thatís right, that Jackie Wilson hit! People
donít know, but they take those old songs and bring them back, and everybody
think itís something new -- when itís old. And Iím just listening to them
and thinking, "My mother usta put on these records!"
So your father had a band called The Falcons,
right? How much do you know about his band?
Well, it was his three brothers[the
band had five members] , and they were a little
group from the South, with guitar, bass, and drums. Dadís from the South
-- Arkansas. I donít know what city.
Did he ever tell you any stories about the early
days playing with The Falcons?
No. I donít think he needs to talk about it.
We havenít talked about it. Heís never talked about it. All we know is
that he had a group. We know he was a good player, because they played
in Gary when we were little. Then they were split up, but he would just
grab his guitar and start playing . . .
. . . around the house?
Uh huh. And his brother played guitar very well,
too. They would be jamming at the house, playing the blues and stuff. They
all helped Tito learn how to play.
How many people in your dadís family, meaning
brothers and sisters?
I think it was about four. I think thereís three
Was your mom from Arkansas, too?
How did your dad meet your mom? Did they ever
[Shy giggle] They
wonít! Kitty starts blushing over the whole thing. I mention it, and she
starts blushing. She says, "Now, why you wanna ask that?" I think it was
in high school or something, when he was young.
You really donít know anything about how your
parents met and courted?
[Softly] I donít
know anything about it. They wonít discuss it. [Giggles]
hard to picture.
How do you get along with your father?
[Glancing away] Heís
-- he can be very hard . . . sometimes. You donít wanna be gettiní him
mad. Heís strict, but we never object. Thatís how he wants it, so we go
along. He shows us the value of work and hard effort.
So your very first public performance was in
a shopping centre?
Well, I sang at my school, a long, long time
ago. At a P.T.A. meeting I sung Climb Every Mountain. And boy, did I hear
some applause. Those claps, I can still hear them now -- really. All the
teachers were there. I felt proud. I was five. I think my music teacher
taught me the words.
I had a music class, but I never paid attention
in that class. [Laughs] I
went to the Garnet Grammar School on Garnet Street. We lived on Jackson
Street. Pure coincidence.
What was it like being so young and travelling
around performing in those early days?
We had our own van. It was some great times.
I would sit in the wings and watch the other acts, on and on. I would watch
every step Jackie Wilson made on the stage. Iíd hear them say, "Jackie
Wilson!" And he would take that coat off and strut around! I would sit
there and watch every step and just learn. Every show, I would run down
just to watch him take the stage.
We had our own band, and we would tour with the
OíJays when there used to be four OíJays, and the Emotions -- we been knowing
them girls for years. We always knew they were great, and now they're just
happening. People say, "Oh them. A new group." Iíd say, "Thatís what you
think. They been around a long time."
Were these tours package deals a record company
I donít think they were on our company[Motown]
just did the shows. Weíd tour the East: We did the Regal Theatre in Chicago,
the Apollo in New York, the Uptown in Philadelphia. Thatís mainly the ones
Where do you play now when you tour?
We just finished a big concert tour; we were
in England. We did a command performance for the Queen in Scotland, and
we went to Germany, to Paris, to Holland. I wish we could have filmed it,
because we keep a catalogue of shows. Iíll never forget my first Hollywood
Palace Show -- or the first time we were on The Ed Sullivan Show. I got
it on tape. Iíll show you.
[He gets up from his chair and goes to his large,
shelved tape library.]
Is that a Star Wars cassette youíve got there?
Yeah! Barry White, whoís on 20th Century Fox
Records, got it for us. Itís so hard to get into that movie.
But anyway [cuing
up 1970 Ed Sullivan tape], Motown would tape
all their TV shows, but CBS dubbed this one for me.
Iíll never forget the day I was walking the halls
at the Ed Sullivan Theatre. I walked past his dressing room -- see, Iím
always known for just looking around and seeing what each place is like;
I always do that. And he calls me in, and he says he saw our rehearsal
that day, and said, "No matter what you do, never forget to thank God for
your talent." He looked me in the eyes. He was unique, he was really kind.
Such a nice man.
[Tape begins. Ed Sullivan, a bundle of nervous
ticks and furtive movements, stands at stage right and announces, "From
Gary, Indiana, hereís the youthful Jackson 5, opening with a melody of
their hits that have sold over a million, each, er, skit-bit!" The group
begins performing I Want You Back. Michael stands and stares at his younger,
diminutive self on the screen, dressed in a garish citrus-coloured vest
and bell-bottoms, executing a series of intricate dance steps as he sings.
Watching himself, the modern-day Michael appears riveted.]
Do you remember this song?
Are you kidding? Of course I do.
How old are you there?
The music was prerecorded, wasnít it?
[Still watching as a group goes into ABC] I
was singing live. The background is pre-recorded. I always had to do that.
I was always worried about these shows, because if you mess up, everybody
see it. You had to be really on your toes.
[The onscreen Michael goes into a superbly dextrous
dance break, dipping, whirling, and shouting, "Sit down, girl! I think
I love you. No! Get up, girl! Show me what you can do!" The other Jackson
brothers lip-sync the backing chorus: "Shake it, shake it, baby." Then
Michael sings the final refrain: "A-B-C, itís easy, itís like counting
up to three. Sing a simple melody. Thatís how easy love can be!" The music
stops, and Michael shouts, "A-B-C, girls!"
Off-camera, throngs of little girls in the studio
ED SULLIVAN: On July 7, these five brothers will
begin their summer tour of one-nighters at Madison Square Garden, and theyíre
gonna bust every record in the country. Wonderful to have you on our show!
MICHAEL AND BROTHERS: Thank you.
ED SULLIVAN: Right now, here they are singing
The Love You Save from their new album ABC!
Little Michaelís onscreen steps are spectacular
during the opening instrumental passage of the track, the routine a tightly
plotted explosion of springs, spins, shimmies, and jitterbugging fandangos.
The real Michael looks bored, and shuts off the tape.]
When was the last time you watched this video
[Long, nervous pause] Iíve
watched it . . . before.
I recall seeing the Jackson 5 on TV in 1974,
at the time of Dancing Machine. You had a dance routine that was so wickedly
hot. Do you put those things together yourself?
Do you mean the robot moves and all that? We
always do all our own choreography. Michael, Marlon, and Jackie, us three
You always had great movies. Iím sure you had
a lot of people coming up to you and saying you were very skilled for your
age. I donít know of any eleven-year-old kids who had that kind of poise.
[Glum, exasperated] For
so many years Iíve been called a midget, a 45-year-old midget, and I was,
like, six and five. And they would tell us how "great, great, great" we
were, but could "never get the big head". We heard that so much. "Never
get the big head." They were saying donít get too big for your shoes.
Have you ever gotten a big head?
Oh, no. No way. No way I could deal with that.
Why do you think that is? Because your father
tells you to be cool? Or your brothers do?
Yeah. Good parents, and just, you know, how can
you think you're better than somebody else? I mean, I do certain things
that millions of kids out there will never get to see or do, but I shouldnít
think Iím better than them. [In a hush] We're
Have you ever had kids your own age approach
you and remark on your amazing abilities? How would you react?
Iíd just listen -- and then get better and better.
I donít know what I was thinking back then. Iíd
just listen, say thanks, and keep on going, and not let it affect me terribly
anyway. [Suddenly tense] Iím
just always trying to get better. Thatís all, really. Iím just telling
you that all Iím trying to do is get better and better. Which I never stop
doing. ĎCause when you stop growing . . . [He
cancels the thought]. Boy, you never can stop
growing. But some people do.
On TV you look sharply accomplished, even shrewd.
And tough, almost like a grown man. But I meet you now, and thereís a striking
[Smiling strangely] Thatís
true. People always tell me that. All the kids at school say, "Man, youíre
so much different on stage. I canít believe itís the same person." But
Iím not really recognizing what people are telling me.
When I get on stage, I donít know what happens.
Honest to God. It feels so good, itís like itís the safest place in the
world for me. [Warily] Iím
not as comfortable now as I would be on stage, because I was raised on
stage. Thatís all I did: travel, sing, dance and watch other people that
were trying to do it.
At school, I didnít know how to be in class.
Teachers would write home and say [giggles],
"Michael comes to school to sleep." Because we would be up all night in
the nightclubs, doing our acts and tours. When Iíd get to school, thatíd
be my sleeping hours.
[Confidential tone] And
my pockets would be loaded with money. Because people would throw money
on the stage -- the money, the change! We would have $1,300 lying on the
stage, and we would make just $15 million from the manager paying us. Weíd
go to school -- whoa! -- with all this money.
It was great, great times. [Dreamily]
never forget those times. I write about them in songs.
Iím writing a lot now, too.
These days youíre writing a lot of songs?
[Nodding] In the
studio. I love to go into sessions and listen. Whenever Stevie [Wonder]
a session, Iím always there. I sit and listen and learn. Heís a great friend
of mine, and I think heís one of the greatest guys around. Heís so much
farther ahead of everybody; heís so good.
What kind of topics are you writing about these
[Cool, pensive] I
just hate everyday love songs. Iím interested in a different type of love
song. I want a brand-new thought. Thatís what I love about Ben. Thereís
a mystery to it. You wonder, "What is this about?" I even got sick of it[snigger],
so many people come up to me and say, "Why did you create such a song about
a little stinkiní rat? But itís so beautiful! Howíd you make it so beautiful
if itís about a dumb rat?"
I said, "I donít know. I just felt it, because
rats, they got a mind, they got a heart as well." I donít look at it that
way. I love animals, I said, "You may not look at it that way, but I love
I write about all kinds of things. I write about
an old man, a tree, whatís happening in the world, a deer. I love writing
so much Iíd eat it, really. I love it!
Have you ever written a song about one specific
incident? You met someone, something very specific occurred, you wrote
about it -- and maybe it went on to be a hit?
Oh yeah. A song Iím writing now about travelling
the world. It mentions, in the song, all the different countries, and to
me, what theyíre like. And there are so many people around the world that
donít get a chance to travel. And there are so many that do want to travel
but canít. And some that think the whole world looks like New York City,
that the whole world is what they just picture. There are a lot of people
Well, some do say that Europe is looking too
much like America, from McDonaldís hamburger stands on outward.
Oh, no not to me. Did you go out in the country
and stuff? Now, business will do that, but that different country and their
society and their culture just creeps in anyway. The governments are different,
and thereís no way that could be like America. Of course, business will
remind you -- you look at McDonaldís sometime and you forget that youíre
in England. But they even have McDonaldís stands that look different! So
thereís no way: The culture is different, the government is different,
the countryside is different.
Nonetheless, other countries put such a value
on the American system -- the way we think, the way we dress -- because
they consider us the most current in a lot of ways.
Americans got it made. They got it made. I donít
think the different governments would let that happen. I know they have
their ways of doing things, and theyíre completely different from what
Have you ever been to Holland? Holland is the
Europe that you dream about -- Iím not just saying this. London, Englandís
city, can look like New York -- a little -- but if you go to Holland, man,
you know itís real Europe. And Scotland is -- oh, I could eat it, itís
so beautiful! You know itís not America.
Back to your records: Is there a big hit that
came out of a personal experience I might not necessarily pick out from
the song itself?
If so, I would write it out on the album jacket,
and talk about it. See, we just started writing songs on our albums. Before,
those songs were all by Motown producers. We would help in, but we would
never mainly write the stories or anything. With our singing, we would
help in. Thatís what so great about what weíre doing now. We will be writing
our own stuff, completely.
How about Goiní Places?
That was a tune Kenny Gamble [and
Leon Huff] wrote. We wrote Different Kind
Of Lady and Do What You Wanna. But they wasnít specific to something that
happened in our lives.
See, I love the folk type of style music, the
soul, and the rhythm going out funky. I like to mix those things. And I
like easy listening. I like Bread, the Carpenters. I love Stevie Wonder
and the Brothers Johnson -- they are smelly, they are really smelly. Strawberry
Letter 23, that track is bad, isnít it? The lyrics are -- cripes, theyíre
so way out, theyíre crazy! Iím still trying to figure them out.
Have you ever seen Parliament-Funkadelic with
their flying saucer-Dr. Funkenstein show? Theyíre pretty off-the-wall.
Iím Ďposta see them in concert. I know they crazy.
But Iím gonna watch carefully to see if itís them thatís good live, or
just the scenery and special effects.
Was there one person who was a model or hero
of yours when you were forgoing your own particular style?
I had those that I admired, like James Brown,
a man that today donít get credit he should get from the music industry.
Look what he did to music: all these funky tracks that you hear today,
thatís where it came from. Sly Stone, James Brown, these are people that
started funky music. They stood between the gospelly soul and the dance
music. And thatís funk: Sly, James Brown, and people like that. Wilson
Pickett, Otis Redding. And of course in rock and roll thereís Little Richard
and Chuck Berry and all those guys. Thatís who I would always watch. And
Jackie Wilson -- yeow!
Have you met James Brown?
I know James Brown. I met him long time ago at
the Regal Theatre. I donít remember exactly how -- [fretting]
could I forget? I just remember him on stage gettiní down.
I talked with him during rehearsal at a Dick
Clark music awards show last year. He said, "I remember you back at the
Apollo Theatre. Iím the one who got you the gig! One of your biggest breaks!"
I said, "Thank you." He read me the cash reciepts from his last tour, and
then he broke out into the aisle, sliding and doing the James Brown dance.
And then he walked off. [Laughs]
But you know, rock and roll, at one time, nobody
even wanted to hear it. [Laughs] They
said, "What is this?"
Elvis was considered white trash for singing
so-called race music in his hillbilly style.
See, but when the blacks did it, they really
wouldnít accept it. Itís only a fact, and itís true. It turned around when
people like Elvis did it, but it was there all the time. Blacks had been
doing it for years.
Mostly everybody made fun of it. Thereís this
book called Blues: The Devilís Music, and it talks about the origination
of blues, and how people just talked so bad about it. And look what it
is today! Even with the rock and roll, as well. And jazz.
When did you go over and visit with Jackie Wilson?
When we did our album; we just finished it. Not
too long ago, in Philadelphia, at the hospital. He really donít get the
credit he should get. Heís the man the big people of today in the music
industry copy after. [After years of hospitalization
following an on stage heart attack in 1957, Wilson died in 1984.]
Does that bother you?
Yes. I think itís an awful thing. ĎCause I like
the people who really do something; they sweat and work for it and go through
hell bringing it about. And the guy who takes it so quick [loudly snaps
his fingers] , he comes along and gets all the credit for it. Iím glad
at least it took somebody to bring it about, but real people should get
Same thing with artists that paint. It happens
the same way -- till they die, and then they get the recognition.
Have you ever felt that way about things youíve
Yeah, a lot of things.
[Giggles] You know, I donít have to mention
names. How do I feel about it? I feel itís a compliment in one way, and
in another way [voice drops to a whisper]
be kinda angry.
[Aggressive] Because itís yours. We were the
first young group out there with that style, making hit records. There
were nobody out there at our age. We came across it, and then all of a
sudden along came the Osmonds, the Partridge Family.
Now you have groups like the Sylvers have the
same producer that wrote all our hits, Freddie Perren. Thatís why they
sound so much like us.
A lot of people that worked with the Osmonds
said they would have video tapes on us and study us. They really patterned
themselves after us, because they were singing barbershop on The Andy Williams
Show. They never were recording jams, poppiní soul, then -- boom! -- they
I heard One Bad Apple several times before I
found out it wasnít you people.
[Grinning fiercely] I
know! One lady walked up to me and said, "I got your new record." I said,
"What?" She said, "One Bad Apple." I said, "Lady, why donít you read whoís
on the label?"
Did you know that record was ours at first? But
Motown turned it down. George Jackson is the producer, and he came to Motown
with it, and Motown turned it down. Because we were in a funky, strong
track-type bag, with good melody. Georgeís song was good, but too easygoing;
we were striving for something much stronger. So he went and gave it to
the Osmonds. [Annoyed] They sang it, and it was a smash -- Number 1.
He had you in mind when he wrote it?
Sure! Thatís why it was mainly like us all the
way. They sounded so much like us. I donít mind if somebody takes it and
go farther with it. The only thing I hate is they take it and make like
they started it. Itís like dog-eat-dog type of situation. I think itís
At least The Beatles did mention where they were
influenced. They were great writers, on their own, but they did study black
music. ĎCause Chuck Berry -- who was it, Chuck Berry or Little Richard?
-- when The Beatles were coming up he saw them and he introduced them to
a lot of people. A long time ago, The Beatles were on an all-black label[Vee-Jay].
The guyís name is [Ewart] Abner
-- I know him, he was president of Motown Records -- and a long time ago,
he had them! Then, after they went on from there, they were gigantic.
I love Paul McCartney. With his own records he
proves heís the most talented Beatle. When you take any one of them away,
it gets kinda weaker and weaker, but as a whole, it was always the best.
Paul -- him and John Lennon were dynamite. Iíve been to two of Paulís parties,
and we get together and talk.
He wrote a song for me, and I never get a chance
to record it. Him and his wife were telling me about it. Itís called Girlfriend.[Girlfriend
was included by McCartney on Wingsí 1978 London Town album. Michael finally
recorded the song in 1979 for his Off The Wall LP.] They
were singing it to me, and they say they want to do it, too.
[He sings] "Girlfriend . . . boyfriend" -- it
was an easy thing. I remember him singing it. Iíll never forget the melody.
I can forget all kinds of things [giggles],
but I never forget a melody.
This was a year ago. Iíve got some pictures here
of the party. It was a gigantic party at the Harold Lloyd estate. It was
a very good evening. All the stars were there! [He
pulls a voluminous black scrapbook off a nearby shelf and leafs through
it.] Lemme see. This is when we met the Queen
. . . This is at Paulís party at Harold Lloydís estate, right around the
time when Paul and his wife and I, were were talking about the Girlfriend
song, and exchanging numbers and addresses.
That was one of the greatest parties Iíve ever
been to, because when Paul gives a party he believes in just going out!
It was a whole schedule: nine oíclock, you get to see the ballerina act.
Ten oíclock, Chuck Norris, the karate expert, put on a show. At four oíclock
in the evening, the Broadway company of The Wiz would put on a show. There
were all kinds of food! You want Mexican food, they had a Mexican stand,
a Mexican lady. Italian, and Italian stand with an Italian man. American
food, a buffet! Oh, man!
And thatís more at Paul McCartneyís party, where
they had the Wiz show... And John Belushi doing his Joe Cocker imitation
at Paulís thing, too. Did you see the robot on summer TV specials? That
was the same robot that was at Paul McCartneyís party! That was the first
time I had seen it. I said, "How does he work?" People went crazy over
him. And thatís my friend Tatum OíNeal . . . And thatís my nephew on my
I left kinda early, but the party went on and
on . . .
Do you keep a lot of scrapbooks like this?
[Flashing a confused glance, continuing to thumb
through it] Not really. We have somebody in the business office who makes
them up for me, and our own photographer to follow me and take the pictures
. . . Thatís my fatherís father, Samuel Jackson, and thatís the three brothers
that had the band the Falcons: Lawrence, Joseph, and Luke . . . Samuel
Jackson still around the house; he sings and sings; heís still alive in
Arizona. And thatís the first monkey on the moon! Sheís still alive today.
Her name is Miss Baker. [He points to an odd scrawl below the shot of the
chimp.] See, she "autographed" it. Itís good to look back and think. Thereís
Fred Astair . . . and Minnie Riperton . . . [He puts the scrapbook away.]
Tomorrow, from when you wake up, what will your
schedule for the day be like?
I get up at 9.00am or 8.30, and I work on The
Wiz at the rehearsals until 5.30pm. Then Iím free, unless I have other
appointments. Iím going to the Parliament-Funkadelic concert tomorrow,
which is a form of freedom, but thereís no way I can get away from the
stage completely. I got to have it!
Certain people were created for certain things,
and I think our job is to entertain the world. I donít see no other thing
that I could be doing.
So many people do so many different things that
theyíre good at. It seems like "He was meant to do that!" or "Thatís her
job!" because of how they enjoy it. Itís that way with me and entertainment,
and itís strange, because our whole family is in on this thing. We all
I notice the Bible over on the coffee table.
Is your family especially religious?
We all believe in God, of course. [Giggles]
study and read the Bible with my mother and sisters. I know thereís a true
and breathing God. A lot of people donít believe in that, but I know thereís
no way it canít be. Thereís no way it couldnít be; itís so true that there
is a God, when you break it down: the universe, the beauty of the world,
But thereís a lot of ugliness in the world, too,
a lot of cruelty. Did God create that?
No! Thatís because of man! Man is because of
the fallen angles. It says in the Bible that all this would happen, and
itís all coming true.
Itís easy to judge the world from the privileged
safety of America. If youíd been to India, say, and seen the ugliness there...
I canít wait! Thatís what I want to see! Iíve
seen the very rich and the very poor, but Iím mainly interested in the
poor. I donít wanna think the whole world is just like whatís around here.
I want to appreciate what I have, and try to help others.
I know what the rich are like. Iíve studied that
country India so much, and when I go to other countries, people say, "You
wanna see the ugly part of it?" [Nods] Thatís
what I want to see!
What are you looking for?
[Smiling] I want
to see what itís really like to starve. I donít want to hear it, or read
it. I want to see it.
Itís a whole different thing when you see it!
All the things Iíve read in my schoolbooks about England and the Queen
were OK, but my very eyes are the greatest book in the world. When we did
the Royal Command Performance over in England, and then after it I actually
looked into the Queenís eyes, it was the greatest thing! And itís really
the same thing with starvation! [Dreamily]
you see it, you just receive a little more.
What would you say is the worst thing you ever
saw in your life?
Well, can it be anything?
It was probably during the hard days on stage.
Some of the things I use ta see when we used to do nightclub acts.[Giggles]
probably say, "Aw, that ainít nothing," but to me, especially at that stage,
I had never seen anything like it.
[Giggling harder] See,
we used to do club shows, and there was this one lady -- you probably know
what she did -- but I thought it was awful. I was around six, and she was
one of those stripteasers, and she would take her drawers off
[giggles], and a man would come up, and theyíd
start doing -- aw, man, she was too funky! Ugh! That, to me, was awful.
Looking backward and forward, how do you feel
about your body of work?
All those records in the past are our songs,
and weíve sung them, and we put our hearts into the singing of them, but
theyíre not from us. Theyíre not our thoughts and what we think should
go on that plastic, on that wax.
When I get into writing my own stuff, Iím gonna
just let it all out. Itís something I always wanted to do: Make it really
Speaking of your thoughts and your heart, do
you have any girlfriends?
Iím too busy for dating girls right now. Iíd
like to try, maybe. What do you think? Think I should, yeah? Well, Iíll
think about that. Iíll think about what you said. Weíll see . . . But Iím
Youíve certainly got the power to make yourself
happy. People live their whole lives and donít find that power. Do you
think youíll use it well?
[Grim-faced, listing his thoughts on his fingers]
For starters, thereís nothing inside of me that wants to come out but donít
know how. I just let it all come out.
If thereís something Iím not, Iíll mention it.
I love children -- crazy Ďbout Ďem.
I love music.
Iím looking forward to writing lots of songs
and good material and putting it out and just doing my best.
So nothingís bothering me, because I got things
that I want to do, and I know I can do them.
nothing inside killing me.
Filming The Wiz and playing the Scarecrow seem
to be the high points of your life thus far. Will you be sad to see it
[Musing, almost whispering] Ohhh
yeah. Sometimes, when I come home with my make-up, I keep dancing in front of the mirrors here as the Scarecrow. Or I get out of bed at night and do a few moves in front of the mirrors.
When I get into it, I forget everything else but
the Scarecrowís world. Itís a feeling of peace. Itís just like . . . magic.