Neil McCormick is the chief rock music critic for the UK newspaper ‘The Telegraph,’ and for his latest article about Michael and his work, he spent time with the band from the ‘Michael Forever Tribute Concert.’
He calls the men he spoke to as, “Top Los Angeles session players, no nonsense, seen-it-all–before professionals, all middle-aged black men with quite bluff exteriors, who knew Michael mainly in a professional capacity, and who they worked with for years.” Their high regard for Michael was striking.
Backing singer Romeo Johnson said, “It’s crazy, but he was the most alive person you could ever meet.”
“All I know is when I was with him, he was the sweetest person in the world,” says Tommy Organ, a guitarist who was a featured player in the ‘This Is It’ concerts. “When he came on stage he was always happy, always trying to help. When he heard anything that was out of key or wasn’t the right part, he would hum the exact notes he wanted and then he would end it with, ‘I’m telling you with love.’ It was never ‘Hey, what are you doing over there?’ It was always ‘maybe you should try this, with love.’ You wanna play for a person like that.”
“Michael was not a musician but he had the ears of a musician, there was nothing that he didn’t hear,” recalls Kevin Dorsey, Michael’s backing singer for over twenty years. “Always in the show, if someone made a mistake, he’d turn around and smile and point at them. He could hear through everything.” He recalls his first rehearsals with Michael, for the ‘Bad’ tour in 1988. “We were two hours and twenty minutes into the show, and there was a lighting error, and Michael said ‘all right, let’s go to the top.’ I thought, ‘OK, go to the top of the song, get it over with and take a break.’ I thought I had six minutes left. And the other guys looked at me, they laughed, and said, ‘wait and watch.’ He didn’t mean the top of the song; he meant the top of the show. I had to do another two hours and twenty-six minutes. I said right there, this is going to be quite a run!”
Backing singer Romeo Johnson said “Its crazy, but he was the most alive person you could ever meet. To me he was the epitome of excellence,” says Johnson. “This guy was totally involved in everything, more involved than I have seen any musician in my thirty years of career. In rehearsals, when musicians go through a run through, you might sing a wrong note or play a wrong chord and make a face like, ‘oops, hope they didn’t hear that.’ Sometimes the artist will catch you, sometimes they won’t. Michael would go through three or four songs in a row, and he’d be so into entertainment mode, he would rehearse as if there were thirty or forty thousand people in front of him. Then he’d stop and go, ‘now in the first song, second verse, there should have been this part, and in the second song, first verse, you did this, then on the beginning of the third verse …’ Like, how did he hear it, first of all, and how did he retain it when he was doing his performance to even come back and correct us? That was amazing to me.”
You can read more about Michael’s incredible work ethic by clicking here