1977 - August: From An Uknown Interview PDF Print E-mail


On Kenny Gamble, and the importance of children's reaction to the Jacksons’ music:

“We talk to the guys and everything, you know, and tell them. Because they know we know what’s good, and we know what kids wanna to hear. We dance, and we’re out there all the time while they’re in their offices. [Grinning impishly] So they know they better listen to what we say. […] [I love’ both -- ballads and dance singles. I just love to see the kids have a good time when the music come (sic) on. Sometime (sic) I sneak into this skating rink when they put them jams on. And you can tell when something’s dirty: the kids be kicking in. (As) soon as there’s something hot -- ow! -- they break out. Which is important, because people like to dance and have a good time.”

On hit record Ben and his former pet rats:

“I mainly like (‘Ben’) as a record. I love rats. And I like it as a friend, too, as if I’m talking to a guy that’s a friend of mine -- but none other than just a friend! Some people see it the friend way. It works both ways. […] I love them. I used to raise them [at home]. […] In cages and things. […] [But I’ve gotten out of it now.] You know, ‘cause rats have weird characteristics. 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. […] Plus, in Beverly Hills there’s (sic) a lot of snakes. I almost got bit by one rattlesnake because of the rats. See, when you live up in the hills, that’s what happens. […] See, it’s 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] […] Oh, I had quite a few (rats). A lot of them. My mother hated it. I was up to about thirty rats. […] (They reproduce) weirdly quickly! You wake up one morning, and you see all these little things crawling around. It’s fun anyway. […] [Nobody clued me in on the rats’ habit of eating each other,] nope. I just saw it when they ate the babies. I shoulda separated the father from the children. I’d never see that deal. I had no idea, no idea. I don’t think anybody knows the reason why -- it doesn’t exist; if they did say it, it’s not a good enough reason.”

On The Wiz and its characters based on book and film The Wizard Of Oz:

“[…] 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, where’d you get this news from?" He said, "Well, in New York City Rob Cohen and Sidney Lumet called." I said, "Yeah! I’d 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 (sic) some of the best people in the film industry working on this thing. Sidney Lumet is the hottest director of the time. […]. 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 I’m in the film. […] That’s what The Wiz is all about -- it’s bringing out what Frank Baum, the writer, was really trying to say, in this movie ‘The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz’). We make it more recognizable to people what the story is all about. […] Well, the different characters, the Scarecrow with the brain thing. He think (sic) he doesn’t have a brain, but he does. All the time it’s there, but he don’t (sic) know it. The whole thing is bringing it out. What I do as the Scarecrow is, I don’t think I’m smart and everything. And all through the movie I (would) be bringing out these quotations from out of my sleeves’n’all. See, I’m garbage instead of straw; I’m filled with the stuff, and I’m reading these quotations from all over me about such and such: "Confucius said this." But I still think I’m ignorant. […] It’s a strong movie. Some people will see it as a kids’ film, but it isn’t. You can follow it as you go through your life. That’s the main answer to life -- with that whole movie. I mean, you can just follow life with that movie. It’s deeper than what people really think it is. […] I know I should (read the book) [embarrassed]. I was supposed to read it, but I haven’t had the time. […]”

“You can find so many great things in The Wiz about life. There are so many smart people walking around that don’t know they’re smart, don’t believe in themselves. It’s helpful for that too. That’s what the Scarecrow is all about. He’s a smart guy! There’s (sic) these crows that come every day and jive me and say I’m dumb, I’m ignorant, I can’t walk, I can’t do this. And they’re so cool, they just walk into my garden and take advantage of me. I’m begging them, "Can’t I get down just for one second and walk in the garden?" They say, "Man, you can’t walk!" One day, my break comes when Dorothy helps me down. I’ve been reading all these quotes that show how smart I am, but I really don’t know it. I know something’s wrong with what they’re telling me, but I can’t put my finger on it, and something’s still wrong. It just brings out more. It’s more of a city story. Instead of straw, it’s garbage. The Tin Man is all kinda cans: peanut butter cans, and this and that. Toto is like a German shepherd puppy. It’s really great; this is great! It’s a fantasy look, too. When I say we’re gonna be on location, a lot of people think we’re just gonna look real-to-life. With a sky like this one. [points out the window]. No, we’re gonna give it a real fantasy look. Some of the scenes will have 600 dancers! It’s a $12 million production! That’s how much they’re spending. I’ve done so much acting, but never in a film. […] Well, all the variety I’ve done, and different sketches on TV shows. I’ve done so much, you know, long sketches. I’ve done The Flip Wilson Show and Carol Burnett, all that stuff, Sonny and Cher. But I’ve never done a movie. This is the first one. […] No. [I’m not scared]. Not at all, not at all. Honest to God, I’m not. I’m challenged. I love it. I’m not scared at all. Even when I was very small, all I wanted to do was get into this performing kind of thing.”

On his first love (music) and first public performance:

“But no matter how many movie offers come to me, music will always be my number one thing. Because it’s inside of me, and it’s something that has to come out. And it’s still there. [smiling shyly] Like when I’m 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 can’t help it. I can’t. I got to have it. [The first time I 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 that’s what we did. […] [I must have done some performing before that] but you know, I can’t remember. I wasn’t even thinking about that. I just did it.”

On how him and his brothers were discovered:

“I was about six. I got started around five. […] We were just singing around the house, old folk songs, Cotton Fields Back Home and [sings] Down 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 he’d go to work. When he got caught, Tito would get in so much trouble for playing Dad’s guitar. One day, Tito broke a string, and my father got so mad at Tito, he got so mad at him, so angry, he said, "Lemme see what you can play! If you can’t play that, I’m (gonn)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, there’s 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. 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 Berry [Gordy]’s 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.”

On how his parents met:

“They won’t [tell me how they met]! [shy giggle] Kitty [my mother] 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. […] [softly] I don’t know anything about it. They won’t discuss it. [giggles] It’s hard to picture.”

On his relationship with his father:

“[Glancing away] He’s -- he can be very hard… sometimes. You don’t wanna be gettin’ him mad. He’s strict, but we never object. That’s how he wants it, so we go along. He shows us the value of work and hard effort. ..”

On his first performance (at his school) and how he studied artistry from the great acts of that time:

“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 (2300) Jackson Street. Pure coincidence. […] We had our own van [when traveling around performing]. It was (sic) 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. I’d 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 O’Jays when there used to be four O’Jays, and the Emotions -- we (have) been knowing them girls for years. […]”

On the Jackson 5’s first Hollywood Palace Show:

“[…] I’ll never forget my first Hollywood Palace Show -- or the first time we were on The Ed Sullivan Show. I got it on tape. I’ll show you. […] Motown would tape all their TV shows, but CBS dubbed this one for me. I’ll never forget the day I was walking the halls at the Ed Sullivan Theatre. I walked past his dressing room -- see, I’m 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. [watches the Ed Sullivan performance tape] […] 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 (sic) it. You had to be really on your toes. […]”

On conceit, his artistic prowess and continuous evolution:

“[Glum, exasperated] For so many years I’ve 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 ‘Don’t get too big for your shoes.’ […] [And we’ve never gotten a big head.] Oh, no. No way. No way I could deal with that. […] Yeah. Good parents [teach their kids that], 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 shouldn’t think I’m better than them. [in a hush] We're all human. […] [When kids my age approach me and remark me on my abilities,] I’d just listen -- and then get better and better. I don’t know what I was thinking back then. I’d just listen, say thanks, and keep on going, and not let it affect me terribly anyway. [suddenly tense] I’m just always trying to get better. That’s all, really. I’m just telling you that all I’m trying to do is get better and better. Which I never stop doing. ‘Cause when you stop growing… [He cancels the thought]. Boy, you never can stop growing. But some people do.”

On his personality on and off stage and the gratefulness for his success:

“[Smiling strangely] […] People always tell me that. All the kids at school say, "Man, you’re so much different on stage. I can’t believe it’s the same person." But I’m not really recognizing what people are telling me. When I get on stage, I don’t know what happens. Honest to God. It feels so good, it’s like it’s the safest place in the world for me. [Warily] I’m not as comfortable now as I would be on stage, because I was raised on stage. That’s all I did: travel, sing, dance and watch other people that were trying to do it. At school, I didn’t 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 I’d get to school, that’d 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. We’d go to school -- whoa! -- with all this money. It was great, great times.[Dreamily] I’ll never forget those times. I write about them in songs. […]”

On his favorite song themes:

“[I’m writing a lot now.] In the studio. I love to go into sessions and listen. Whenever Stevie [Wonder] has a session, I’m always there. I sit and listen and learn. He’s a great friend of mine, and I think he’s one of the greatest guys around. He’s so much farther ahead of everybody; he’s so good. […] I just hate everyday love songs. I’m interested in a different type of love song. I want a brand-new thought. That’s what I love about Ben. There’s 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 stinkin’ rat?’ But it’s so beautiful! ‘How’d you make it so beautiful if it’s about a dumb rat?’ I said, "I don’t know. I just felt it, because rats, they got a mind, they got a heart as well." I don’t look at it that way. I love animals, I said, "You may not look at it that way, but I love animals." I write about all kinds of things. I write about an old man, a tree, what’s happening in the world, a deer. I love writing so much, I’d eat it, really. I love it! […] A song I’m writing now about travelling the world. It mentions, in the song, all the different countries, and to me, what they’re like.”

On his fascination with the different countries of the world:

“There are so many people around the world that don’t get a chance to travel. And there are so many that do want to travel, but can’t. 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 like that. […] 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 there’s no way that could be like America. Of course, business will remind you -- you look at McDonald’s sometime (sic) and you forget that you’re in England. But they even have McDonald’s stands that look different! So, there’s 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 don’t think the different governments would let that happen. I know they have their ways of doing things, and they’re completely different from what Americans do. Have you ever been to Holland? Holland is the Europe that you dream about -- I’m not just saying this. London, England’s city, can look like New York -- a little -- but if you go to Holland, man, you know it’s real Europe. And Scotland is -- oh, I could eat it, it’s so beautiful! You know it’s not America.”

On their songs and his favorite music and singers:

“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. That’s what (is) so great about what we’re doing now. We will be writing our own stuff, completely. […] We wrote Different Kind Of Lady and Do What You Wanna. But they wasn’t (sic) 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. […] [I’m inspired by James Brown.] I had those that I admired, like James Brown, a man that today don’t (sic) get credit he should get from the music industry. Look what he did to music: all these funky tracks that you hear today, that’s 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 that’s funk: Sly, James Brown, and people like that. Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding. And, of course, in rock and roll there’s Little Richard and Chuck Berry and all those guys. That’s who I would always watch. And Jackie Wilson -- yeow! […]”

On the black roots of rock and roll, Jackie Wilson and the feeble credit original entertainers like Wilson receive:

“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 wouldn’t accept it. It’s only a fact, and it’s 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. There’s this book called ‘Blues: The Devil’s 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 we did our album [we visited Jackie Wilson]; we just finished it. Not too long ago, in Philadelphia, at the hospital. He really don’t (sic) get the credit he should get. He’s 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.] […] Yes [it bothers me]. I think it’s an awful thing. ‘Cause 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. I’m glad at least it took somebody to bring it about, but real people should get credit. Same thing with artists that paint. It happens the same way -- till they die, and then they get the recognition.”

On the artists that copy/get inspired by the Jacksons:

“[Giggles] You know, [it happens the same with us.] I don’t have to mention names. How do I feel about it? I feel it’s a compliment in one way, and in another way [voice drops to a whisper] you (would) be kinda angry. Because it’s 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. That’s 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, poppin’ soul, then -- boom! -- they were. […] 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 don’t you read who’s 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. George’s song was good, but too easygoing; we were striving for something much stronger. So he went and gave it to the Osmonds. They sang it, and it was a smash -- Number 1. […] That’s why it was mainly like us all the way. They sounded so much like us. I don’t mind if somebody takes it and go (sic) farther with it. The only thing I hate is they take it and make (it) like they started it. It’s like dog-eat-dog type of situation. I think it’s awful. At least The Beatles did mention where they were influenced. They were great writers, on their own, but they did study black music. ‘Cause 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 guy’s 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. […]”

On his and his family’s destiny:

“[…] Certain people were created for certain things, and I think our job is to entertain the world. I don’t see no other thing that I could be doing. So many people do so many different things that they’re good at. It seems like "He was meant to do that!" or "That’s her job!", because of how they enjoy it. It’s that way with me and entertainment, and it’s strange, because our whole family is in on this thing. We all do it.”

On the Bible (the reporter sees on his coffee table) and his belief in God:

“We all believe in God, of course. [Giggles] I study and read the Bible with my mother and sisters. I know there’s a true and breathing God. A lot of people don’t believe in that, but I know there’s no way it can’t be. There’s no way it couldn’t be; it’s so true that there is a God, when you break it down: the universe, the beauty of the world, the sun. […] [God didn’t create ugliness in this world.] No! That’s because of man! Man is because of the fallen angels. It says in the Bible that all this would happen, and it’s all coming true.”

On his profound interest and concern for the poor regions in the world:

“I can’t wait [to go to India, for instance]]! That’s what I want to see! I’ve seen the very rich and the very poor, but I’m mainly interested in the poor. I don’t wanna think the whole world is just like what’s around here. I want to appreciate what I have, and try to help others. I know what the rich are like. I’ve studied that country, India, so much, and when I go to other countries, people say, "You wanna see the ugly part of it?" [Nods] That’s what I want to see! […] [smiles] I want to see what it’s really like to starve. I don’t want to hear it, or read it. I want to see it. […] It’s a whole different thing when you see it! All the things I’ve 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 Queen’s eyes, it was the greatest thing! And it’s really the same thing with starvation! [dreamily] When you see it, you just receive a little more.”

On the worst situation he has witnessed:

“[The worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life…] It was probably during the hard days on stage. Some of the things I use to see when we used to do nightclub acts. [giggles] You’ll probably say, "Aw, that ain’t 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 they’d start doing -- aw, man, she was too funky! Ugh! That, to me, was awful.”

On his and his brothers’ body of work:

“All those records in the past are our songs, and we’ve sung them, and we put our hearts into the singing of them, but they’re not from us. They’re not our thoughts and what we think should go on that plastic, in that wax. When I get into writing my own stuff, I’m gonna just let it all out. It’s something I always wanted to do: Make it really me!”

On the motives for which he feels happy:

“I’m happy. […] [grim-faced, listing his thoughts on his fingers] OK. For starters, there’s nothing inside of me that wants to come out but don’t (sic) know how. I just let it all come out. If there’s something I’m not, I’ll mention it. I love children -- crazy ‘bout ‘em. I love music. I’m looking forward to writing lots of songs and good material and putting it out and just doing my best. So nothing’s bothering me, because I got things that I want to do, and I know I can do them. [adamant] There’s nothing inside killing me.”

On the Scarecrow’s (from The Wiz) disguise:

“[Musing, almost whispering] Ohhh, yeah. [I’ll be sad to see The Wiz end.] 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 Scarecrow’s world. It’s a feeling of peace. It’s just like… magic.”