And that inhuman drive carried over to the actual Bad concerts?
Jon Clark: True. My job on the tour was to play the guitar parts that you heard on the Bad album. I knew all the guys that played on his albums like Paul Jackson and David Williams. I can tell you what Michael gave me as a guy coming in as support for my role as the guitar player on that tour. It was life changing for me. Michael told me one thing when we first met…he said, “You know, guitars make me dance.” What do you say to that [laughs]?
You just play your ass off…
Jon: [Laughs] Yes…that’s exactly what you do! We were all watching the Bad concert movie the other day. You notice that the speed and pace of the show was just amazing. I looked back at Greg, who was Michael’s music director, and I said, “I can’t believe we were doing that show at this fast of a tempo.” But at the same time, not one note or one groove or one space in the music changed. The spirit of the songs never changed because Michael set the tempo.
There are many readers who may be too young to remember. But could you describe just how mammoth the Bad tour was during that time?
Jon: It’s important to note that at the time the Bad tour was the biggest production ever. We were in London and someone said that this was the biggest tour they had ever seen…bigger than U2, bigger than everyone. And I just remember during the “Billie Jean” section there was a special light that was developed just for Michael’s tour. It was made just for him to do his thing on “Billie Jean”.
Vince: That was spectacular. But you know what was even more spectacular? Watching Michael dance from behind! But this is what also blew me away, Keith. In terms of that time we thought the Bad tour was huge. And it was. We thought what we were actually constructing on the stage was huge, but looking back at it in comparison to what happens today this was basically a very simple, simple show.
Vince: There were no set changes or costume changes. The only time Michael left the stage is when he graciously left the stage and gave those amazing musicians the chance to really show the world what they could do. But this was a very simple tour. It was about the musicians, the music, the dancing and Michael’s performance. That’s what blew me away.
Greg: The true bigness of the Bad tour was the size of the actual set. We were building sets in the stadium as opposed to the arenas. We had several bags of airplane regulation landing lights [laughs]. They would blind the hell out of you when they first turned on. But Michael’s favorite toy was the cherry picker. It was the extended ladder with an arm that moved out, so he was able to dangle off of it over the crowd.
Jon: Dangerously dangle off it [laughs].
Greg: Right…the fans loved it, but it scared the hell out of the insurance guy [laughs].
As groundbreaking as the Bad tour was musically the instruments that were being used on the Bad album were groundbreaking as well. The keyboard work was state-of-the-art from the Synclavier to the Synth Axxe. How cutting edge was the actual work on the Bad album?
Greg: It was very cutting edge. The Synclavier had just become the major player in synthesizers. We carried two full-blown units. And they were not cheap.
How much of a task was it to transfer the sounds on Bad to an actual live format? I could imagine how daunting it would be to bring songs like “Bad” or “Smooth Criminal” to a live setting given the technical work it took to record those tracks.
Greg: I had already made those sounds on the Bad album. I created them in the studio, so I totally had an advantage. But the new technology really helped everyone on the Bad tour when it came to creating the support tracks…the things we couldn’t actually play from the album. The Synth Axxe was part of that [arsenal]. We were able to maximize the strengths of everyone in the band. One of our band members, Chris [Currell], was really brought on as a programmer. He wasn’t really into performing, but man, we dressed him up. Chris ended up looking like one of the members of KISS [laughs]. He ended up making a solo out of playing samples!
Jon: That freaked me out, Greg. It was actually brilliant.
Greg: Yeah…the guys was playing a freaking solo with nothing but samples on the Synclavier. And he was doing it in time. He wore it out every night.
Jon: I was subbing for people like Ray Parker Jr. and Paul Jackson Jr. That was my gig. So I learned a lot from these guys. When the Bad tour came around I kind of had an idea of what I needed to do. It wasn’t a George Michael gig, it wasn’t a James Brown gig…it was a Michael Jackson gig.
And a Michael Jackson gig is a whole different ballgame, right?
Jon: It really was. But here’s the thing. David Williams was Michael’s favorite guitar player. And it’s impossible to play like this guy, but I knew what he was doing. For me, as a musician, I knew what I needed to do programming wise. I spent many, many, many hours getting it right; all the hours spent programming guitar sounds for me and Jennifer [Batten] for that tour. So I got it right away.
But as with most Michael Jackson productions, choreography was just as important as the music. Vince, did you have a tougher road recreating some of Michael’s music videos, especially from the Bad album?
Vince: A lot went into that. The tour started in Japan, and once they decided they were going to go around the world I was pulled in. I sat with Mike and Greg and talked about changing the order of some of the songs around and what pieces would go in it. But because it was Michael and everything was movement related, everybody was dancing. I don’t care if they were standing behind keyboards or playing drums. I wanted to make sure that everybody had something to do movement wise. It was more than just re-creating the videos.