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Michael Jackson: Paying tribute to a king

It’s not quite dawn in the Kenny Gamble household. With everyone fast asleep, the phone rings. It used to be that would mean a call from Michael Jackson.

by Peter Lindblad

It’s not quite dawn in the Kenny Gamble household. With everyone fast asleep, the phone rings. It used to be that would mean a call from Michael Jackson.

“My favorite memory of Michael is how he used to call me just about every night like 4 o’clock in the morning,” remembers Gamble, an architect of the legendary Philadelphia soul sound along with partner Leon Huff.

“He was out in California, though. So he used to wake me up all the time because he always wanted to talk (laughs). And I used to tell him, ‘Hey Mike, it’s 4 o’clock in the morning here.’ He’d say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry Gamble. I didn’t mean [to do] that.’ But then we’d end up talking for three or four hours. He loved to talk on the phone.”

Gamble is going to miss those conversations. As the world continutes to mourn Jackson’s passing, Gamble and Bruce Swedien, who worked as the engineer on all of Jackson’s solo recordings through 2001’s Invincible, are among the many expressing deep sorrow over Jackson’s tragic death by an apparent heart attack June 25.

A five-time Grammy winner, Swedien began his association with Jackson on “The Wiz” soundtrack. He helped Jackson and producer Quincy Jones construct the wholly original combination of stylish dance music, emotional pop, and blistering hard-rock — check out Eddie Van Halen’s solo on “Beat It” or former Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens’ shredding on “Dirty Diana” — that propelled the King Of Pop to the top of the charts.

“To me, the most memorable thing about Michael Jackson is the boundless passion that he has always had for his music,” says Swedien, who is coming out with a new book July 27 about his work with Jackson titled “In the Studio with Michael Jackson.” “His enthusiasm for the project at hand was like no one else I have ever worked with.”

It’s easy to see why Swedien would say that. After all, Swedien took part in the recording of such landmark Jackson LPs as 1979’s Off The Wall and 1982’s Thriller, the biggest-selling album of all-time, not to mention 1987’s Bad and 1991’s Dangerous.

Swedien says Jackson left his mark in many ways. “I think Michael’s legacy is that he set an extremely high example as one of the music industry’s true innovators,” says Swedien. “Also, Michael understood the power of style and fashion. Everyone wanted to copy him. I do think that his fashion legacy in some ways rivals his musical legacy.”

Jackson was always dedicated to his craft. “I will always remember Michael Jackson as the most professional and the most accomplished artist I have ever worked with,” exclaims Swedien. “And I have worked with the best the music industry has to offer. Michael’s musical standards were incredibly high. When I worked with Michael, we never settled for a musical production that was just good enough.”

The seeds for Jackson’s solo dominance were sown well before Swedien and Jones came into the picture.

After The Jacksons left Motown, they signed to CBS/Epic Records and went to Philadelphia to work with the Philadelphia International Records crew. Gamble & Huff co-wrote and produced songs for The Jacksons and Goin’ Places, The Jacksons’ two post-Motown LPs.

Even then, Gamble recalls Michael taking a keen interest in what went on in the studio. “Up until that point, they had never written any of their songs or produced any of their records,” says Gamble. “So one of the things that we encouraged most of our writers and singers to do was to become a part of the total recording process. So, of course, we showed Michael how we wrote our songs, and he was there when we were writing. He was there every minute when we were in the studio.”

Gamble’s relationship with Michael goes all the way back to when Jackson was 8 years old. When Michael was a boy, the Jacksons, then known as the Jackson 5, would stop by the Gamble house whenever the group would play in Philadelphia.

Like Swedien, Gamble was a close friend to Jackson. When he thinks of Michael, Gamble chooses to focus on the good times rather than the scandals and media attacks that Gamble says “broke [Jackson’s] heart.”

Of his friend, Gamble says, “Michael was beyond classification. He was universal. He was the best that ever did it. The ‘Black Or White’ ... look at the messages he sent out. It didn’t matter if you were black or white. Who can control that in the first place? So I think it was a life well-lived.”

by Peter Lindblad