By Rob Garratt
Michael Jackson’s legendary producer, 81, who has had an incredible six-decade career, looks ahead to the return of Dubai Music Week
You’re a man known for spotting great talent first – what do you see?
Blinks [clicks fingers]. It’s the first instinct, that’s the best way to go. You’ve got to trust your instincts, man. I’ve always trusted them, and it’s been unbelievable.
As a producer, how do you approach such diverse personalities as, say Michael Jackson and Frank Sinatra?
It’s to give them whatever they don’t have – and to pull out what they don’t want to pull out. It takes love. I remember recording Thriller... on The Lady in My Life I said “Michael, I want you to beg on this one.” He said “whaaat?” He made me close the curtains because he was ashamed, but he did it.
Interesting you bring up Thriller – I don’t need to tell you it’s the best-selling album ever. Do you think any album could ever top it?
No. Do we have a record business? Not like that.
Do you think it’s right that Michael’s leftover demos are being released on a ‘new’ album Xscape, next month?
I don’t think so, but that’s a private, personal move. I couldn’t do that, no. We went through 800 songs to get nine.
Probably impossible, but can you pick a greatest memory?
You can’t compare the experiences – on the road with Sinatra, with Ray Charles as a kid – and with Michael... we never partied, not like that.
So who partied the hardest?
Sinatra, Ray Charles... Man, you can’t mess with those two. With Frank it was like walking to another planet, man, we had so much fun. Musically and as human beings.
Who are the most promising stars of today?
We’ve got some good ones. I like Ludacris, Drake, Mary J Blige, Nicki Minaj, Bruno Mars, John Legend – they’ve got music involved somewhere.
Any advice for wannabe stars?
Take the ten best singers you’ve heard ever – and that’s a very personal choice already – put them on one CD and sing along. From all eras.
And what’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I got a lot of advice – you have to. My biggest fear was always that I’d get an opportunity that I was not prepared for. When Sinatra called me, imagine how that would feel if I got with him and wasn’t ready, musically? He’d have killed me. To get a big gig and to mess it up – I’d shoot myself if it happened.
Who do you wish you’d had the opportunity to work with?
Marvin [Gaye] and Stevie [Wonder] – but they said I was too jazzy. Marvin wanted me to work on What’s Going On.
If the world was ending in five minutes and you could hear just one song...
Oh come on man... I’d probably choose How Do You Keep the Music Playing [recorded with Sinatra in 1984].
Your Dubai Music Week returns in September. Tell us it will be bigger, better?
Always better. It’s exciting man – here [Dubai] and China make the rest of the world look like it’s the 1800s. There’s so much imagination and vision.
So, no sign of retirement any time soon?
Not even close. You take the ‘re’ out of retirement, what is it? Tired!
The Dubai Music Week line-up will be announced on June 1.
This interview was originally published by TimeOutDubai.com