Session Bassist Recalls Odd Gig Recording for Michael Jackson: ’He Was Going Through a Period of Hiding’

Bassist Guy Pratt, who’s well-known for working with some of the biggest names in popular music in the 1980s and the 1990s, looked back on his gig recording for Michael Jackson. While appearing on a recent edition of “Vintage Rock Pod,” Pratt looked back on the mid-1990s and how he ended up being one of many musicians to appear on Jackson’s 1995 record “HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I.”

Going all the way back to how he landed this gig, Pratt said (transcript via Ultimate Guitar):

“I was in LA, I had become this sort of pop session dog, which was never what I wanted to do. I had unbelievable impostor syndrome because I’m a bandy type; I can’t read music, didn’t go to fucking Berkeley… The only thing I had going for me was that I was definitely the best-dressed person [laughs].”

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Of course, despite not having a formal education, Pratt was already known for working with the likes of Madonna and Pink Floyd. He continued:

“I went and I did the Madonna record, came home, then went back to LA. I did the Toy Matinee project… And then I had to go I had to leave before it was finished to go back on tour with Pink Floyd… Then from that, I had to come straight back to LA to start Robbie Robertson’s album. It was nuts…”

And while recording bass parts for Robertson’s album, he got the call:

“Then I’m like, a few weeks into Robbie’s record and I get a call one day from [producer] Bill Bottrell, and he goes, ‘Hey, Guy, do you want to come up and play Michael Jackson sessions?'”

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Needless to say, just like anyone else would react, he was kind of shocked by this proposition and, obviously, couldn’t refuse:

“And I am like, ‘What?’ He goes. ‘Yeah, you need to be here by six or seven.’ And I said, ‘But I can’t, we don’t really finish before about seven!’ So I said, ‘Well, I’ll ask Robbie…'”

Fortunately, Robertson completely understood this and allowed Pratt to go and do the thing:

“I go to Robbie Robertson and said, ‘Robbie, listen mate…Is there any chance I could get off early tonight? Because I’ve got a Michael Jackson session.’ And he goes like, ‘What am I supposed to say to that?’ [laughs].”

Guy Pratt talking on his time with Michael Jackson (from Bingley Arts Centre 23.4.17)

But looking back at those sessions, they don’t seem like the usual stuff one would experience these days. Sure, it’s not uncommon for the big mainstream pop artist not to be present when some of his chosen backing musicians are doing the heavy lifting in the studio. However, this was different. Pratt continued:

“So, those [Michael Jackson] sessions were just me and Bill in the studio… Apparently, Michael had heard [Pratt’s work on Madonna’s “Like a Prayer”], and he wants that vibe. So, I assume, ‘Right’; I had my red Specter, my octave pedal, I [thought], ‘Oh, this is gonna be Michael Jackson, some stomping groove… and I’m gonna be all over it like a cheap suit…”

“But Michael wasn’t there. And I was asked to come back the next day [when they] said he’d be there, and Michael wasn’t there…”

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But Pratt really needed feedback on his work. After all, it was Michael Jackson, and one needed to be approaching these recorded parts very seriously. So Pratt simply demanded to speak to Michael:

“This happened about three times, and eventually I went, ‘Look! Tell me what he wants, so we can all go home!’ So, I get called the next day from Bill, who says, ‘Michael’s down the studio, we’re not leaving’, so I rush there, and Michael’s just left…”

However, it turns out that he wasn’t there. Well, as odd as it may seem, he kind of was but also wasn’t. Pratt added:

“But it was very different [this] time; there was this massive Samoan bloke, better suited for being a bodyguard, perhaps. He was at one end of the desk, and he wouldn’t get me down there.”

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“So, I did a pass at [recording his parts], and then this guy leans over to the side of the desk, says ‘Yeah, I think Michael would find that appropriate!’ Somehow, he knows exactly what Michael would require from a bass performance.”

“And then it becomes very apparent [that] this guy is talking to someone hiding behind the mixing desk. And it’s Michael Jackson, but I’ve never met him. Michael was going through a period of hiding from people at that time.”

The resulting album which Pratt was a part of, 1995’s “HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I,” features a pretty lengthy list of musicians. Apart from Guy Pratt, there were plenty of other bassists involved in the process, including Nathan East, Wayne Pedzwater, and even Toto keyboardist David Paich.

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There were also numerous other guest appearances and the record ended up having a total of 30 songs divided into two separate CDs.

Photos: Raph_PH (NickMasonDWalls200518-27 (27371514707)), Constru-centro (Michael Jackson Dangerous World Tour 1993)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.

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