Former Maine musician Zach Jones plays songs by and inspired by Michael Jackson.
Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album was released the year before Maine-turned-California musician Zach Jones was born. “It’s just been imprinted in my brain as a favorite thing for as long as I can remember,” he said.
Jones says that for him, Jackson was his first musical obsession and the ultimate showman.
“When I was younger, I was attracted to his visual presentation just as much as anything else. His outfits always looked cool, his videos were like little movies, he could dance his ass off. As I mature as a singer, songwriter, arranger and producer, the music itself speaks to me more and more,” he said. “He’s one of the greatest singers to ever live.”
Jones is also impressed with the fact that, throughout an almost 40-year professional career, Jackson worked with some of the greatest musicians, songwriters, producers and arrangers that ever lived. “By his early twenties be had become of them himself.”
All told, Michael Jackson released 10 studio albums, starting with “Got to Be There” in 1972 and ending with “Invincible” in 2001, eight years before his death at the age of 50. When asked what his favorite one is, Jones had to think about it but landed on “Off The Wall” (1979).
“I think I like ‘Off the Wall’ because it’s such a transitional album,” he said. “He had made solo records before, but he was more in control of ‘Off the Wall.’ It was the album that established him as a solo artist being a bigger phenomenon than the Jacksons, the group he had grown up as a member of and was still a member of at the time.”
Jones’ favorite MJ song is “Human Nature” from “Thriller” (1982).
“Something about ‘Human Nature’ has captured me since I was young. The way his voice sounds over the intro is irresistible. The hook is great. The lyrics and his vocal performance really capture the spirit of a lonely person ready to step out into the world and find companionship,” explained Jones, adding that the song was written by Toto’s Steve Porcaro with words by John Bettis.
Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, and it’s a day that Jones will always remember.
“I never met him nor did I ever get a chance to see him perform live, but when he died it was almost like losing a family member,” he said. “I woke up to phone calls and text messages from friends offering condolences and continued to receive them throughout the day as the news continued to break.”
At the time of his death, Jackson was getting ready to start a run of 50 sold-out shows at London’s O2 Arena. “It would have been another record-breaking event. I thought maybe I’d figure out a way to finally get to see him perform live, but it wasn’t meant to be,” Jones lamented.
And so, on Thursday night in Portland, Zach Jones and an impressive backing band comprised of Brian Graham (baritone and tenor sax), John Maclaine (trombone), Matt Day (trumpet), Peter Dugas (keys), Max Cantlin (guitar), Colin Winsor (bass), Dan Boydan (drums/percussion), Christopher Sweet (drums/percussion), Anna Lombard (vocals) and Megan Jo Wilson (vocals) will pay tribute to the King of Pop. Jones also told me to expect some special guests and, as I approached deadline, he was able to reveal that he’d confirmed vocalist Kenya Hall, the subject of my column last week. Yeah!
The show will consist of about 60 percent Michael Jackson songs and 40 percent original songs by Jones, including a handful from his sensational album “Things Were Better.” It’s an album that Jones said was heavily inspired by Motown, including The Jackson 5 and Michael’s early solo efforts.
“We’ll also be debuting a few brand new songs from an unreleased album I’ve made of songs that were directly influenced by MJ’s work in the 70s and early 80s, both as a solo artist and as a member of The Jacksons,” he said. “It was important for me to incorporate some original music into this show because a lifetime of listening to MJ has shaped how I approach my singing and songwriting as an original artist. Beyond the lifetime of entertainment he’s provided me with, his influence on me as an artist is what I’m most thankful to him for.”
I think we’ll all be thankful if we head to Portland House of Music for this show. I know I can’t wait.
I don’t own a sequined glove, and I most certainly can’t do the moonwalk, but I can appreciate pop gold when I hear it, and Jones and company will be serving it up big time. And remember: “Showin’ how funky and strong is your fight/It doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right/Just beat it, beat it.” Will do!
Forever Michael: A Tribute to Michael Jackson, 9 p.m. Thursday. Portland House of Music, 25 Temple St., Portland, $10 in advance, $12 day of show. portlandhouseofmusic.com