Michael Jackson still has the magic
Richie remembers the moment Michael Jackson showed him why music was
the greatest career he could choose – so now Richie is returning the
As a teenager, Richie was a very talented tennis
player and earned a tennis scholarship to Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute,
where he also nabbed a degree in economics, while also enjoying success
with his Motown group The Commodores. However, Richie says his choice
“The wonderful thing about life is that it makes
things clear for you,” says Richie, who is currently touring his latest
album, Just Go.
“I went to the Arthur Ash tennis academy at 19, ready to play, but they told me I was too old.
I checked out my accounting grades and my teacher said to me, ‘Lionel,
it would be great if you had embezzled the money but you lost the
money’, so I wasn’t going to make me a great accountant. And then I
went to a Jackson Five concert – we were the opening act – and I saw
Michael Jackson walk on stage with his brothers, with no money in the
bank, play an hour and 10 minutes and walk off with $200,000.
“I figured it was a no-brainer.”
was in 1968 when Richie was the young lead singer and saxophonist with
The Commodores, who went on to score hits with the likes of Easy and
Three Times A Lady as part of the legendary Motown Records.
then, Richie and Michael Jackson have remained such good friends they
verge on family, with Jackson serving as godfather to Richie’s adopted
“I speak to him quite a bit now that he has
become Papa Jackson,” says Richie. “Realising
that they don’t come with a manual means that for Michael I am now the
wise old philosopher. He’ll call me and say – ‘Li’o’nel how do I do
this?’ – so I’m talking to him now more than ever and I’m glad of that
because I need to get him back into what he does best.”
means putting Jackson back on stage and Richie is delighted the King of
Pop has sold out his huge 50-date residency at The O2 arena.
“I’m working along with that whole campaign group, I’m with him,” says Richie. “I’ll
say to you what I said to him, no-one in our business ever died because
of what they did on stage – they have always died because of what they
did off stage.
“No matter what problems I have had in my life, I can walk on stage and I don’t have those problems for two hours.
just think what he needs to do is remind himself of that, and it will
take five or six shows for it to click, but this is the most dynamic
performer of our time and for him to not be on stage is a crime.”
Jackson still cut it, does he still have the moonwalk magic? “Last time I could see him, hell yeah,” asserts Ritchie.
not that 25-year-old or 30-year-old anymore so he will have to discover
some things about himself that he didn’t quite want to face up to I’m
sure, but what he does have is a mound of hit records.
“He has to just get it in his head that we (as performers) are on that stage because people want to see us singing those songs.
you moonwalk or skywalk or float in from the back of the stage, that’s
all extra added attractions, but the most important thing is to pick up
the microphone and sing Thriller, that’s all that matters.
from an artist’s point of view, there is an insecurity of being away
for a while, even with me being off stage for a year and a half there
is a little butterfly that goes off and you wonder ‘do I know what I’m
“He has been off a lot longer than that so the butterfly will be there. But if I have to drag him on stage myself, I will.”