Memories with the ‘Groove King': John Bähler remembers Michael Jackson

- Chistina Chaffin

"The one thing I try to impress upon people is that Michael was the epitome of love. He was the most loving, kind human being I have ever met in my entire life."

DAYTON, Ohio – John Bähler is a composer, producer, songwriter and arranger. He and his brother Tom Bähler have been surrounded by music for most of their life. John said he's felt blessed to work with multiple artists throughout the years, but according to him, one person who will always stand out is Michael Jackson.

In 1972, John and Tom joined Motown Records as a team of arrangers. The Bählers worked with multiple groups at Motown, and among their musical list was the Jackson 5, [Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael]. "The Jacksons were the sweetest, quietest, humblest people I have ever met in my entire life," he said. "The boys in the group were all quiet, but once they hit the stage, it was like flipping on a switch." Despite their quiet personalities, John said they were a group of professionals, but remembers a time when they struggled to master a song arrangement.

"I can't remember what song we were doing, but the arrangement wasn't easy to sing," he said. "When it came time to record the song, the producer said I can't sing on the track with the group. So, I went into the back and turned on a figure-8 microphone. Only the boys, engineer and myself knew I was singing on the record."

John said he treasured his time with the group and always looked forward to working with them, and said he had great side-conversations with them. One of his memories involves a conversation with Michael around the age of 13. John said Michael approached him and asked him, "[Do] you know who the best dancer of the group is? Jackie. Jackie's the best dancer." John said when he asked him why Jackie doesn't move toward the front to dance, Michael said, "He's shy, so he makes me do it." Michael then told John that Jackie choreographed a lot of the group's dance routines while living in Gary, Ind.

Despite the Jackson 5 ending their Motown career in 1975, Michael, John and Tom remained close. John said a solid factor to their friendship was the fact that he and Tom treated Michael like a "normal human being." Throughout their years of working together, John said he was able to see a side of Michael that many knew of, but had never experienced first-hand. He said he was able to witness Michael create a melody and watch it evolve into a song over time.

John said he nicknamed Michael the "Groove King," because, "He came up with the most incredible grooves. He'd call me and we would go into the studio and do songs. He'd play one and it would walk you out of the room." According to John, Michael enjoyed creating infectious rhythms, but loved writing a wide variety of songs. He said Michael noted "Heal the World" as one of his favorite tracks. Knowing how highly Michael thought of the song, John said he takes pride in the fact that he wrote the vocal arrangement and directed the choir.

Michael's song "Heal the World" – the seventh song off his 1991 album Dangerous – was originally titled "Feed the World." Keyboardist David Paich first presented the song idea to John over the phone. John said he then went to Paich's home and recorded the chart arrangement. Though the song wasn't finished, he said Michael heard some of it and called him saying, "I did it again. I fell on my knees and wept."

When finalizing the arrangement and choir of the song, John said Michael was suppose to be present, but was sick with a cold and unavailable. According to John, they recorded the finished piece to play to Michael over the phone. "He flipped," John said. "[Michael] was in tears." John said without working on it every day, writing, arranging and finalizing the song took 6-7 months. He said from the time the song was originally titled "Feed the World," and then later changed to "Heal the World," several demos were recorded.

While thinking back through the years he spent in recording studios with him, John said Michael always looked up to him and saw him as a great singer and arranger. However, he said one of his favorite humorous times in the studio is when Michael heard him make a mistake. "I never put two headphones on
when recording because the professionals have to hear themselves sing live," he said. "While [recording] parts of a song with Michael, I put both of my headphones on. All of the sudden, we heard this ugly vocal part. I took my headphones off and Michael yelled while laughing, ‘It was you. I can't believe it was you.' He couldn't believe he had actually heard me sounding rotten."

John said he considers his time spent with Michael as years he will never forget. According to him, he and Michael were always close. John said he remembers Michael calling him and Tom a lot while the Jackson 5 were touring. "He'd be so quiet on the phone, but loved talking," John said.
According to John, he and Tom miss Michael and their friendship, but said he holds on to the qualities that made Michael unique. According to John, Michael's sense of humor and quality of love stayed in him throughout the years. When asked what he wants everyone to remember about Michael, John said, "He had a great sense of humor. He was a kidder who loved being kidded." In addition to Michael's humor, John said, "He was the epitome of love. I don't know of anyone I have ever met who has loved more than Michael."

The one aspect John said he will never forget is, "When Michael said ‘I love you,' you felt it. He was that way his entire life."

Original article link: Memories with the ‘Groove King': John Bähler remembers Michael Jackson

Behind the article: John Bähler and I had been in contact a year before we did the article and it was clear from the beginning that he loved Michael Jackson. Some of his first words to me were, "He [Michael] was the most loving, caring and fun person I have ever had the chance to be around, much less work with."
One year later in 2011, we arranged the interview. John shared a vast collection of memories of Michael - many of which appeared in the article above. One of John's unmentioned memories in the article was when he was spending time with Michael. John said he and Michael were "hanging out" at a place Michael called the "Hideout." John said, "I had this little pocket recorder and he'd never seen one - they were new. I always recorded my meetings with everyone. When Michael saw the recorder, he started laughing and asked, 'What's that?' After I told him what it was, he asked, 'Would you ever turn it on and not tell anyone?' I said, 'No Michael, I'm not that kind of guy.' He said, 'I would in a second.' This kid - he's not really like that. He was a jokster."

Before our interview ended, John emphasized his love for Michael and said he missed him a great deal, but said he will always remember him for his kindness and sense of humor. John said, "He was my little brother in spirt."