Michael B. Sutton is well known in the industry for his personable nature, his honesty, integrity, professionalism and attention to detail. His tenure as a member of ASCAP for over 30+ years has earned him the reputation of being a premier artist, composer and producer.
How did your career at Motown Records begin?
It was actually my ex-wife Brenda and I who made it to Motown together, thanks to Stevie Wonder. Stevie took us to Motown and discovered us at a vocal coach’s house. I remember how we sung for him and the next thing we knew, he recommended that we go out to Motown.
What was Motown’s audition process like for you?
It wasn’t too bad. It was pretty simple, actually. There were about five or six people who came to hear us audition and we sung some of the same songs that Stevie heard us sing at the vocal coach’s house. When we finished, they said, ‘Okay, we’ll get back to you.’ Nobody showed a lot of emotion, but it went well. They just listened and thanked us for our time. Then, we heard back from them about 30 days later and that’s when we found out they wanted to sign us to a contract. This was in 1974 to be exact.
Motown will probably be one of the best experiences of my life. I never went to a big college and I can easily say that Motown Records was like my personal college education. We had a lot of training, and if I had a lot of money, I would probably try to duplicate it because it was that special.
● You contributed to Michael Jackson’s Motown career with your song ‘Cinderella Stay Awhile.’ How did that song come about and how did it get chosen for Michael’s album?
At Motown, we were all in and out of the different studios, and I would see the Jackson 5 coming in and out a lot. Sometimes they would be doing a photo shoot there and other times they would be recording in one of the studios. The two Jacksons that I got to know the most were Jermaine and Michael Jackson . I worked with Jermaine at Motown, but I met Michael Jackson first. I saw Michael at the studio several times and in the halls of Motown, but at that time early on, I never knew that I would get to work directly with him.
One of the big producer’s at the time was Hal Davis and he wrote a lot of great Jackson 5 hits. Anyways, Hal was working in the studio with Michael on his fourth solo album, which became Forever, Michael, and during that time, I came to play some songs for him. With what I played for him at the time, he wasn’t too crazy about them, but that was okay. During that time, Suzanne de Passe and Berry Gordy were very impressed with my writing abilities, so they connected me with Academy Award Nominated Songwriter Mack David. Mack’s passed away since then, but he’s the one who wrote the original lyrics “Bibbity Bobbity Boo“ for the Disney original film ‘Cinderella.’
Well, during the time Michael Jackson was working on Forever, Michael, Mack had just signed on as a writer with Jobete, a division of Motown.
So Suzanne said to me, ‘Michael, I’d like you to meet Mack and see if you can both come up with something for Michael Jackson .’
I said to her, ‘Sure!’ After that introduction, Mack and I made plans. He and I got together at my house, and we sat down at the piano and I played this certain melody. I remember Mack saying, ‘I love that melody.’ He leaned over on my pool table and started writing down ideas. He asked me, ‘What do you think about this? You know I wrote the original stuff for Disney, right?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I know.’ He said to me, ‘What do you think about Cinderella Stay Awhile?’ I said, ‘I love it.’ And the rest is history. He wrote the lyrics and I took it into Hal Davis, and he just flipped out over it. When they played it for Michael Jackson , he loved it too. We set up studio time and had fun recording it.
● What are some unique studio memories you have with Michael Jackson during the recording session?
Michael Jackson was 16 years old at the time when we recorded the song. He had a production assistant named Suzee Ikeda and she would always be with him in the studio to make sure producers treated him right. At this time, this was when Michael was really starting to get influenced with his own ideas, too. Well, I remember for ‘Cinderella Stay While,’ he had some ideas that he wanted to try, but Hal didn’t like them. It was so funny because every time Hal would turn around with his back facing Michael, Michael would make these faces at him! He would make these funny faces at him and I would crack up.
● Motown had a lot of control over the music, but how would you define Michael Jackson ‘s creativity in the studio at that time?
Michael came up with this idea for the end of the song. Actually, he came up with all different ideas for the song and Hal kept saying, ‘No, no. I don’t like that.’ So Michael would make a face and Suzee would say, ‘Oh, come on, Hal. Let him try it.’ Hal was very set in his ways with the music. You know, [Hal] had a lot of hits, so he knew what he was talking about when it came to music. But it was even clear to me when we were all in the studio that Michael Jackson had a lot of ideas of his own as well. He was hearing ideas in his head that would go well with the song, that I don’t think were understood at the time. But, I could hear what he was talking about when he was describing what he wanted to try. At one point I said, ‘Why don’t we try it.’ So if you listen closely to the end of the song, and nobody knows this, but at the end of the background of ‘Cinderella Stay Awhile,’ Michael wanted to do this counter melody. When you hear the background singers sing the lyrics at the end, ‘Cinderella, I wanna be your fella!,’ underneath that, Michael Jackson is saying, ‘You’re the one that makes my dreams come true! I just wanna spend my life with you!’ It’s very subtle, but if you listen at the very end of the song when it starts to go to the background during the final chorus, that’s what he’s saying, and those spoken lyrics were his own idea.
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To know more about Michael B. Sutton, please visit: http://www.thesoundofla.com
Michael B Sutton new single “Those Words”coming September 18th!
Photo: Michael B. Sutton CD