Jonathan Moffett: Michael Jackson’s Drummer Extraordinaire

A drum stick
Bah dum tish.

Michael Jackson’s music doesn’t appeal to us, but upon listening to his former drummer Jonathan Moffett we certainly have a great deal of respect for the sticksman. And here’s why.

Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffett

Moffett specialises in funky, sharp beats. And if you’ve heard a Michael Jackson track, that’s him giving it plenty.

At the start of Jackson’s solo career he was looking for a drummer. Moffet got notification of an audition and got the job – a “miracle” as he calls it.

But Jackson was so impressed with the guy he nicknamed him “Sugarfoot”, as Moffet has exceptional bass pedal skills.

Drumming is a complex thing, it’s not just about whacking your kit as hard as you can.

There are many different styles. Keith Carlock’s jazz drumming riffs are one thing and look more impressive than what Moffett is doing, but his approach requires perfect time.

It’s all about the beat, maintaining that steady drive. The snare drum sounds tighter than any we’ve ever heard, really acting as the backbone of Jackson’s songs.

Although looking simple, there are nuances to his work – notably with the hi-hat. There are also sudden and spectacular flourishes, such as drum stick twizzling and cymbal grabs. You can see that above at the 1:25 mark. It looks bloody cool, too.

Moffett commented about that “splash”, it was used for dramatic effect so as not to drown out the music. But it takes skill to do that and not lose the rhythm of the song.

Such is his reputation he’s also played for Madonna, Elton John, and George Michael.

At 64 he lives out in LA and has various projects on the go, as well as well as now being a regular contributor to YouTube.

The Amen Break

As an addendum here, we have to cover the amen break. This six second drum beat is the most famous in drumming history.

Without knowing it, you’ll have heard the thing everywhere. It was recorded in 1969 for soul group The Winstons on the track Colour Him Father.

Sounds strikingly modern on its own, doesn’t it? Gregory C. Coleman (1944-2006) was the drummer behind it.

Due to the rise of hip hop (not that we think that’s a good thing), it’s become the most sampled drum beat in history.

As such, it’s featured in varying forms across thousands of tracks. Here’s the original recording it came from.

The solo is at 1:26. Call us fuddy duddies if you wish, but kind of incredible this track from 50 years ago sounds infinitely better than anything hip hop has ever produced.

A six second slice of history that passes subtly through your life like a funky mofo. Innit.

4 comments

  1. Very impressive! I must admit, I’ve paid so little attention to Mr Jackson’s music (other than via Frank Zappa’s wonderfully silly ‘Why Don’t You Like Me?’, which basically skewered ‘Billy Jean’) that I never knew he had a real drummer. Now I know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, his concentration skills are crazy. In drumming there’s a big focus on limb independency. You’ve really either got it or you haven’t. Ginger Baker does, for example, and Mr. Moffett is pretty mega as well.

      Like

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