Jones was in London and had just learned that two other stars had died — Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon — when he was told about Jackson. “I freaked out,” he said. “You know, I couldn’t believe it. No, it was heavy. Really heavy. Because, boy, the relationship with a producer and an artist is really special. And there’s no room for BS at all. It’s got to be pure. It’s got to be love and respect and amazing mutual respect for each other because that’s what makes a good record. When they trust each other, and you tell them to jump without a net, boy, you better know what you’re talking about.”
Speaking to students at Loyola Marymount University’s School of Film & TV on April 8, Jones recalled meeting Jackson as a 12-year-old and then getting to know him on the 1978 movie The Wiz. Later, “I used to call Michael ‘Smelly,’ because he wouldn’t say ‘funky.’ He’d say ‘smelly jelly.’ They’d say, ‘Who’s in the studio?’ I said, ‘Smelly, Worms and Mouse.’ ”
Jones said he listened to 800 songs before choosing the ones for Thriller, and then recalled shooting the now-celebrated video in gang-infested territory. “Michael had no idea what we were doing there, man, with Thriller,” he said. “You know, with Vincent Price there and Edgar Allan Poe narration, and stuff like that. There’s crazy stuff on there. And people didn’t get it until, I’d say, eight months later.”
The 79-time Grammy nominee took part in the ongoing Hollywood Masters interview series, which this season has also included Clint Eastwood, Sean Penn, Kenneth Branagh, Gale Anne Hurd, Ethan Hawke and Ken Burns. The series will resume in the fall.
Jones also recalled falling in love with music as a child, when he and his brother broke into a building on a thieving mission, pursuing a life as budding gangsters, and finding a piano there.
“We broke into the armory,” he said. “That’s where we had some lemon meringue pie, and three different flavors of ice cream. We ate up all the ice cream and stuff, and then we played little food fights with each other. And then we went around individually and broke into different rooms. You know, that was our style. And I broke into one room of the supervisor, Mrs. Harris, and I saw a piano there, and I closed the door, and something said, ‘Idiot, open that door and go back in that room!’ And I went back in and I touched that piano, and every cell in my body said, ‘This is what you’ll do the rest of your life.’ ”