Merl Saunders Jr. remembers tour with Jackson

July 6, 2009 9:41:32 PM PDT
Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, and Jennifer Hudson are among the performers for Michael Jackson's public memorial service. Merl Saunders Jr. who grew up in a Bay Area musical family, was on tour with Michael Jackson for a year.

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"I've been saying for years, that hands down he's the most talented performer I've ever seen in my life," said Saunders.

Saunders has a pretty good perspective. His late father was the keyboardist who played with the Grateful Dead and his own band. Like the rest of us, Saunders watched Michael grow up from a child to two weeks ago preparing for the tour that will never take place.

20 years ago Saunders was part of the crew for Michael's "Bad" Tour in Asia.

"He was a very shy person offstage and paled around with guys and everyone else, but when he stepped on stage he became larger than life," said Saunders.

There were 300 people traveling with the production, so Saunders only talked business with Michael. He says he never saw doctors with the king of pop. Saunders got his 15 minutes of fame in a national publication photographed with Michael in Tokyo.

"That was a sound check the day before the show," said Saunders.

Saunders made sure the stage was level for a moonwalk. He was on stage for every show.

"There are those who can go out and given the performance of a lifetime every night, and that's exactly what it was," said Saunders. "He demanded perfection from himself and everybody who worked around him."

But the crew also challenged Michael. In the middle of the show, backstage, they'd try to make him laugh.

"But that just shows the playfulness of what it was. It was during the middle of the show, and he'd turn around and there were 70,000 people sitting out in the audience. Every once in a while we could make him laugh," said Saunders.

Now it is time to just reflect.

"It's nice to be a part of pop culture. And above all, the guy was human and arguably one of the greatest talents of my generation," said Saunders.

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