*To be the man that’s next to the man can be very rewarding or very vexing depending upon ones’ mindset.  For Michael Bearden, musical director for “Lopez Tonight” starring comedian George Lopez, being the man next to a great man was a dream come true, but later turned into a horror story. You see, he was the musical mind behind Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” tour

EURweb.com recently had the opportunity to sit down with Bearden to see how he’s handling the first year of M.J.’s untimely passing.  It’s not as if Michael ever worked with anything less than the best in the game.  We asked Bearden how he came to work with the King of Pop.

“If we can go back a little further, I worked with Michael Jackson back in 2001 for his 30th anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden right before 9-11 happened,” he explained.  “So I worked all the artists on the show and Michael and his brothers.  That’s where I first worked with him and struck up a friendship.”  

At the time of Jackson and Bearden’s first partnership he had been one of the best in the game for sometime.  So, working with Jackson would be the pinnacle of anyone’s career, but only a select few can say they had an encore engagement with the ever growing talents of Jackson. But Bearden tells EURweb’s Lee Bailey that he wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of rejoining Jackson.

“I knew him for at least ten years and then I found out I was on a short list of musical directors for ‘This Is It.’ Michael was looking for some leaders to help get his show together for London and all of that.  I was on the list and, to be quite honest, I wasn’t interested but when Michael Jackson calls you have to take that call but I wasn’t really gung-ho on taking a musical director job and all that.  I was musical director for a lot of artists and I was really looking to do something different with my career, score more films and just really do something different.”

“So, I went in and I didn’t really know what to think,” he continued.  “I just went in to go check it out. I had such a great talk with Kenny (Ortega) and he wanted me to come back later and talk to Michael.   So, I said okay I’ll come back and talk to Michael, but I asked him to put some keyboards in the room.  He looked at me kind of funny.  So he said okay we’ll have keyboards in the room.  So when I got there we had keyboards in the room and I started working out and Michael came in about 10 minutes later. As soon as he came in he was dancing and everything, he was popping and we were smiling. I hadn’t seen him in awhile. So we stopped and I hugged him. We talked about what he wanted from the tour and I talked about what I expected from the tour. Pretty much MJ and I did a concert for about a half hour.”  

That would be a “wow” moment for anyone and Bearden says it was certainly that for him.  

“We bonded instantly and I left and there were a couple of guys waiting in the lobby.  So I asked him ‘Am I on the short list?’  And he said ‘We’ll let you know by tomorrow.’ I had left out of the parking lot for maybe 20 minutes before they called me back and asked me would I do it and I say yes.  And that’s how it happened.”

It’s been said that Michael Jackson was very picky when it came to his music and performances.  To be selected must have been a wild ride.  

“I think Michael was the one that choose me. Because I, like everybody else, had heard reports of him being in a wheelchair, not healthy and all of that other craziness. I saw him walking in under his own power. Nobody was helping him, he was dancing and singing.  He looked good, sounded good, he had all his wits about him, he was really cool.  He was just Michael.  I could just see the passion in his eyes that he really wanted to do it.  I asked him why he wanted to do this again and he just said ‘I’m really ready and I just want to do it.’ He was still young enough to do it and his kids were old enough to appreciate what Daddy did.  He just really wanted to show them what he did, and that was his motivation.”

On June 25th 2009 the King of Pop passed away under circumstances that are still a bit cloudy. We asked Bearden where he was when he first heard the horrible news.   

“The day before I was pretty much with him all day,” he explained. “A few other people who were working on the tour, Travis Payne was doing choreography with the dancers. I was with Michael all day, he hit the stage pretty late.  Almost 9:30 (pm). He looked great, he sounded amazing.  Even my band was like ‘Man, I don’t know what’s going with Michael tonight.’ He almost had like a glow to him. Michael and I were parked in the same area of the Staple Center, his security team had it all blocked off so I couldn’t really get out. It was like 12:30 at night and I was really tired.   I just told him I was tired and I wanted to go home. There were so many Michaels on the tour that he just called me by my last name. He said he would be in around 2:00 for travel and to work out with the dancers and he would probably see me around 4 or 4:30. So, I said alright MJ you looked good tonight, and he said ‘OK, I love you. God bless you.’  He said that almost every night. He got in his car and left out first and I was right behind.  And that was that.”

To go to sleep on top of the world is every man’s dream, but to awake to find that things have turned nightmarish is unfathomable to some. That’s the situation Bearden found himself in.   

“The next morning I found out from my mother.  She said ‘What’s all this I hear about Michael being in the hospital?’  I said what’re you talking about?  I had just left Michael a few hours ago, pretty much. Then I started getting call after call from people asking what had happened. I said ‘I’m still coming in.’ As I was going in that’s when I found out.  Everybody was just distraught, as you might imagine. Without getting too much into that day because it’s still kind of surreal and really painful. I went from planning a triumph to planning a memorial. Then I got the gig on the ‘George Lopez’ show.  So, I really haven’t had time to really deal with it, even a year later. There are certain songs I won’t listen to and certain things I still won’t watch.   I’ve just been dealing with it on my own in that sort of way.”

Though Michael Bearden still mourns the loss of a friend, he knows that the show must go on.  Now he’s making things hot for audiences at “Lopez Tonight.” He has also scored for films. “Constellation” is his most recent. But no matter where he goes in life he will always remember his time rubbing shoulders with the best who ever did it.  Michael Jackson.    

In a future report, Michael Bearden discusses how he came to be musical director for “Lopez Tonight.”