142: Reflections on John Barnes Roundtable

Brad Buxer, Matt Forger, and Brad Sundberg join host Jamon Bull for a very special episode in remembrance of the late John Barnes. From Barnes’s early work with Jackson at Hayvenhurst, to deep-dive discussions around technical recording aspects and some of their collaborative works like the brilliant song “Another Part of Me”, Matt and the two Brads take you inside the studio. Not only did Barnes and Jackson share a deep friendship, but also a unique artistic partnership that resulted in musical masterpieces that will be enjoyed by fans forever.

John Barnes was a force in the music industry for over 50 years, having worked with an extensive list of music icons, from The Miracles, to Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie, Celine Dion, Diana Ross, and, of course, the King of Pop. His work with the Jackson family started in 1976, and he connected with Michael Jackson in 1982. Barnes and Jackson’s meeting would launch a long and productive professional, creative, and personal relationship that would last decades. The two owned a company together, called Experiments in Sound, and John became a central part of Michael’s creative team. Early on, Barnes worked on the Jacksons’ “Victory” album, and worked extensively on “Captain EO”, including creating sounds for the film and co-writing the song, “We Are Here to Change the World”. His work with the synclavier was considered revolutionary, and was a massively important part of his recording work with Michael Jackson.

During the “BAD” album recording, Barnes worked daily at Hayvenhurst, alongside Bill Bottrell and Matt Forger. While often unfairly dubbed “The B Team”, and noted for creating demos, while Quincy Jones and Bruce Sweden did the main work on this album, the reality was that the Hayvenhust team was central to the creation of the album, producing nearly final versions of many of the songs, such as “Smooth Criminal” and “The Way You Make Me Feel”.

Barnes would also go on to have roles on Jackson’s later albums, as well, including “Dangerous”, “HIStory”, and “Blood on the Dance Floor”. He continued his work with Jackson through the very end of his career, even going to Bahrain in 2006 to work on the still-unreleased charity single, “I Have this Dream”.

Barnes, who passed away after a long illness on March 19, 2022, was not only an amazing musician and visionary, but he was passionate about humanitarian issues. This was a driving force in his close relationship with the King of Pop, and included important creative work, such as co-writing the song, “We Are The World”, which raised $50 million internationally to end hunger in Africa. He was full of genuine passion for his art, sometimes at the cost of not getting the credit he deserved. In this incredible discussion, Barnes’s colleagues and friends share memories and unique stories about him and the moments which made him a true icon.

The MJCast is deeply appreciative to our special guests on this episode, and sends our condolences to John’s family and friends. The world will not be the same without him.

This episode was edited by Charlie Carter.

• Brad Buxer, who worked with Michael Jackson for 20 years, from the “Dangerous” album onwards through “Invincible”, and who became one of Michael’s closest production, music, and songwriting collaborators. He was also Musical Director for both the Dangerous and HIStory World tours. He has a close personal relationship with Michael into the final years of Michael’s life.
• Matt Forger, who worked with Michael Jackson starting with the “Thriller” album, where he was credited as a technical engineer, and continued to work on just about every project Michael did through the rest of his life. He also played a central roll in “Captain EO”. In addition, Matt is well-known for his many years of studio work with the Japanese superstar Yuming.
• Brad Sundberg, who was Michael Jackson’s Technical Director and studio engineer for 18 years, starting as an assistant on “Captain EO”, and also designed and built the extensive sound and lighting installations at Neverland. These days, Brad runs the seminar series, In the Studio with MJ, with events held around the world.

Additional Links
• John Barnes’ official website.
• Articles on the passing of John Barnes by Music Radar, MJWorld and MJVibe.

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If you have feedback on this Michael Jackson podcast episode, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at themjcast@icloud.com or find the links to our many social networks on www.themjcast.com. Keep Michaeling!

6 Replies to “142: Reflections on John Barnes Roundtable”

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  5. Radha Botofasina

    I really appreciate this podcast. It reminded me of John Barnes and my conversations about electronics. I met him in NYC when he was the MD for the Miracles-they were opening for Johnny Mathias on Broadway-it was a one or two week engagement. We became fast friends and remained so until the day he passed.
    I recorded many times at his various studios, from the one on Chandler to the last studio he put together at his rental house in Altadena,Ca. He called on me to do choir directing for the Bahai 200th anniversary program at Royce Hall. Words cannot be used to describe our relationship. It was purely platonic and intensely musical. In fact my new album ‘Carry On/The Spirituals Vol 2’, is book ended with John on the first track and on the last track.

    He loved his Bahai faith and he was a stoic throughout his long illness.
    Radha Botofasina

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