Jonathan ‘Sugarfoot’ Moffett

Jonathan ‘Sugarfoot’ Moffett is a drummer of world class proportions and has played with the likes of Michael Jackson, The Jackson Family, Madonna, George Michael, Diana Ross, Elton John, Peter Cetera, Lionel Richie, Patty Austin, Cameo and Richard Marx to name just a few. His relentless groove and impeccable professionalism means Moffett is constantly touring and in high demand. Moffett played for The Jacksons on their world famous VICTORY tour in 1984 and was scheduled to perform yet again with Michael Jackson on the THIS IS IT tour. He is currently in Australia for the 2010 AIM Show and to perform his tribute show to Michael Jackson as a sign of respect for the 30 years they performed together.


Can you explain a little bit about what you visit to Australia will bring and what drummers can expect to see in your clinics?


“I’ve been doing clinics since the late ‘80s and usually I’d perform and demonstrate technique… so this time I wanted to find a way to do a tribute to Michael in appreciation for the 30 years I worked with him – which is more than half my career. Since his passing I’ve wanted to do something special – and I’ll do an album too – but when I got the call for this, I felt it was the right time to start it off. So this clinic will still show my technique, style and capabilities but I want to do some of the songs I played with Michael and kind of honour him in that way. So I put together a show to show some respect to him for his great contribution to music and his influence on my career. I’ll show my style and approach to playing Michael’s music as well as demonstrate playing with a click track as that is what I do a lot of when playing live.”


What steps do you take to interpret songs, both sequenced and non-sequenced for live drums?


“Well, my approach is that I have to become the drummer on the recording, whether he’s living or non-living (laughs). I have to try to play the beat like it was on the record. I also have mimic the emotion, intensity and feel of the groove. It’s not just a beat. It has to sound like the record that people have heard and love so much. So I become the drummer first. Then I’ll add my approach to it, which is a lot of energy, intensity and articulation.”


Are you told what to play or what you think will work and the artist/s like it?


“All the artists I’ve played with – including Michael – have always trusted me; I’m very professional in that I want to please them, do it the right way, as they all like it to be as close to the record as possible. I do what I do to make it like the record, so no, they don’t really tell me what to play at all. They trust that I’ll learn what’s on each song because that’s what’s expected. Generally all the artists and I are on the same page; Michael never really told me what to do unless there was a certain dance move he and his assistant choreographer had worked out and they needed an accent or something. Then he’d say ‘Foot, this is what I need right here, can you give me something?’ Sometimes he’d specify what he wanted and other times he’d let me come up with something to make that move stand out. I’m kinda like the sound effects for his visual dance, so I’m always looking for ways to enhance what he did on stage. He liked that and the liked that fact that I was always watching and trying my best to make him look good.”


So Michael was great to work with?


“He was excellent and perfect to work with. I loved his music, of course, just like everybody else. He was so easy to work for and as you see in the film This is It; he’s a perfectionist, he knows his music to the letter and wasn’t the type of artist to get on your case. He was humble; full of humility and respected people. If he had to say that something wasn’t quite right, he’d apologise for it and say ‘it’s all for love’ because he felt like he may have hurt the person’s feelings or something and he’d feel bad (laughs). He wasn’t hard to work for if you got in there and did your job and learnt the songs. That’s what you’re hired for right? Learn the songs and come in ready like a professional should from day one. I put the homework in ahead of time, as we’d get the songs about two weeks before. I’m always ready because that’s what’s expected and that’s what I get paid to do. Then I stay out of trouble and keep the gig.”


Was The Jacksons’ Victory tour in 1984 the biggest you’ve done?


“Yeah I think so. Lots of shows but production wise, Michael’s History tour in ’96 and ’97 was big. The stage was humungous. Something like six stories tall from the ground to top of these statues he had. They had to cut stuff back because it was so expensive to cart all that around. Victory was big too, as well as Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour in 1990 where she had 13 hydraulic elevator lifts.”


And the Victory tour was around 55 concerts?


“Yeah something like five or six months because it was spread out. The stage was so big we could only do two shows a week. Michael’s solo productions were even so huge we could only do one show a week. Sometimes it felt like a vacation! (laughs). I felt like I was cheating the world only doing one show a week!”


I’ve seen you behind some amazing looking drum kits. Can you tell us about your fascination with really big set ups? You have a passion for creating set ups for each tour?


“Yeah I really love that. I have a background in art. I majored in art in school and have been drawing since the age of four. I got a whippin’ for drawing on the walls (laughs) but I always drew comic book characters, designed clothes and musical instruments. I always wanted to do something with my drum set. Usually you get in trouble for futuristic looking drum kits, but when I turned professional, I decided to try some of my ideas. I look forward to every tour that can afford to build something with the drums that will thrill people when they see it, because the drums are the biggest element on stage as far as musical instruments go, visually. People pay money to hear the music, but also to see something exciting. So I love doing my part and designing and creating. I’ve got some incredible designs to come. I don’t like having the same set up all the time so I always do something different for every tour to compliment the stage design.”


What challenges you these days?


“Lately, it’s getting the motivation to travel. Our schedules are so hectic. It all looks glamorous on TV but they don’t see you getting there. Airports, deadlines, security etc and the hours are so ridiculous it’s finding time for true rest and recovery. Add that to the fact that a musicians mind never turns off – always thinking of a new tune or melody. There’s always an idea in a creative person. It’s challenging to find peace and rest after 31 years of touring.”


JONATHAN ‘SUGARFOOT’ MOFFETT hosts a drum workshop as part of the Australian International Music Show – AIMS – at the Melbourne Exhibiton Centre auditorium, level 2 at 3.30pm this Sunday October 3. All tickets and info through aimshow.com.au.