Throughout his career, Michael Jackson employed an endless series of amazing guitar players for studio and stage work, including Eddie Van Halen, Slash, Jennifer Batten and Steve Lukather.
In 2009, Jackson was set to embark on his "This Is It" tour, which would've consisted of some 50 shows kicking off that summer and ending the following spring. Unfortunately, Jackson's tour would never take place; he died of cardiac arrest on June 25, 2009, at age 50.
Jackson's death created a demand for all things associated with his music and image, and in 2012, his estate approved Cirque Du Soleil's idea for "Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour." The tour has been a great success; dates are scheduled through the spring, with more dates being added soon. For more about the tour, visit cirquedusoleil.com.
We recently spoke with Immortal World Tour lead guitarist Desiree Bassett, who is tasked with recreating a host of legendary guitar parts on Jackson's songs — night after night, city after city.
GUITAR WORLD: You've jammed with some of rock's elite, including Ted Nugent, Sammy Hagar and others. What's your background, and how did you get to be where you are now?
I started playing guitar at age 3. My dad taught me how to play, everything from how to play chords, scales, how to change strings and how to tune. To this day, we still teach each other so much. If it wasn't for my dad, in terms of his being there for me and being so supportive, I probably never would have gotten this far in life with the one thing I love to do most.
In terms of exposure, it's a matter of constantly practicing, getting yourself out there (YouTube has been the best tool for sure) and having the right connections, someone to support you. For me, it's my dad. But the most important thing is to have a good, positive attitude and just have fun and do what you do best.
The Michael Jackson Cirque Du Soleil tour has been very successful. What was the audition process like, and what did you learn from it?
For me, there was no audition process. The musical director/keyboardist/band leader of the tour was putting together the band and had came across my material online and my videos on YouTube. From there, he called my dad and told him he wanted me in the band. He was convinced I'd be able to do the job.
From there, I flew into rehearsals months later and it was just the start of a new adventure in my career. There is just so much I have learned, it's overwhelming, just being able to be with and play with members of Michael Jackson's band just says a lot on its own. For me, it was a whole new obstacle trying to learn a new genre of music I've never played before. It definitely rounds me out into being a better player because Michael wasn't just about pop, he was all about rock, pop and funk, about getting the groove on, and that definitely adds to a whole new level of playing.
How much of a grind were the rehearsals? How long did it take to prep for a tour like this?
It was August 1 when we started the rehearsals and October 2 when we first started the tour. We would spend long hours in the studio for two months, rehearsing the parts anywhere from eight to 12 hours a day almost every day. It was a hard, long process for all of us, but all of the hard work and dedication really paid off in the long run.
What type of rig did you take out on this tour? Did you choose your own gear, or did the production company have a setup they liked?
I came out with my very own equipment. I have two Marshall JVM 410s, Ernie Ball Musicman John Petrucci editions (one 6-string and one 7-string), a Gibson goldtop SG and a Martin acoustic, along with my own pedal board that includes a Digitech Whammy, Zakk Wylde Wah, Ibanez Tube Screamer, Zakk Wylde Overdrive, Morpheus pedal, MXR Super 70's, Boss Chromatic Tuner, ISP Noise Decimator and a Boss chorus and delay pedal.
Did the huge stage create issues locking in with the other musicians?
There wasn't much room to work with, considering that we're an 11-piece band. There are three parts of the stage, B stage (out front center), A stage (the main stage) and a BBQ Deck (a top level where the musicians are set up). Most of us have monitors by our setup, so we can watch our director's cues. We have in-ear monitors to hear ourselves, so the drummer can follow to a count and a click track. Sometimes the amount of activity that goes on during the show is overwhelming between focusing on your own parts, watching for cues and knowing your cues and being distracted by all of the amazing talent that goes on on stage (trapeze artists etc.), but as pros we just have fun with it.
What was your favorite part of this experience?
It's hard to name my favorite thing about the experience because this is the first tour I've ever truly been on in terms of a long-term tour. Just everything from seeing the world, trying new things to meeting new people and making new friends and being able to meet famous people and just doing what you love to do most, it's hard to turn something like that down!
How true did the band stay to Michael Jackson’s records?
We are fully spot-on with Michael's records. From parts to sounding exactly like the records tone-wise, but sometimes we like to change things up just a tad.
What's next for you?
My plan after this tour is to have a tour with my own band and get my own music going. That has always been a big goal of mine. Keep working on new music, get out there and experience the world with my own band, and just share my music and make a difference in this world and try to stay a positive role model to everyone of all ages. To keep going with whatever it is you do best and to always pursue your dreams.
Where can people hear original music from you and keep up with your career?
Photo: OSA Images Costumes: Zaldy Goco (c)2011 Cirque-Jackson I.P., LLC)
Dave Reffett is a Berklee College of Music graduate and has worked with some of the best players in rock and metal. He is an instructor at (and the head of) the Hard Rock and Heavy Metal department at The Real School of Music in the metro Boston area. He also is a master clinician and a highly-in-demand private guitar teacher. He teaches lessons in person and worldwide via Skype. As an artist and performer, he is working on some soon-to-be revealed high-profile projects with A-list players in rock and metal. In 2009, he formed the musical project Shredding The Envelope and released the critically acclaimed album The Call Of The Flames. Dave also is an official artist endorsee for companies like Seymour Duncan, Gibson, Eminence and Esoterik Guitars, which in 2011 released a Dave Reffett signature model guitar, the DR-1. Dave has worked in the past at Sanctuary Records and Virgin Records, where he promoting acts like The Rolling Stones, Janet Jackson, Korn and Meat Loaf.