Vertex Effects founder Mason Marangella recently got the chance to talk in-depth with session guitar legend Paul Jackson Jr. Seated in the enviable surrounds of Oakland, CA’s 25th Street Recording studio, Marangella took the chance to ask him to play and discuss some of the most iconic licks from a career that took in some huge sessions, including Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bad albums, plus massive contemporary singles like The Weeknd’s I Feel It Coming and Daft Punk’s Get Lucky.
Jackson Jr. starts by discussing Thriller album track Lady in My Life, which was later extensively sampled. In doing so he recalls the amp that became his go-to for much of that period: a Fender Deluxe that had been modified by Paul Rivera Sr. (the amp guru who later formed Rivera Amplification). He also reveals he had an offer from a Japanese buyer to purchase it for $15,000 some time back.
“The Rivera-modified Deluxe was kind of like the Dumble before there was a Dumble,” reveals the session pro. “It was the go-to amp, all the studio guys used them, they're on countless recordings. What Paul Rivera, Sr. and Jr., did was to release the Stage IV, which to all intents and purposes is that amp.”
Elsewhere in the clip, Jackson Jr. is asked what contribution he made to Beat It and in a self-effacing response, shrugs off dubbing the iconic main riff from the song – alongside the more famous contributions from Steve Lukather and Eddie Van Halen – as “all I did.”
Later he describes recording the Dirty Diana rhythm sections with his red Tom Anderson guitar and trusty Rivera guitar amp. “This is one thing I tell my students, regardless of genre… every song has to have a groove… Dirty Diana is really a groove part – a muted guitar part with overdrive on it.”
As Marangella explains at the outset of the clip, Jackson Jr. has not rehearsed or revised most of the material, yet put on the spot with nothing else than his custom PRS (note the PJJ truss rod cover), he manages to recall a rich variety of licks and rhythmic contributions to a huge array of songs.
Later, Jackson Jr. talks about tracking Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, including the stunning verse rhythm licks on Get Lucky.
What’s perhaps most remarkable, though, is the sense of being able to trace a line of guitar playing DNA between the sound of classic Michael Jackson records, all the way through to the Weeknd’s mega hit I Feel It Coming.
Watch the clip above – and if you hang in there, you’ll even benefit from an impromptu lesson in “intentional rhythm guitar” from the man himself.
And while we’re on the topic of great session guitarists, Eddie Martinez recently sat down with us to discuss the studio secrets behind classic records from Run-D.M.C., Mick Jagger, Robert Palmer and David Lee Roth.