Michael Jackson: The South Kitsap Connection

Perhaps you were expecting Quincy Jones, the former Bremerton resident and music producer, who worked with Michael Jackson on “Thriller” and other albums? Here’s another local link to the King of Pop.

Like Michael Jackson’s legion of fans around the world, South Kitsap resident Bobby Inocente was stunned and saddened to learn of his death yesterday.

Inocente, 54, grew up in New York City and played back-up guitar to well know Motown bands from the early 1970s. It was around that time, Inocente said, he crossed paths with Michael Jackson just before his rising star burst into a super-nova.

Bobby Inocente
Bobby Inocente

Jackson and his brothers, as the Jackson 5, were playing the legendary Apollo Theatre in Harlem. Inocente hit it off with brothers Tito and Jermaine, who were closer to his age. They even visited Inocente and his family in the Bronx. The older brothers had a fairly normal upbringing and varied interests typical of teenage boys, Inocente said. But performing had always been pretty much the sole focus of Michael’s life.

The Jacksons, who grew up in Gary, Indiana, were
“wide-eyed” at the Big Apple and appropriately awed to be playing the Apollo. “To them, performing at the Apollo was the big leagues,” Inocente said.

Inocente described Michael Jackson as “very quiet, soft spoken, rarely said anything. He transformed into the mega-superstar that’s known the world over, but at that age, he was a very shy kid. He loved to play cards and dominoes, and he was always fascinated by magic.”

Professionally, Inocente said, the Jackson family presented a united front that few were privy to breach. Of family dynamics, he said, “It’s hard to say. I’m sure they had their sibling rivalries. It seemed like they were very headstrong about the music. They were destined to become what they became because they worked hard at it. They kind of had a different childhood than other people because of the pressure that was put on them.”

Inocente described their father, Joseph Jackson, as “a disciplinarian.” The Jackson boys addressed their parents as “Joe and Katherine” not Dad and Mom. The boys were expected to live clean and toe the line, Inocente said.

The Motown culture also had a formative effect on the Jackson 5, dictating not only clothing and hair styles but even their affects and public personalities, Inocente said. “By the time Motown released them to the general public, they were a well polished machine.”

Inocente ran into the Jacksons a few years later when they were headlining at Madison Square Garden and Inocente was playing with The Commodores (“Three Times a Lady,” “Brick House”), also on the bill. He contacted Tito and Jermaine occasionally through the years, but otherwise lost touch with the Jackson 5 and Michael.

Yesterday, when the rumors were confirmed, Inocente mourned.

“It hit me as far as we lost a national icon. I felt he was a friend. I knew the Jackson family,” he said.

Inocente tried to send the family his condolences, but they’re not even accepting e-mails.

For all that can be said about Michael Jackson’s unconventional and often troubled life, his impact on popular music can’t be denied, Inocente said. “There’s only, in my opinion, two other acts that are equal to him in pop culture, the Beatles and Elvis Presley. I would actually have to say that the Jackson 5 to the African American people were the black Beatles. They had their own cartoon show, they were on the back of cereal boxes. They were the original boy band. I think all these groups now take their style from the persona the Jackson 5 portrayed.”

After the Jackson 5 dissolved, Micheal continued to break new ground. “Thriller” won accolades and essentially launched the music video as a genre in its own right, Inocente said.

With “We Are the World,” Jackson set a precedent for stars using their clout to promote humanitarian causes. The album, co-produced by Quincy Jones (see above), gathered a diverse who’s who of other iconic performers – Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles to name a few – to benefit Africa . “Only with his star power you could have gotten a conglomerate of the best-selling artists on the planet together in one room to record a song,” Inocente said.

Jackson was also notable for his musical longevity, with a career that – ups and downs aside – spanned more than 40 years. “He’s one of the artists out of all the pop stars that had the longest reign,” said Inocente. “Some people who weren’t even born when he was in the Jackson 5 enjoy his music today.”

Oh yeah, he wasn’t a bad dancer, either. Remember this?

Whatever can be said about Michael Jackson’s appearance, quirks and legal troubles, Inocente remains philosophically loyal to the shy kid he he knew back in the day and to the extroverted performer inside him.

“Anybody that has a star that big is going to be surrounded in controversy,” Inocente said. “Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Rudolf Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, they all had their ups and downs. That’s one of the prices you have to pay in the industry. But in the long run, I think when all is said and done, it will be the impact of his music that stands alone as his epitaph. I think the music will outshine the controversy and the weird life he lived.”

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