Who’s Bad, the Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute, moonwalks to the Egyptian Theatre
Vamsi Tadepalli, founder, producer and manager of Who’s Bad: The Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute band that will play Dec. 29-31 at the Egyptian Theatre, was 28 when the King of Pop passed away on June 25, 2009.
“The band had been together for about five years, and I remember getting a phone call from E’Casanova, who, in his prime, was probably the best Michael Jackson tribute artist and Michael Jackson historian ever,” Tadepalli said during a Park Record interview from his office in Los Angeles. “E’Casanova told me that Michael’s heart had stopped and he was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.”
Tadepalli saw nothing on TV, so he turned to the Internet.
“The only thing I saw was from TMZ and then 20 minutes later it was all over the news,” he said. “That’s when my phone just blew up.”
People asked if Jackson’s death was going to hurt his tribute-band business while others told him the band would get really busy.
“The latter happened, and. I always felt it was a horrible way to get the spotlight,” Tadepalli said. “But for two weeks we got calls all the time to play. It was just a crazy whirlwind.”
Before Jackson passed, Who’s Bad had already booked a show for June 26, at the famed 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.
“It was to be our first time playing there, and the show was selling well,” Tadepalli said. “After Michael died the show sold out and the club asked us to schedule a second show. “
Tadepalli hesitated at first.
“We didn’t want to take advantage of the situation, but the club owners told us people really wanted to hear his music because of the void Michael had left behind,” he said. “So we agreed, and that second show sold out within hours. There was a lot of media there – CNN and others. I think I did 40 interviews before going on stage.”
Tadepalli started Who’s Bad, which is one of the longest-running Michael Jackson tribute shows, after playing in his own band for a few years.
“Before that, I basically formed a band so I could get a gig,” he laughed. “I’m a saxophone player and I wanted to put a band together that had a horn section.”
Tadepalli’s original band played funk music.
“The thing was I kept gravitating towards Michael,” he said. “The more I listened to his stuff, the more I added his songs to the set list.”
One night in 2003, Tadepalli decided to play an all-Michael Jackson set.
“No one else was doing it at that time because this was when he wasn’t super popular,” Tadepalli said. “But I knew people would love to hear his music, especially in a live setting.”
At that time, Jackson faced accuisations of child molestation of which he was later acquitted. The media also had turned on him for dangling his son over a hotel balcony in a moment of pride.
Sill, the overwhelming positiver response of adding Jackson’s songs into the set urged Tadepalli to do more, so he came up with the idea of a tribute band.
“I studied music at the University of North Carolina and had very talented peers, and when I mentioned my idea, they all got excited,” Tadepalli said. “We actually had a band before we had our Michael.”
A few weeks later, a friend introduced Tadepalli to singer and performer Talib York.
“He auditioned and crushed it and became our Michael,” Tadepalli said. “And we went from there.”
Tadepalli took on the responsibility to transcribe Jackson’s tunes not for note into music scores for the band, and that experience opened his eyes to how intricate the songs were.
“When many people think of Michael Jackson, they think of his videos, his dance moves and stylistic sound effects he does with his voice, but they don’t necessarily think of the depth of his music,” he said. “They usually think it’s just pop music, which is nice to listen to, but especially the songs from his years with the Jacksons and his early years as a solo artist, when Quincy Jones took over as his producer there are a lot of things going on in the rhythm and horn sections. I mean, the music is pretty deep when compared to the pop music of today.”
The demand for a Who’s Bad performance has increased 100 fold, so Tadpalli created another touring band, which features James Time III as Michael.
“We had to create a second band because there is enough demand,” Tadepalli said. “Talib is the Michael in the band that plays in L.A., and it’s cool to have a lot of people liking what we’re doing.”
Tadepalli said each concert isn’t a Who’s Bad performance, but a Michael Jackson performance.
“We consider it Michael’s show because we essentially copy what he did live,” he said.
While there weren’t a lot of Jackson’s live performances available on DVD or online, when Who’s Band first started out, Tadepalli did buy all of Jackson’s music videos he could find.
“We studied those for the choreography,” he said. “As far as the music went, we started with his originals and then compared them with his live and put together hybrid arrangements of what I liked best from both recordings.”
Tadepalli had the opportunity to go back to his original transcriptions and rearrange them for symphony orchestras, which Who’s Bad has been performing with since 2015.
“It was a fun project for me to revisit those transcriptions,” he said.
To date, Tadepalli’s favorite Michael Jackson song is “I Can’t Help It,” a lesser-known track from Jackson’s 1979 album “Off the Wall.”
“It’s a B-side, but super chill,” Tadepalli said. “Whenever I hear it I have to smile.”
Tadepalli looks forward to the Egyptian Theatre run.
“We’re excited to spend some quality time in Park City,” he said. “I think the thing I’m most proud of is that this show has the ability to bring together people of all races, genders and backgrounds together. And we want to bring that feeling to Park City.”
Who’s Bad? The Ultimate Michael Jackson Tribute will run at 8 p.m. from Friday to Sunday, Dec. 29-31, at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St. Tickets range from $34 to $50. Tickets can be purchased by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com.
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