Some of you Rock Fans may have heard of Alan Merrill (... "The Face of '69"! Just like Peter Frampton was "the Face of '68", does that ring a bell? ) :
If not, here's for reminders :
The son of two jazz musicians, singer Helen Merrill, and saxophone/clarinet player Aaron Sachs, Alan is mostly known for having penned the original version of Joan Jett's mega-hit : "I Love Rock'n'Roll" with his band of American and English expats in Japan at the time, The Arrows (... Not the Davie Allan garage-band famous for Biker movie anthem : "Blues Theme"! ) :
Recommended to the group by his girlfriend Michi Nakao (a featured Go-Go dancer at Tokyo's most prestigious discotheque in the 1960s : Mugen), Alan helped them finish their second album for RCA, "Sound Of Silence" (also an album of cover songs) which was already in progress, singing four songs on the recording and playing lead guitar on a few tracks. When another member, Phil Trainer, had similar legal complications in Japan as Mark Elder previously and left Tokyo in 1969, the label dropped the band. Alan then went solo with Watanabe Productions, and was the first male signing to Atlantic Records Japan, recording the chart hit single "Namida." (Merrill's later career is well documented on the internet. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Merrill His most famous act being the Arrows, formed by him back in London in 1974 where he played as lead singer and bass guitarist, and their aforementionned classic hit covered by Joan Jett...)
Now, Alan is part of my friends on Facebook (yes, I have the honor of sharing friendship with quite a few 60's legends on there, hehe... ) where he regularly pops up on my News Feed and I had noticed for some time the ressemblance he had now with "Bad" era Michael Jackson that, one day I couldn't help commenting this under one of his photo updates (a lot of other friends must've noticed too but, I was one of the rare daring to point that out regardless of the fact that it might bother him...) and, lo and behold, Alan came back the next day on the chat line showing me this link from his Tumblr account with a story on that very similarity :
... I was stunned! "Michael Jackson and Me" : a first hand account of his meeting Michael and sharing the stage with the Jackson 5 during their first Japanese tour on May 1973, when Alan's new Glam band : Vodka Collins was enjoying further success in the land of the Rising Sun (during the interim after the Lead and before the Arrows hit); I found that chapter so interesting I got the idea for writing this new article for Bedazzled! on the spot. I asked his approval and somehow needed his kind participation, so... here you get that interview : (one good thing with the internets is that it render things instantaneous! )
1) Have people already dare point out your today's ressemblance to Michael Jackson?
My mother was the first person to point it out to me. She said that he was changing his face slowly with surgery, little by little, to look like me around 1972-'73. This ('72-'73) was during the time of my band Vodka Collins. Since then quite a few people have mentioned it and there are people who say I'm copying him. But I'm just being me.
2) What do you think of it, does it bother you or make you feel uneasy, knowing Michael's late fate?
No, foremost I'm happy that when we did the show together in 1973 in Tokyo at the Imperial Theater that I might possibly have made such a strong impression on him. Of course I'm sad that Michael passed away under such tragic circumstances. I did note that in the film (his last) "This Is It" he was wearing the same (recreated) silver lamé jacket that I was wearing when we performed together all those years ago in 1973. It gave me the chills.
3) You were already a recording star in Japan by the late sixties when the Jackson 5 had barely started; when did you first get aware of Michael?
I was aware of the J-5 when they started from the time of their first hit single "I want you back" which was in 1969. It was on the radio in Japan all the time. They were on the radio with that and then their next hit "ABC" and others. I started recording professionally in Japan in 1968 at age 17 with a band called The Lead (RCA Victor). But the J-5 didn't tour Japan until 1973 when we did the show together. The Vodka Collins / Jackson 5 double bill.
4) When you first saw him sharing that stage at that soundcheck while talking to his brothers Jermaine and Tito, did you ever imagined he would turn out the way he turned out to be : a Huge star and a kinda Pop martyr? Did you already sense that doom as well as felt his aura?
Michael was already a big star but not a super star in the Elvis league yet, but he would get there with "Thriller." He just seemed like a very shy boy of 15 years of age. Impressionable. In awe of being in Japan. It was their first trip to Japan as a band and the show we shared was the their first show ever in Japan. I thought he was very slick and professional for a teenager. Michael already had a solo hit with "Ben" then. I could never have imagined how his life would change and that he would have such a tragic ending ultimately.
5) What do you think of it now? Do you feel sad or are you just happy to have met the Motown child star then?
Yes, I'm sad. I wish I'd had the chance to see him again in this life. Of course I'm happy to have met him and all the J-5 and to have worked the same stage with them. Looking back, it's amazing.
6) Do you think your stage performance and appearance in full Glam attire and make-up as Vodka Colllins then had a definite influence on his later own stage appearances with the Jackson 5, for ex. during the Disco era and even later during his Billie Jean/ Beat it Superstardom?
I'll never know for sure. Other people tell me that all the time though, especially my friends and band mates who saw the show in Tokyo in 1973 and were backstage watching Michael watching me. He was clearly very impressed by what I was doing, smiling wide and dancing to my songs from the side of the stage. He didn't miss a minute of my sound check or my performance I think he saw a lot of new vistas opening up that he had been sheltered from. The glam rock thing was new and he was loving it. It was liberating for him, at least I think so.
7) Do you have something to add : what would be your last word on that encounter episode?
It was a fantastic one day experience. I was so impressed when The J-5 played their set because I knew every song. They were all hits, their whole show. I watched the show from the side of the stage. It was an honor for me to play on the same show with the J-5 on their first show ever in Japan, and if I actually made any influence on Michael I hope it was a musically and visually energizing positive experience for him.
... Interesting inside story, eh? So, the next time you'd be thinking of Michael Jackson, think again ... The Face of '69 is not far behind. :-)