Feature Stories

Get a Glimpse of Michael Jackson in the '90s From Irving Native Bart Stevens

courtesy Bart Stevens
Irving native Bart Stevens saw the recording of “Will You Be There."

Bart Stevens, born and raised in Irving, has worked with the Old Red Museum in downtown Dallas since last fall. After 30 years in the music industry, he wanted to get into museum administration, but his time in his former industry has come back into frame.

Six weeks after graduating college, Stevens moved to Los Angeles. Three months later, he found a job at a recording studio as a staff assistant. He worked at a few studios on soundtracks and jazz and pop records. He wound up at Ocean Way Recording, one of the top studios in Los Angeles.

In 1990, Stevens got the opportunity to work as an assistant engineer with Michael Jackson, who was planning to release a greatest-hits compilation with a few new songs. Those few new songs morphed into his Dangerous album.

While songwriting, Jackson would often vocalize not just words, but specific drumbeats and melodies for guitars and/or keyboards. Stevens got to see that to an extent, but he usually worked with multi-instrumentalist Bryan Loren and writer, producer andinstrumentalist Bill Bottrell on material Jackson later wrote lyrics for. Jackson was a perfectionist, and Stevens recalls working on about 20 songs that were never finished for Dangerous.

Stevens also recalls the creation of the song “Will You Be There” in the studio. He calls it “one of the most magical moments I was ever involved with.” Jackson mouthed different melodies for the instruments and wrote the lyrics.

“To see that one originate from nothing to a very popular song was amazing,” Stevens says. “The flip side of that is, a few years later, someone in Italy said, ‘I wrote that song before Michael.’ So it went to trial, I surrendered all my notebooks [and] they used those in pretrial. They ended up settling out of court, and Michael won.”

“To see that one originate from nothing to a very popular song was amazing." – Bart Stevens

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Stevens also discusses the time when recording sessions for Dangerous stopped so the pop culture zeitgeist single “Do the Bartman” could be cut. It was tied with The Simpsons Sing the Blues album, and voice actors Nancy Cartwright and Harry Shearer went in to record their voices. Stevens got credit for singing backing vocals on the song.

Stevens worked with Jackson for five years, and he didn’t share these stories in the public — until now.

“I’ve become fascinated with oral history and the telling the stories that don’t necessarily get written down,” he says.

After writing down what he wanted to say, Stevens realized he had many hours of content. Since he only worked with Jackson from 1990-95, that’s all he can comment on or tell personal recollections about. He likes to characterize how down-to-earth Jackson was despite how he was portrayed by the media throughout the 1990s.

“I have too many stories to tell,” Stevens deadpans with a laugh.

Bart Stevens shares his stories at 10 a.m. Saturday at Old Red Museum of Dallas County History and Culture, 100 South Houston St.