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Michael Jackson was a father figure, nephew testifies

Michael Jackson’s eldest nephew testified Thursday that his uncle was a father figure to him and his brothers who helped them not only with their music, but with life lessons.

“He was definitely our mentor, and everything we did in life we’d kind of gear it toward what he was doing, whether it was music or how he was as a person,” Taj Jackson said during his testimony in the wrongful-death suit his uncle’s mother and three children have brought against AEG Live, the company that was promoting and producing his comeback concerts when he died.

Taj Jackson, 39, is the son of Michael Jackson’s brother and fellow Jackson 5 member Tito. His younger brother TJ, who with Michael’s mother is guardian of the pop star's children, testified about two weeks ago.

Taj, TJ and a third brother made up the singing group 3T.

Their uncle encouraged them, but told them they would have to work hard. Taj read one of the many notes Jackson wrote him as a youngster. “I love you all and am proud of you. P.S. please rehearse.”

Taj Jackson said he and his brothers would have been foolish not to ask for their uncle’s musical advice. “He always let us know we could ask him anything about music, whether it’s songwriting or song selection,” he said.

“He was always right.”

Michael Jackson, he said, was a perfectionist, who told him “study the greats, study the classics.” His uncle followed that advice not just for music but also in their shared passion for film. Michael would watch old movies with the sound off so he wouldn’t be distracted, to study the camera work. He knew the opening scene of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” shot by shot, he testified.

Michael Jackson persuaded his nephews to record one of their hits, “I Need You,” even though they thought it was old-fashioned.

“Once he heard it, he said, ‘You need songs like that, that touch the world,’” Taj Jackson said.

Their uncle popped into the studio while they were recording it and added his voice to the track.

“What was most amazing about it is it was all in one take,” Taj Jackson said. “That’s when I realized he was in another league than we were.”

He also suggested using a choir that gives the song the feel of “We Are The World.”

The producer, Max Martin, cried when he heard the pop star sing. “He said it was a dream come true,” Taj Jackson said. “He never thought he’d be producing Michael Jackson.”

Michael Jackson also tried to teach them the secrets of songwriting, although the nephew said he didn’t want to give away too many of them during his testimony. In one instance, he said, his uncle played a tape of the Fine Young Cannibals singing “She Drives Me Crazy” over and over, telling him to listen to a different instrument each time.

“He would constantly tell us we had to carry on the legacy, carry on the torch when he retired,” the nephew said.

Taj Jackson said his uncle was constantly working on new material and was working on an album shortly before he died. “I know he wanted an album to come out,” he said.

Michael Jackson also believed in writing down his goals and posting the notes where he could see them. “What you can conceive and believe you can achieve,” was his motto, the nephew testified.

He said he saw it firsthand for the “Thriller” album. “I saw the note on his mirror, “’Biggest-selling album of all time,’” Taj Jackson said.

“I learned to never underestimate my uncle. When he put his mind to something, it usually happened.”

The Jacksons say in their lawsuit that AEG negligently hired and controlled Conrad Murray, the doctor who gave Michael Jackson the fatal dose of the anesthetic propofol to help him sleep on June 25, 2009. AEG says that the doctor worked for Jackson and that any money the company was supposed to pay Murray was an advance the singer would have to repay.

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jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com

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