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Jonathan "Sugarfoot Moffett: The Story

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

Jonathan Phillip Moffett, who goes by the stage name, “Sugarfoot”, is an American drummer, songwriter and producer from New Orleans, Louisiana. Since 1979, he has collaborated with the Jackson family, particularly Michael Jackson, over the course of 30 years. Later, he worked with other notable artists and producers such as Madonna, Janet Jackson, George Michael, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Cameo, Quincy Jones, Kenny G., and many others.

Moffett’s professional career initially started with The Jacksons. In the Spring of 1979, through serendipity, he came across The Jackson’s musical director, James McField, who that day, told him The Jacksons were auditioning for a new drummer. He told him the final auditions were that very afternoon, and that they were just about ready to decide on their new drummer. Jonathan pleaded with James to just tell them to give him a chance to audition, despite that his request to audition was basically last minute. James went in to that days audition rehearsals and told the Jackson brothers his special request. The brothers agreed and extended auditions for another additional day to give Jonathan a chance.

That night, James called Jonathan and said, “Be at the Jackson’s house, Havenhurst, at 3 o’clock tomorrow afternoon. They extended the auditions and want to give you your chance!”

Jonathan proceeded with the audition at Hayvenhurst where their recording and rehearsal studios were with the Jackson brothers. He went through the audition smooth and swiftly when Tito finally asked with a smirk, “Now can you play “Shake Your Body Down”?” The thing with that particular song is that is is usually very difficult to perform live for any drummer considering the drum parts for the actual song was recorded three separate times (three part overdub). However, Jonathan managed to play all the drum parts simultaneously by himself right in front of the brothers. They were all shocked and in awe. Jonathan had practiced and practiced to play all the drum parts to this song until he figured out how to play it perfectly. He crossed his arms and used other inventive techniques to hit multiple drum parts at once, despite the three part overdub - he would cross his arms and use other inventive techniques to hit multiple drum parts at once and figured his way through the intricacies like a puzzle. He had never seen anyone playing the song live, so when he heard the song, he assumed all the drum parts were played at once and not recorded separately. The Jackson brothers hired him on the spot after he nailed the song. Thus began a journey that had spanned some 30 years with the Jackson family!

His first major tour was the “Destiny” Tour with The Jacksons in the Spring of 1979. After his first show with the group in Cleveland Ohio, after only 3 days rehearsals for his first professional tour ever, Michael Jackson was in awe by Moffett’s ability to keep up with his dancing and dramatic spontaneous choreography of physical expressions, always accenting his dance moves, arm moves, stops and breaks, which gave his dancing more powerful visual effect, and creating spontaneous sound effects on his drums, to support Michael’s moves, to prominence.

The duo had a synchronized telepathic connection on stage. Moffett was seemingly destined to play with Michael considering he always knew what dance move he was going to do next. “Michael said to me, ‘How did you do that? How did you know I was going to do that move or stop? It was as if you were reading my mind!” Moffett reminisces and laughs. He proceeded on to perform with the Jacksons on their “Off The Wall/Destiny Tour” in the Fall of 1979. Then, on the “Triumph” Tour with The Jacksons in 1981, which Rolling Stones later named as “one of the best tours of 1967 to 1987”. This led to the release of “The Jacksons Live” album which is certified double platinum with over 2 million copies sold worldwide.

Then, in the winter of 1984, during the Jacksons World Famous “Victory” Tour, Moffett was noticed by Madonna for his playing and style during the Los Angeles shows at Dodger Stadium, who through her then manager Freddie De Mann who was with her there, requested him to be her drummer on her debut world tour the “Virgin” Tour in 1985.

With the huge success of that tour with her, Moffett became Madonna’s go-to drummer for her subsequent world tours, “Who’s That Girl” Tour and “Blond Ambition” Tour. Jonathan was featured in Madonna's second film “Madonna: Truth or Dare”, the behind the scenes documentary which followed Madonna throughout the worldwide “Blond Ambition” production.

The groundbreaking and controversial tour was hailed by Rolling Stone to be “the greatest concert of the 1990’s. He also recorded drum tracks, percussion and vocals on three of her albums: “True Blue”, “Like A Prayer” and “I’m Breathless”. He also supported Madonna and her guest stars at Live Aid in 1985.

Moffett’s unique drumming and style led him to perform on twenty-five major world tours around the globe. He has been in high demand by some of the world’s biggest superstars including: Michael Jackson, The Jacksons, Madonna, Prince, Janet Jackson, Elton John, George Michael, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, 3t, The Eagles, Julian Lennon and many others!

Prince complimented Moffett after many shows with The Jacksons and various artists he played for. He’d nod his head, smile and he’d say, “That was bad, you’re bad”. Although Prince wanted him to drum live for him, the opportunity never happened considering he was “Michael Jackson’s drummer” and thus “hands off”. Legendary drummer, John Blackwell, played live for Prince instead. Moffett, however eventually played on the same tracks as Prince with Madonna on her “Like a Prayer” album.

Since 1982, he continued to perform live on and off with pop funk group, Cameo (founded by Larry Blackmon), until this very day.

Moffett’s drum beat for “Don’t Stop the Music” which he recorded with the Yarbrough and Peoples in 1980 has been sampled by a multitude of artists including TLC, Nuttin Nyce, P. Diddy., Eve, Alicia Keys, Keyshia Cole, Fat Pat, Beyonce, Missy Elliott, Tichina Arnold, on the soundtracks “Soul Food and Playa” and numerous other artists. Legendary rapper 2pac sampled the song in 1996 on his unreleased original version of his song “Don’t Stop” initially entitled “Don’t Stop the Music”. It was later remixed for his 2006 Pac’s Life album.

Elton John turned to Moffett for his comeback “Reg Strikes Back” Tour with a total of 87 shows and which he utilized to fight bad press. With the success of the tour, Elton flew Jonathan out to Denmark to help him record his “Sleeping With the Past” album. It was Elton’s first platinum album since 1983 with several hit singles.

Moffett accompanied him on the“Sleeping With the Past” Tour as well with a total of 74 shows. Moffett is also credited on Elton’s “Duets” album for the song “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” which was recorded live with George Michael at Wembley Arena in 1991. The live performance was also released as the official music video for the song. In fact, Moffett toured with George Michael on his “Cover to Cover” tour which totaled 30 shows and took place in the United Kingdom, Brazil, Japan, Canada, and the United States. He also performed with George at the Rock in Rio Music Festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Despite working with a multitude of the world’s biggest pop acts, Moffett continued to perform for Michael Jackson during his solo career and performed live on various shows with him including the 1988 Grammy’s and also took part in his “HIStory World Tour” and “Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Special Celebration” shows at Madison Square Garden.

In the spring of 2009, Michael Jackson called Moffett for his comeback tour, “This Is It”, which he happily agreed to do.

Unfortunately, all the hard work and effort put into the production never came to fruition due to the untimely passing of the mega superstar.

Without the launch of the tour, Jonathan was inadvertently left starring in the greatest music film documentary in the history of filming and theatrical releases, “This Is It”, which included snippets of private rehearsals for the tour and interviews including with Moffett. “This Is It” went on to be released as a global hit motion picture film directed by Kenny Ortega.

Moffett performed at the Staples Center for Michael Jackson’s memorial service with some of the world's biggest artists and celebrities all who paid tribute to Jackson. Some of the artists who performed and spoke at the service included Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Hudson, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, and of course, the Jackson Family including Michael’s children.

Following Michael Jackson’s passing, Moffett drummed around the world honoring the pop star with Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour. The tour is listed as one of the top-grossing tours of all time with a gross revenue of $360 million totaling 501 shows at 157 venues in 28 countries worldwide.

In the recent years, Jonathan was featured on Spike Lee’s documentary, “Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall” and most recently collaborated with Quincy Jones at Westlake Studios to re-record a few of Michael Jackson’s greatest hits for his Netflix documentary, “Quincy”. He is currently working on both an autobiographical book as well as a documentary film.

Jonathan Moffett and Quincy Jones at Westlake Studios in Beverly, CA 2018.

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