Michael Jackson’s longtime drummer Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffett staked his claim as the funkiest man alive during a studio cut of “Smooth Criminal” shot by Drumeo. Sugarfoot gives an absolute masterclass of groove on the hit, playing with a mesmerizing precision while delivering the funk by the truckload.
There is something so satisfying about listening to Sugarfoot play, with never a beat out of place and everything being driven hard by his lithe groove. Rather than trying to recreate the repetitive programmed drums from the original “Smooth Criminal” recording, Sugarfoot adapts the song to his own style, adding rhythmic interest on the hi-hat and tasteful fills. The veteran drummer shows his mastery of the kit by subtly elevating the song without ever overplaying. Check it out below.
Sugarfoot does more on the hi-hat alone on this video than most drummers can do on the whole kit. The huge smile on the face of the sound guy 30 seconds in as he watches Sugarfoot go at it says it all. You’ve also gotta hand it to Drumeo for capturing the performance so well and delivering a tight mix that clearly displays all the details Sugarfoot put into the song.
The “Smooth Criminal” playthrough was a huge hit on YouTube and clocked 56 million views. Drumeo noticed and has had the master sticksman back numerous times, including for performances on Jackson cuts “Billie Jean”, “Beat It” and “Jam” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin.” You can see Sugarfoot lay into “Beat It” below, which racked up 25 million views.
Sugarfoot, who hails from New Orleans, Louisiana, is currently 68. His relationship with Jackson began all the way back in 1979 when he successfully auditioned to drum for The Jacksons. Sugarfoot continued to work with Jackson across the following 30 years until the singer died in 2009. Prior to Jackson’s death the pair were preparing for the star’s planned residency at the O2 Arena, London.
Sugarfoot was a close friend of Jackson, who shortened the drummer’s nickname to just “Foot”. He often spent time at Jackson’s house, and built close relationships with the star’s family. In fact Sugarfoot and the singer had hung out until 1 a.m. the night before the star’s unexpected death.
Their professional relationship was also tight, and Jackson always called Sugarfoot first any time he wanted to put on a show or tour. Following the star’s death, Sugarfoot honored his friend’s legacy by playing on Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour. It became one of the top-grossing tours of all time, with $360 million in gross revenue across 501 shows in 28 countries.
In addition to his prodigious talents as a drummer, Sugarfoot elevated Jackson’s live show by accenting the singer’s dance moves, which added another element to the show that Jackson greatly prized. Sugarfoot’s resume goes beyond working with the King of Pop, as he also worked his magic with big names such as Madonna, Janet Jackson, George Michael, Stevie Wonder and Elton John. If you would like to see more from Jonathan “Sugarfoot” Moffett, you can subscribe to his YouTube channel or follow him on Instagram.