Cashing in on the King of Pop in Vail |

Cashing in on the King of Pop in Vail

Charlie Owen
Vail, CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily/Tom Edwards

He’s not the prince of pop or the chief of pop, or even the dictator of pop. He’s the King of Pop, and despite Michael Jackson’s facial reconstructions and child molestation accusations, his legacy in the music world and beyond is as glittering as his gloved hand.

So, what does a new college graduate trying to jump-start a career as a jazz saxophonist do? That’s easy ” start a Michael Jackson tribute band, of course.

“You go to the bars and you hear ‘Billie Jean’ or ‘Beat It’ or any of those songs come on and … heads start nodding or people start dancing, you know, it’s like an instant reaction,” said Vamsi (pronounced wom-z) Tadepalli, founder of Who’s Bad and saxophonist for the band.

Who’s Bad is Tadepalli’s way of paying homage to one of the greatest performers of all time while making a living playing the saxophone ” something he said was nearly impossible playing jazz gigs. Thursday night, Who’s Bad moonwalks onto the stage at the Sandbar in Vail, and Tadepalli promises a high-energy show with lots of dancing ” hopefully not just from the guys on stage.

“It’s a party. We’re playing all the hits. Everybody knows all the songs whether they want to admit it or not,” Tadepalli said.

Vail is a long way from the band’s home in North Carolina, but their popularity has grown since their first show in 2004, which sold out. Jackson turns 50 this year, which also marks the 25th anniversary of “Thriller” ” considered by most critics to be a masterpiece. The two milestones will likely provide at least a temporary career boost for Who’s Bad.

“We’re trying to capitalize on that,” Tadepalli said.

Who’s Bad is Joseph Bell, Jr. (as Jackson), Stephen Coffman on drums, Ray McCall on trumpet, Hugh Swaso on guitar, Kevin Timmons on bass and Tadepalli on the sax. The current lineup has gone through some changes (Bell is the fifth person to be Jackson) since the band formed, but Tadepalli said that hasn’t affected their performances. They cover everything beginning with the Jackson Five years up to the seeming end of Jackson’s musical career with choreographed dance numbers and costume changes thrown in to maximize theatrics. And although he couldn’t pick a favorite Michael Jackson song, Tadepalli did say that the crowd influences the songs they play at each show ” whatever the audience wants, the band tries to deliver.

Who’s Bad celebrates Jackson’s success as an entertainer, Tadepalli said, and the band members are not concerned with his personal life or shortcomings.

“As far as pop artists, he’s by far the best ever I think. As far as like, a full package of dancing and singing there is no artist that has ever compared to him,” Tadepalli said.

High Life writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 748-2939 or

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