Through the eyes of musician, Mo Pleasure
Morris ‘Mo’ Pleasure is a multi-instrumentalist, musical director, composer and producer. Well known for starting his musical career playing bass for Ray Charles as well as being the musical director of Earth, Wind and Fire, he is probably the most famous musician you haven’t hear of because he has supported on and off stage the likes of George Duke, Natalie Cole, Roberta Flack, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, David Foster, Bette Midler and others.
Pleasure also appeared in the 2009 Michael Jackson documentary “This Is It” and Janet Jackson’s film “Janet: Live in Hawaii…” In late 2018, he had a PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision at London Vision Clinic following the worsening of his reading vision. We sat down and spoke to Mo about his career and the vital role his vision played in vision throughout his musical career and the impact having a prescription had on him.
I started out wearing glasses when I was 7. It really bothered me wearing glasses as a kid, I wanted to be cool I was a musician. I played bass, trumpet, guitar and violin, I wanted to look good. I also played football growing up and for football matches, I had to get special glasses made for my helmet, so they could bend in my helmet.
When I was 26 years old, I switched to wearing contact lenses for my prescription at the time of -3. I remember when contacts first came out, it was amazing. Glasses just didn’t fit in with the fashion at the time. When soft contact lenses came out and they were even better, followed of course by disposable contact lenses.
Disposable lenses made a huge difference to me whilst on the road compared to what I had worn previously, but even so, the lifestyle that came with living on a tour bus for prolonged periods of time was challenging. You’re sleeping in a small bunk and you don’t have that much space. Simple things such as remembering to take out your contact lenses is a real effort.
I remember being called to go onto stage, ‘We gotta go on right now…’ and I’d only have one contact in, so I would have to play the whole show wearing just one contact! If I had a problem before going on stage, such as a lens irritating my eye, then I would simply have to go out wearing one! Some gigs I wouldn’t need to read music, but when I did, you can image how frustrating this was. Gigs such as Natalie Cole, Ray Charles, Roberta Flack were all reading gigs, so the pressure was on in that sense. There have been many times when I have just been faking it because I couldn’t see the notes, or I screwed up and made a mistake because I couldn’t see.
I had LASIK back in 1999 in Canada, when I was 37. Towards the end of 2018, I had the PRESBYOND® Laser Blended Vision upgrade procedure at London Vision Clinic as I had noticed my reading vision had drifted. It was a scary realisation actually, especially when your career depends heavily on your sight. You do not only need to turn up on time, look a certain way and act professional, but you also need to be able to read the music. ‘Sorry my vision isn’t great’ just doesn’t cut it, and they would simply say ‘NEXT’. It has to be perfect. There are many people who could do the job, and bad news travels fast… They can throw new music at you, at The Oscars, The Brit Award or whatever the show and expect you to perform it note-perfect.
I’m Bette Midler’s Musical Director, so I not only have to know my music, but the music of everyone in the band, and know it cold so I can say ‘that’s an E Flat third trumpet’. On top of this, I deal with many different artist temperaments. So for example, Bette Midler will be looking to achieve a result and want it right away. My job is to translate that to the entire band, including lights, sound, choreography and everything else. Then, when the show is live, I am in charge of running the show; taking cues from people and making sure that all the moving parts are well oiled and move in sync!
When on TV shows, for example, let’s say I’m playing with Earth, Wind and Fire, and our version of ‘September’ is 3 minutes and 38 seconds normally. The show we are on needs it to be 2 minutes 25 seconds because then it goes right to the commercial, so we have to cut it and rework the number of bars, bridges and so on. You even have to instruct the cameramen as to who is doing what, such as the lead singer walking out from the centre, followed by guitar solo on the right of the stage, so they are able to capture it all.
As a part of Michael Jackson’s Tour, ‘This is it’, during rehearsals we had to watch Michael a lot, especially with any sound effects. It was very reactive. If Michael threw an ‘explosion’ with his hand, we would need to be watching to time the sound effect. One mistake on a show like that, someone would lose their job. It was very important to have eyes on him at all times.
I can recall a very challenging performance in late 2018, just before my PRESBYOND Laser Blended Vision surgery. It was a big show and as a band, we’d had very little rehearsal time and we had to be on cue. It was very low lighting, and I had my music and notes on an iPad close to my face so I could read them whilst playing the bass and watching the conductor. There was a great deal going on.
Since having laser eye surgery for my reading vision, whether I’m in the studio recording in front of a computer, at the movies, reading music, or even watching a conductor, are all much better experiences. Musically, it has improved my confidence too. As a bass player, we have dots on the bass which tell you where certain notes are, and even after 40 years of playing, I still look at the dots sometimes! Being able to just briefly check your positioning in your periphery is so reassuring.
Mo Pleasure and Professor Dan Reinstein performing together at Ronnie Scott’s