He wrote Michael Jackson's Thriller … but have you seen Rod Temperton?

The reculsive disco king is a man shrouded in mystery, but perhaps you have encountered him. Share with us your Temperton tales ...

With the King of Pop gone, my thoughts are now with the genius mastermind who gave the world Thriller ... no, not Jacko, but Rod Temperton, a 61-year old man from Cleethorpes.

Temperton's hardly a household name – in fact, many Jackson fans will have been unaware of him until recent events led to a few mentions in dispatches – but the veteran Englishman wrote many of Jackson's most famous songs, including Rock With You, Off the Wall and Thriller. And his contribution to pop doesn't stop there. In fact, it's Herculean.

The Lincolnshire musician-songwriter-producer attended the De Aston school in Market Rasen (specialist subject "maths and computing", not "funky music with high-pitched squeaks"). He first came to prominence in large-lapelled 70s disco outfit Heatwave, who cropped up on Top of the Pops with disco-whoppers like Boogie Nights, sugary ballads such as Always and Forever, and some interesting outfits. There was "no doubt", Temperton and pals were "here to pardee".

But, fatefully in 1979, Temperton was recruited by Quincy Jones to write for Jackson, and he never looked back. He wrote three songs for Off the Wall and the title track of Thriller, the biggest selling album of all time. As if this wasn't enough, he penned hits for everyone from Donna Summer to Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin to Anita Baker, Herbie Hancock to good ol' Quincy Jones, George Benson to LL Cool J. Remember Stomp! by Brothers Johnson or Masterjam by Rufus? That was Temperton as well. Not bad for a self-taught muso whose first job was in a fish factory in Grimsby.

However, the reclusive, Grammy-winning genius has always shunned the spotlight, is rarely sighted in public and almost never speaks to the media. The few photographs that exist of him depict his appearance changing with an array of hairstyles and moustaches. He is rumoured to own properties around the world – France, Fiji, Kent and an address on LA's exclusive Mulholland Drive – although not, perhaps, in Cleethorpes. North Lincolnshire Council have barely heard of the richest man ever to come from that town.

Temperton did break his silence in 2006 – contributing to a Radio 2 documentary – but only after four years of persuasion. It was fascinating stuff. As a child, Temperton claimed to have been nursed to sleep by the sound of a transistor radio playing Radio Luxembourg in his crib; he learned to drum when he was skiving school, playing along to the testcard on the telly. Switching to keyboards, he joined Heatwave through an ad in Melody Maker. He initially penned up to 300 songs for Jackson and came up with Thriller in the back of a taxi on the way to the studio. Intriguingly, the programme revealed that Temperton kept in touch with his school music teacher, who had visited his home and found him as "unassuming" as ever. And then he retreated to wherever a man goes, when he has filleted fish and worked on an album that sold 40m copies, saying, "I watch telly, catch up on the news, and maybe the phone will ring".

But someone must know where this enigmatic pop machine is, or what he's like. Have you seen Rod Temperton? Do you know someone who knew him? Were you at school with him or did you fillet fish together? Did you know his neighbours or shake it down on the dancefloor with this reclusive disco king? Have you seen him in Bel Air? Or shooting grizzly bear? Or have you ever been on holiday in Cleethorpes and glimpsed a mysterious stranger whistling Off the Wall?

If so, the world needs to know about it. Tell us your Temperton tales!


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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