Interview with Deon Estus of Wham! and more

(This interview was originally published October 2, 2010 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)

Deon was my very first interview that I published and I will always be especially grateful that he helped start this awesome run of interviews that followed. Mr. Estus passed away in October of 2021 at the age of 65, so (in addition to being my first) this opportunity to interview him before his passing is even more special to me.

When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the '80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.

This time that awesomeness is Deon Estus. In case you did not already know, he is a singer, bassist and producer who is probably best known for his time playing bass for the legendary '80s band Wham! and then continuing with George Michael on his solo projects. He had a big solo hit in 1989 as well with "Heaven Help Me".

Estus learned to play bass from none other than James Jamerson who was the uncredited bassist on most Motown hits of the '60s/70s and regarded as one of the most influential bass players in modern music history. Estus was on tour with Marvin Gaye and working on what would be Gaye’s last studio album, 1982’s Midnight Love which included his comeback single “Sexual Healing,” when he made the decision to join Wham!. To find out more, let’s just jump into some selections from my interview with Deon Estus

Q: You were born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. How does a kid from Motown end up hooked up with a British pop band like Wham!?

DeonI went to Belgium in 1979 with Marvin Gaye. From there I moved to Dublin, Ireland to work with Bill Weiland. It was there in 1982, I received a call to go meet George Michael. I got the call from George Michael’s publisher, Dick Leahy, about this young Greek guy. They asked me if I could come over and help them write songs, sing, play bass, and get together with him. I flew over to England to see him. We had a great meeting, and we were together ever since. The rest is history.

Wham! is often recognized as the duo of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, but Deon Estus says he “was considered and made to feel as if he was the third member of Wham!.” The band had success earlier in the UK, but it was not until 1984 when they had a hit single with “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and their second album, Make It Big, went to #1 in the U.S. that they took the rest of the planet by storm. That album would also feature hit singles “Careless Whisper,” “Freedom” and “Everything She Wants.” These four pop gems made me (and pretty much everybody else who listened to the radio) take notice. I think my personal Wham! favorite is 1985’s “I’m Your Man” which would appear on the band’s final album Music from the Edge of Heaven. Here’s the video for that song and take notice of the outstanding bass groove courtesy of Deon Estus who also happens to appear several times as well…

Q: What are your favorites of the Wham! hit songs? Is there a song that never was released as a single or just never became a hit that you have always particularly loved?

DeonI liked all the Wham! songs that we did. I especially always loved “Father Figure.” But I even liked some from the earlier albums. “Blue” is one of my favorites along with “Credit Card Baby”.

I also happen to like the song “Blue.” In 1984-1985, Wham! was one of the first western musical groups to perform and tour in China. In case you are not familiar with this song which was recorded live during that tour in China, here they are performing it there…

Q: With the incredible success that Wham! had after just three albums, it was surprising that the band broke up. Was George Michael just that destined to become a superstar that it was inevitable? Did you know already that you would continue working with George on his solo projects?

DeonGeorge was definitely already a star. It was really a natural evolution for him. George and myself wanted to go on and do solo careers. But we also planned on continuing to work together whenever possible. Even though we were doing our own things, yes, I knew that George and I would always work together. And, that's just what we have done though I have had great chance to work with others as well.

George Michael only went on to sell over 100 million records worldwide and release five singles as a solo artist which would hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. In 1987, his first solo album, Faith, went 10x Platinum and featured hits like “I Want Your Sex,” “Faith,” “Father Figure” and “One More Try.” Estus was right there contributing to his friend’s incredible success. Here, at an April 1987 concert, the two perform a fun cover of Len Barry’s 1965 single “1-2-3″ which happened to be a cover that Estus had recorded himself on an earlier project…

Q: Other than with George Michael, any other hits that we might be surprised to hear Deon Estus playing on?

DeonTo name a few- Annie Lennox “Why” (1992) and Tina Turner “Simply the Best” (1989). I worked with Elton John, played bass on the Ice on Fire album (1985).

The biggest hit single from that Elton John album was “Nikita” which not only featured Deon Estus on bass, but also George Michael on backing vocals. The song peaked at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and here’s the video…

Q: I have liked your hit single “Heaven Help Me” since the first time I heard it on the radio. To be honest, I originally thought it was a new song by George Michael with his contributions to it. Your voices both harmonize together well. Any special memories about your 1989 hit?

DeonGeorge Michael and I wrote that song together. We do match up well together and our voices are similar in a lot of ways. It’s another great song that we are both very proud of. I will be forever grateful for his support personally and professionally.

From his 1989 solo album Spell, “Heaven Help Me” which was co-written and features backing vocals by George Michael became a hit. It debuted in February on the Billboard Hot 100 and made it all the way to #5 by April 29th. "Heaven Help Me" also peaked at #3 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart in April of 1989 and #3 on the Billboard R&B chart in May. I consider it one of the most heartbreaking songs of the decade. It is also a timeless song that I still enjoy to this day. Here’s the video for “Heaven Help Me” by Deon Estus…

Q: I assume you still keep in touch with George Michael. Do you keep in touch with Andrew Ridgeley too?

DeonYes, I have spoken to both George and Andrew and look forward to working with George in the future.

Q: Lastly, I know you are out performing, but what else you are up to lately?

DeonI am getting ready for my new album which I am very excited about. I’m sure all the fans will like it. Only Love Is Real.

“Only Love Is Real” is the title of the first single from his upcoming album that is hopefully soon to be released. I definitely am looking forward to hearing his new material. Those are only some excerpts from my interview with Deon Estus and you can find out more at his official website. 

It was a real privilege getting to ask Deon some questions. I want to thank him again for making himself available for his fans and being willing to talk about the past. He is certainly one of the top bass players in the world. He certainly made some major contributions to the great decade of the '80s.

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