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Valley native preps for ‘Fallon’ gig

Howland grad to perform in Paris Jackson’s band

Warren native Michael O’Grady remembers watching the late night talk shows with his parents — “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” with his dad, “Late Show with David Letterman” with his mom.

On Tuesday he’ll be the one on late night television, playing guitar in Paris Jackson’s band on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” on NBC.

It won’t be the Howland High School graduate’s first television appearance. In 2014-15 he was part of the band North of Nine, which was managed by former “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson, and appeared on “The Today Show.”

That experience won’t make Tuesday any easier, he said during a telephone interview from Los Angeles.

“No matter how many times I do this, it’s like a rollercoaster,” O’Grady said. “I’m so nervous leading up to it. The hope is, once you get over that apex, that hill, Oh now I can start having fun … I know how this rodeo works, but what makes it so nerve-wracking for me is how much ‘The Tonight Show’ and late-night TV mean to me … It’s a thing that’s ingrained in a lot of our systems. You just grow up with that on your TV screen. This is huge. That’s what makes it nerve wracking.”

Jackson, daughter of the late “King of Pop” Michael Jackson, hired O’Grady to play guitar in her band in February. Two of his friends already were playing with her, and the four of them were hanging out together at another friend’s show.

“She was talking to my buddies that they needed a guitar player — ‘Why don’t we ask O’Grady,’ they said.”

O’Grady’s first gigs with Jackson were at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, in March.

“I had a good amount of time (to learn the guitar parts),” O’Grady said. “You get the material well in advance, figure out what you’re gonna do, what parts you’re gonna play. For that first run, we had two days of rehearsals, and then the next day it was off to the races on a flight to Austin.”

The biggest crowd they’ve had so far was opening the Massachusetts music festival Boston Calling in May.

“I was in awe of how much fun that was,” he said. “We were the very first act on the very first day. I thought we’d be playing just in front of the sound guy, but we had a great crowd.”

O’Grady posted some videos on social media from that show, and it’s clear from the interaction on stage that Jackson isn’t one of those solo acts who keeps all the focus on herself and her musicians in the background. He compared it to Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Jackson is the clear front person, but she’s made the band an integral part of the live show.

Jackson will perform her new single, “Lighthouse,” on Fallon and then the band will play a sold-out show at New York’s Mercury Lounge the following night. Other things are in the works, but nothing he can talk about yet.

Playing with Jackson isn’t his only project. O’Grady can be heard on “(Not) the Best I Ever Had,” the new single by singer / actor Zach Villa. He also formed a band with some of his friends during the pandemic called Mechanical Roots.

“We’ve been releasing singles and plan to go on tour at the end of the year,” he said.

It’s all part of the dream that led him to Los Angeles 12 years ago when he was 21.

“I liked growing up where I grew up, but I always wanted to go to L.A.,” O’Grady said. “Watching movies like ‘Almost Famous’ or bands like Guns N’ Roses or The Doors and you’re just like, ‘I’m gonna go to California.’ At that time, I was like, if I’m gonna do it, I gotta do it now or else I’m not gonna do it. Take the plunge. Take the leap.”

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