When local disc jockey Kyle Ray introduced Prince’s debut concert at the Capri Theater in north Minneapolis earlier this month, he hallelujahed in the tradition of Muhammad Ali: “The power and the glory, the Minneapolis story — PRINCE.”
He wasn’t just fanning the audience. At 18, this young black wizard from the Twin Cities plays countless instruments, and wrote, arranged, produced, played and sang everything on his first album. He is indeed powerful.
Another new album has been written, and is ready for production sometime this winter, and when a tour that Warner Brothers is preparing for him commences, Prince will stand realistically on glory’s doorstep.
His prodigious talents drew four Warner Brothers executives from California to his premier engagement here. Coming all the way from the sunny west coast to the frozen, below zero confines of Minnesota, the record moguls reportedly left the Twin Cities satisfied that their “client” could perform well with a band and entertain with a great degree of professionalism. They left convinced, in other words, that Prince is going to be a star.
Sitting quietly at a friend’s house before a practice session with his new band, Prince quickly dismissed any talk of stardom and the particulars that accompany it.
“I don’t think about it,” he said in a low voice which sometimes is almost a whisper. “It’s all just part of the dream factory. If it happens, it happens. It’s best not to even worry about that, ‘cuz if you strive for it and don’t get it, you’ll be disappointed and feel like a failure.”
Even with that kind of mature realism working in his favor, though, Prince is already conscious of the effect he might have once he begins the rounds as a full-time performer. Dressed like Jimi Hendrix on opening night, and wearing his hair in falling braids for the interview, it was hard not to think of him as another Stevie Wonder.
He admitted, somewhat unabashedly, that he would like “to appeal to as many people as possible and keep them on his side.” He may not be thinking about stardom, but his strategy is geared toward that end.
Prince is the sixth youngest in a family of ten, mother and father included. His father plays piano and writes music, and at one time performed in a swing band.
“My dad called my piano playing ‘banging,’ and didn’t pay much attention to it. I guess I was seven then. I never really listened to music, either, and I still don’t very much. There’s never nothin’ I can get into. If I listen to a record, I head something that I’d like to do differently, and I become too critical of it. You shouldn’t be that way, ‘cuz the group took their time and effort and worked on it. I’d rather just do my own thing.”
Doing what pleased him, Prince picked up instrument after instrument and mastered them all. His high school days at Minneapolis Central thoroughly bored him, and once his music teachers discovered they had a monster talent on their hands, they left him completely alone.
“They’d just lock me in a room, once they understood what I was doing. I skipped school a lot, but I graduated early; dismissal was my favorite time of day. I believe in teachers, but not for me. Anything creative I don’t think can be taught, otherwise you get somebody else’s style; it’s not yours, it’s theirs.”
Undoubtedly, this philosophy propelled Prince in the recording studio at Sound 80 where he began work on his debut record, For You. He literally took charge of the whole process. Calling him self-reliant is a gross understatement.
The demo tapes from For You were taken to a number of record companies before Warner Brothers agreed to give Prince what he wanted: a sizable advance and full control of the production, playing, singing, and arrangement on the LP.
“I’ve written 20 songs for the next album, and I think Warners is going to let me handle all of the record again. I didn’t have any particular thing I was trying to accomplish on the first record — I was just putting down what I heard in my head. I wouldn’t say the second one will be like the first, but it’ll sound like me,” Prince said, toying with a tambourine.
His debut concerts surprised many. He and his five piece band chose to play a heavy metallic series of songs mixed in with the “soft and wet” textures that color the disco and funk pieces on For You.
“I like to play a lot of guitar. That heavy sound goes better in concert than it does on record. I guess synthesizer is my favorite instrument now, and that’s part of the reason for two keyboard players. I really like working with this band, and I’m gonna do an album with them where everyone writes and I’m just there playing with them. They’re really great individually as well as collectively.”
Despite Warner Brothers’ attempt to solicit L.A. musicians, Prince finally settled on Minnesota talent. The record company flew him out to Los Angeles with Bobby Z., a drummer from Minneapolis, and a local bass guitarist Andre, a longtime friend and a great showman himself. The three of them spent a couple of tedious days auditioning players.
Gail Chapman, keyboard player in the band, moved from Duluth where she had played with “eight commercial-sounding groups,” and met a cousin of Prince’s while living on the northside. She jammed with Prince, and eventually was invited to join. “This whole band was formed from jamming,” Bobby noted.
Dez Dickerson got his job after playing just 15 minutes with Prince, while the other keyboard player, Matt Fink, persistently called Prince’s former management company six months before the band even formed.
Prince’s quiet manner may be the ideal stance in the face of the towering music industry, where talent is often less important than the machinations of the biz.
“The music end of my life I’ll probably always do, but not the business end,” said Prince softly. “I hate plane rides, too. I’d rather stay at home and rehearse, or play in the studio by myself. I like the quiet here in Minneapolis, and nobody bothers me; I’ll always keep a place here.”
The multi-talented prodigy, who once dreamed of becoming a cowboy or a fireman, lives alone with a couple of pet alligators, and chooses not to make the scene very much. He’s still under age for most bars in this state.
“I used to hang out at the Infinity (a St. Louis Park disco which recently closed) but I’d rather hear loud, live music if I go out at all. Actually, I spend a lot of time in the bathtub thinking. Music and playing is almost like breathing for me,” he said shyly in the low voice that belies his performing falsetto.
Prince plans to play here again soon, once the tour is set. “But before I can do that, I have to go to New York and L.A. and that means more plane rides,” he winced. Since his career might rest on the wings of those planes, I urged him to get used to it. “Well, I may not stay in music, you know. If I get bored, I may become an artist, a painter — I do that too. Or I might become a janitor or something else,” he shrugged.
Given Prince’s age and his remarkable abilities, it’s safer to assume that “the Minneapolis story” will spend more time in the air and on the airways than he will mopping up.”