Heart attack survivor Bobby Z wanted to talk about two things close to his heart: His second annual “Benefit 2 Celebrate Life!” and Prince.
“Prince is my best friend, ” said Bobby Z. “I always knew from the very first day I saw him play that he was the greatest entertainer who ever lived. He reaffirmed that [recently] at the Dakota. He was my friend first. He was my boss and he remains my best friend now.”
Bobby Z is thankful for all the prayers of Prince fans who sprang into action in 2011 when a heart attack threatened the Grammy-winning drummer’s life. “I could feel your prayers,” Bobby Z said. “I’d like to thank all the fans for all their support, for all I’ve been through. In the hospital I could feel your prayers, the love. It helps me to this day.”
This brush with death has made him “more appreciative.” To show his gratitude, Bobby Z is doing another musical fundraiser for the American Heart Association.
“To give back last year, we brought together the Revolution for a reunion. You can never top that, but we’re going to try this year at the second annual ‘Benefit 2 Celebrate Life!’ with events Friday and Saturday at First Avenue.
“Friday night we kick it off with just Questlove in the Record Room at First Avenue. What a beautiful friend. He’s doing his DJ set. Saturday we have Alexander O’Neal, Stokley, Nicholas David. That’s just the opening act. And the [SNL alum] Maya Rudolph and Gretchen Lieberum will be ‘Princess,’ which is not a Prince tribute band. They take this very seriously. They will do some amazing Prince songs with a little help from Questlove, Dr. Fink, Dez Dickerson, yours truly. Then we will go into the past with the original Prince backup band including André Cymone. We’re going to have a good old time playing some rock ’n’ roll.” Get more details at Mypurpleheart.org.
The companion startribune.com/video with this interview includes a few frames of me getting my first drum lesson — and from a legend — at Todd Fitzgerald’s Winterland Studios in New Hope. Bobby Z tried to teach me “a basic two-four beat.” Even simple drum riffs are quite a bit more complicated than they appear. “Give yourself some credit. You got it. Pat yourself on the back. Some people can never get it,” said Bobby Z. I only felt as though I sorta got it.
Q As a member of Prince’s first band, the Revolution, are you disappointed that Prince didn’t make you his musicians for life the way Bruce Springsteen has his band mates?
Q Do you feel like you were properly compensated for the Revolution given how successful that band was?
Q Why haven’t more musicians who’ve worked with Prince parlayed that connection into bigger careers?
A I think that you pretty much are responsible for yourself. What you do with him is what you do with him. And what you do without him is on you. If you don’t have your expectations or self-actualization in the right place, you might end up somewhere else than you think you should be. But the public has a funny way of correcting your music career if you think you’re too big for your britches.
Q Aren’t you glad I didn’t wear my buttless breeches today?
A Yeah. I definitely say yes to that.
Q Were you type-cast as an electronic drummer because you played electric drums, as opposed to real drums, for a period of time?
A No. I started out as a drummer, and with Prince we pioneered electronic drums and brought them to be playable. But if you watch the last few tours I did — the “Parade Tour, ” some of those other tours — I was playing the drums to beat the band. I felt very happy being the muse for electronic drums.
Q Do you have a favorite Prince song?
A “Purple Rain” is my favorite Prince song, because it’s “Purple Rain.”
Q Have you ever thought about writing a book about Prince?
Q No? If you outlived him could you write a book about Prince?
Q What accounts for you being such a loyal person?
A My heart.
Q Who are the best drummers going now?
A Well, there are so many. I love the guy who plays for Adele [Derrick Wright]. Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters is absolutely amazing. The drumming on the Foo Fighters is spectacular. My favorite drummer, historically, is John Bonham of Led Zeppelin. I think he changed everything in the way we look at drumming.
Q What makes a drummer good?
A Three elements: Timing — a drummer is nothing more than a human clock. That is what keeps the song going. The way they hit the drums, the tone of the drums. And technique, the ability to play proficiently.
Q Can you imagine Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Rosemary Clooney or Anita O’Day lip-syncing the national anthem at the inauguration?
A Don’t be so hard on those people lip-syncing. Those are big productions, and the weather, and the band — you don’t know all the variables there. Everybody’s picking on ’em like they’re Milli Vanilli. It’s tough to get all that right.
Q Has singing to a recorded track become too much of a crutch for today’s singers?
A If you are a perfectionist and you want it perfect, I don’t know. We all know Beyoncé can sing. To get it perfect for TV? I wouldn’t call it a crutch. On “Saturday Night Live,” if you’re sing to a track, yeah, that’s a crutch.
Q Yeah, Ashlee Simpson, I’m still talking about you.
A I’ll let you say that.
Q Whose version of “Heard It Through the Grapevine” do you prefer — Marvin Gaye’s or Gladys Knight & the Pips’?
A Marvin Gaye.
Q Would you have outlawed the sampling of music if you had that authority?
A No. I think they got it right, eventually, to give credit to the people who made it. Once they figured out, if the songwriters were incorporated in the whole thing, when it gets redone, then I think it’s OK.
Q You’re a rock ’n’ roll drummer married 29 years to Vicki. What’s your secret?
A I started very young, I got to have a great career, and I married the right woman.
Q Which of these singers would be your choice for someone with whom you’d tour: Angela Bofill, Patti Austin or Anita Baker?
A Probably Anita.
Q This is not a Prince question: Who’s a music diva in the best sense of the word?
A Beyoncé. Lately, if you saw that Beyoncé movie, that woman is serious. She is definitely one for the ages.
Q Again, this is not a Prince question: Who is a music diva in the worst sense of the word?
A It’s hard to say what drives people to perfection. I’ll pass on that.
C.J. interviews are edited for space and clarity. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9.