Prince believed names were destiny, based on what he told me about name-related connections, such as how first wife Mayte’s name was like Mattie, his mom’s name.
But he didn’t make much of sharing the name Rogers with his recording engineer from 1983-1987.
“I think he mentioned it once maybe,” said Susan Rogers. She had a different name story involving Prince. “One thing I do remember is [Vanity 6’s] Susan Moonsie was at the old house on Kiowa Trail, where he lived when I first went to work for him. I called, ‘Hey Susan,’ and he kind of laughed and said, Is it weird to call someone by the same name as yours? I’ve never had that experience.”
Rogers is a professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she researches the effect of musical training and noise exposure on hearing health. She is helping launch Berklee’s online master’s degree program. Applications for the fall term close Sunday (bit.ly/2KOmS5W).
This is the final installment of my interview with Rogers, who engineered “Purple Rain,” “Around the World in a Day” and all but one song on the “Black Album.” Rogers has heard new music from Prince the rest of us may soon hear.
Q: Are there good things in the vault? Some people theorize that we’ve heard all Prince’s best stuff.
A: Oh, my friend. Oh, my friend. If you had heard the tapes that I heard just a few hours ago. It made me cry. It was that good.
Q: What tape did you hear?
A: It may or may not have been public knowledge. There will be some upcoming recordings that will be released this year and they are in the works right now. There’s a recording of a set of songs with just Prince on piano. It was recorded before I joined him. And when you hear how good he was at age 25 — when you hear the jazz influences in his piano playing, the blues that he’s capable of, his timing, his phrasing — it will knock you out because you have to realize, this is a young man from Minneapolis. Minneapolis is not a music industry town, it’s a musicians’ town without a doubt. Here’s this kid who came up out of non-music industry environment and yet is showing the depth of some of the world-class greats, at age 25. He was a once-in-a-lifetime musician.
Q: You were kind of on call when you worked for him?
A: No. Well yes. On call. I was his full-time employee, which meant that there were no fixed hours. Full-time employees, and that included his band, our job was to be wherever he needed us to be whenever. He recorded pretty much every day. He played everything. He always had an instrument in his hand and if he had an instrument in his hand he wanted some sort of recording device running. So we recorded many rehearsals. The folks going through his archives right now know that. [He] both videotaped them and then just made audio recordings, so that he could listen to them and refine arrangements and have his band learn from them. He recorded constantly in the ’80s.
Q: Was Prince one of those people with a tape recorder next to his bed so he could put ideas in the recorder or did he go straight into the studio?
A: A little bit of both. He had, lots of us had them because they were really popular, these little boom boxes. They were really cute. They were different pastel colors. His was a pastel purple, mine was mint green. He was popping in cassettes all the time because it also had a built-in microphone. A little mono mike. [Laughs] There have been some really poor-quality recordings floating around and some of them he did himself when no one else was around because we all had to sleep sometime. He’d set up that boom box on the piano, put in a fresh cassette and then just try out different ideas. A perfect example would be the song “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker.” He was asleep, he had this funny dream and he called me. He wanted get this song down as fast as possible. That was typical.
Q: Did you get to keep your little boom box when you left?
A: That poor old thing, nah. It broke long ago; that was 35 years ago. Who knows where it is. I wish I had kept it.
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.