When they started, they got paid by Prince to record an album, rehearse for a year and play just one gig.
Three decades later, the musicians have regrouped, spent four years (and their own money) putting together their second album and booked five gigs, including a CD release party Friday in the city where the Family was born, Minneapolis.
"The decision [to reunite] was inevitable," Susannah Melvoin said from Los Angeles as she joined co-lead singer Paul Peterson (aka St. Paul) via Skype on Sunday. "No matter how out-of-pocket we've been [moneywise], it's been the best thing for our souls."
"We were always in touch with each other throughout all those years," said Peterson, who lives in Edina. "We enjoy being around each other. We have a lot in common."
She turned 47 this year and he will next month. They each have two daughters. They come from musical families but have been in the shadow of other siblings. (She's the twin of Wendy Melvoin, Prince's ex-guitarist; he's the kid brother of Linda, Billy, Patty and Ricky Peterson, all accomplished jazz figures.) Both have made their living in the music business out of the spotlight: Melvoin as a backup singer (Seal, Roger Waters, Donna Summer) and songwriter (Madonna, Eric Clapton, Doyle Bramhall II) and Peterson as a sideman (Donny Osmond, Kenny Loggins, Oleta Adams), songwriter (Paula Abdul, George Benson, the Corrs) and teacher (Minneapolis Media Institute).
New moniker required
Melvoin and Peterson have put the Family back together but with a new moniker, fDeluxe. That's because of one other thing they have in common -- strained relationships with Prince, who founded the Family in 1985 and still owns the rights to the name. Melvoin was his fiancée and co-writer for a few years but eventually broke off their engagement. Peterson was a Prince protégé, plucked right from high school as a replacement in the Time for the filming of "Purple Rain" and groomed for the Family but he left for a solo career that included two national releases that didn't exactly take off.
So when it came time to ask permission to resurrect the Family, Peterson had a long visit at Paisley Park. "It was a good conversation," he said, referring to it as more man-to-man than mentor-to-pupil. But Prince said "no" --the same message he delivered to Melvoin when she reached out to him.
The new fDeluxe album, "Gaslight" -- which also features original Family members Eric Leeds (who has worked with Prince, Estaire Godinez, Sheila E and others) on saxophone and Jellybean Johnson (who still tours with Morris Day & the Time) on drums and guitar -- is both a continuation of the Family and a journey in new directions. In other words, it's got plenty of sanctified funk, dreamy pop, soulful duets and jazzy saxophone.
"I would say we paid 20 percent [attention] to the history of the Family record and the other 80 percent was really Paul and myself putting ourselves into a fully realized band," Melvoin said.
For the concerts (including gigs in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York), fDeluxe will feature material from both "Gaslight" and "The Family," including the R&B hit "Screams of Passion" and "Nothing Compares 2 U," which Prince wrote for Melvoin, long before he gave it to Sinéad O'Connor.
?uestlove is big fan
Another member of Prince's royal court, Sheila E, is actually responsible for the Family reunion. In 2003, she invited the group to appear at a charity benefit in San Francisco. "It was so satisfying, so musically nourishing, so free," Melvoin recalled. "We had one hour of rehearsal and Paul and I just got offstage and we were like 'Let's go finish what we started.'"
But it turned out that she was pregnant. So nothing happened until 2007, when the Roots invited the Family to play at their annual pre-Grammys party. "When I met [Roots leader/drummer] ?uestlove, he was bowing in front of me and I had no idea why," Melvoin said. "He said 'The Family' was like one of his top 10 favorite records in the world."
Peterson traveled periodically to Los Angeles, staying in Melvoin's garage, which has a recording studio where they hatched a new album. Fans have helped underwrite the project and in turn got to hear demo tapes and watch some of the recording sessions via the Internet.
Melvoin and Peterson would like to get a copy of "Gaslight" to Prince.
"Prince was the great author of all these bands that are books in his life," she said. "This particular book he put together unfortunately didn't get finished. We took the characters and we're finishing the story. We are the authors of our own lives. We're not trying to impress Prince in any way. This record wasn't made for him; this record was made completely for us and our fans."