Allen Beaulieu’s newly published “Prince: Before the Rain” ($29.95, Minnesota Historical Society Press) – the third posthumous Prince photo book – is of historic importance.
A Minneapolis fashion photographer, he was in Prince’s orbit in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. Beaulieu photographed Prince onstage, offstage and in photo studios. He shot the album covers of Prince’s “Dirty Mind” and “Controversy,” as well as covers of “The Time” and “Vanity 6.” He also did publicity photos and posters for Prince and associated acts like the Time, Vanity 6 and Jesse Johnson.
With more than 300 color and black-and-white photos, “Before the Rain” is a crazy quilt of pre-Purple images.
The posed photos suggest an artist trying to craft an image and mystique. There’s Prince in a trench coat with a can of spray paint doing graffiti. There’s Prince in a shower in bikini briefs with a crucifix by the running shower head. There’s Prince with a bandanna over his mouth, sucking his thumb through the bandanna.
More fun and historic are the offstage moments. Prince in his bikini briefs with his band in a dressing room. Prince laughing backstage with Vanity. Prince driving a vintage car in the L.A. Coliseum when he opened for the Rolling Stones.
Less compelling but equally historic are the onstage moments during the tours behind the “Dirty Mind,” “Controversy” and “1999” albums. Clearly, Beaulieu was not experienced at photographing fast-moving musicians in concert. While too many of the photos are blurry, they do capture crucial vintage performances, with Beaulieu having access that other photographers did not.
The 214-page book features a foreword by ex-Prince guitarist Dez Dickerson, commentary by Minneapolis critic Jim Walsh and interviews with Beaulieu.
In one story, Beaulieu, then also a guitarist in a garage band called Chapter Five, talks about jamming one night with Prince. Beaulieu claims he came up with the guitar riff that was later featured in the hit “Let’s Go Crazy.” They even recorded it – sans lyrics -- at Prince’s house in Chanhassen, and he gave a cassette copy to Beaulieu. Where’s the tape?
Beaulieu will discuss that and other crazy moments with Prince at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Electric Fetus in south Minneapolis. Walsh will facilitate, Dickerson will participate and Curtiss A will perform.