His first gig with Prince was in front of 90,000 at the Los Angeles Coliseum where the bikini-clad rocker was booed off the Rolling Stones stage. Things got better — and worse — for the 19-year-old gang-avoiding, fast-car-loving Minneapolis bassist.
Starting in 1981, Mark Brown — renamed BrownMark by the Purple One — spent six years with Prince, traveling the world in luxury, seeing all of his lines of dialogue cut out of the movie “Purple Rain” and literally having the stage lights go dark on him during later tours.
Brown was branching out, producing and managing the wild-boy Twin Cities funk-rock band Mazarati, which recorded “Kiss” before Prince pulled it back for himself. The bassist turned in his resignation but still did another tour with Prince & the Revolution in ’86. Hoping to become a producer and songwriter, he signed with Motown, which envisioned him becoming a recording artist like his ex-boss.
Since mid-2016, Brown has been back with the Revolution, performing around the world. He was known as the quiet one in the band. But the 58-year-old speaks his mind in “My Life in the Purple Kingdom.” We caught up with him while he was driving his friend’s SUV from Atlanta, where he lives, to Los Angeles.
On why he wrote the book
Brown actually began the book about 14 or 15 years ago upon the advice of his psychiatrist at the time. “It’s like my own therapy — cathartic,” the musician said.
In 2014, Prince wanted to read the manuscript before Brown published it. “He was funny about anybody writing anything. But I let him know: ‘The book ain’t about you; you’re in it because I was in your life,’ ” the bassist said.
So he waited until after Prince died in 2016 to look for a publisher.
On co-writer Cynthia M. Uhrich
Wanting to “make sure it read well,” Brown turned to Uhrich, a St. Paul writer/producer/director, about three years ago. “She actually changed my voice in it, took on a bigger role than I wanted her to, turned it into almost like a female voice,” he said. Brown then reworked the manuscript with editors at University of Minnesota Press.
On what he learned about himself
“I learned that life is not fair. If you want something, you’ve got to make choices: You can roll with the punches or you can get out. I chose to hang in there and absorb as much as I could being in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
On what he learned from Prince
Coming from a job at 7-Eleven and a band called Phantasy, Brown said Prince taught him about work ethic and self-determination. “At the same time, there was a lot of pain that came with it,” he reflected. “It taught me a lot of humility. Don’t always take such a hardheaded approach.”
On what he’s proudest of
“I’m proud that I never let the game get to me to where it changed who I was as a person and where I come from. I always remembered who I was. I’m proud of the fact that I was able to contribute to some of the biggest hits in this nation’s history.”
His “side hustle” band that he managed and produced had a minor R&B hit in 1986 with “100 MPH.” But Brown feels he made a mistake in signing the group to Prince’s Paisley Park Records. He was busy on tour with the Purple One and unable to supervise Mazarati on its tour; he later got billed $50,000 from Paisley for tour support.
“I spent a half a million dollars on that band,” Brown said. Last year, he tried to put them back together, with a gig at Muse in Minneapolis. “I spent $45,000 and I got nothing but backlash.”
On his solo career
Never wanting to be a solo recording star, Brown signed with Motown hoping to be a songwriter/producer but “got thrown into this artist position. They wanted me to be like Prince and produce myself. I just wasn’t that skilled then.”
On being the quiet one in the band
“In the early days, I didn’t say anything. I had to learn my place. Once I figured [Prince] out, I learned that he had more respect for a person who speaks their mind than a brown-noser. So, I started to speak my mind and I didn’t care what he or anybody else felt.”
On reuniting with the Revolution
Since he had left without explanation in ’86, reuniting with the Revolution 30 years later was “helpful for me to heal my past. It was also very helpful to each other to mourn the loss of Prince. He was a big brother to us. Like any family, you fight. We were like the Brady Bunch — we had great times, we had bad times.
“When I was living down in Florida, Prince would call me out of the blue and we’d talk till 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. We had that weird bond. Getting back with the Revolution, it closed that chapter of my life on a good note.”
On the last time he talked to Prince
In August 2012, Prince paid for Brown to come back to Minnesota for a project featuring keyboardist Morris Hayes, drummer John Blackwell and Prince.
“He left me in a hotel room for three days and forgot that he’d called me to come out,” Brown recalled.
At the hotel, the bassist ran into Blackwell, who called Prince, who then invited Brown to Paisley Park to jam. “Prince looked at me and said, ‘Did you bring your guitar?’ I said, ‘Prince, I play bass.’ I thought that was so strange. I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then we go in and jam, and there’s three of us on bass — me, Prince and Ida Nielsen. This is insane. This doesn’t make any sense.”
The band with Brown never happened. Shortly thereafter, Prince formed 3rdEyeGirl with Nielsen, guitarist Donna Grantis and drummer Hannah Ford.