New Power Generation musical director and keyboard player Morris Hayes is the longest-tenured member of Prince’s former backing band.
Hayes lasted because he realized there was more than one Prince, ah, mind-set.
The high standards Prince demanded — “the lessons” — are ingrained in Hayes’ psyche. “Respect the music and respect the situation [and that included rehearsals],” said Hayes. “That’s all he always asked us to do. Always represent 110 [percent] like he would.”
The current configuration of NPG, which holds the Paisley Park license for the name, has been here and abroad on its “Celebrating Prince” tour. Vocalist Mackenzie, who made his debut as a member on a recent trip to Australia, was with NPG when it played at the Dakota during the Super Bowl.
Don’t expect to see Mackenzie or Hayes at “Celebration 2018” Paisley Park events honoring Prince on the second anniversary of his death. It concludes Friday with a Target Center screening of remastered video and audio of Prince accompanied by some of the musicians who performed with him. This is Part 1 of 2 of our Q & A.
Q: How did you get hired by Prince?
A: The CliffsNotes version of the story is, Prince was on tour around the mid ’80s and I was working with a band in Memphis called Fingerprint. In typical Prince fashion, they saw the band I played with and they came over and said, We see a lot of bands playing our music but y’all are the only ones who play it like us. You don’t butcher it. It’s kind of cool to see somebody who plays it like the record because we see some terrible renditions of stuff. Mark Brown [aka Brown Mark] and Craig Rice took our numbers and let us open for them in a few shows. In ’88 I came to Minneapolis, they had an opening at Glam Slam. I was in the house band and then he took us on the road with Carmen Electra and I made the jump from Carmen to him in 1992.
Q: You’re the longest-tenured member of NPG?
A: Yep. Close to 20 years.
Q: How did you attain the kind of longevity others dreamed of with Prince?
A: You know what, I was pretty much the worst keyboard player he had, but I came to understand him. I theorized that there were five of him. I would study the different versions of Prince. There was what I call “The Purple Rain Prince” I first saw when I went to the movies and I thought that’s what Prince was. When I got in the band, there was this really tough band leader and I was like, “Oooh, this guy is mean. Woooo, he’s rough.” That’s No. 2. No. 3 was the guy [who] was the basketball playing [character], talk about each other’s mommas and joke around. And then there was the sad Prince, the one [who] was having a bad day — so you’re going to have a bad day. The other one  was the guy [who] would give you the shirt off his back. What I started doing was, before I would say anything, I would see who showed up today. Then I’d be like, “OK No. 2 is here. If you’re not on your A-Game, you’re going to have a headache today.” That really helped me … I’d just let him talk and everything was like, “I know what I’m dealing with today,” and I stayed.
Q: You were inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame?
A: It was so cool. I didn’t know we had one.
Q: When did you find out Arkansas had a Black Hall of Fame?
A: Somebody told me: YOU’VE BEEN NOMINATED and I was like, “What?” What was more crazy was when I found out how many people were from my state: Ne-yo’s from there; Maya Angelou [lived there]. There was another lady who was one of the inspirations for “Hidden Figures,” [Raye] Montague [a U.S. Navy sub engineer/designer]. She is amazing. She has a photographic memory.
Q: You were born with piano player fingers?
A: It would appear. I thought I was going to be more in the art world than the music world.
Q: You were born to be a painter?
A: Yeah, painter and art. I got a college scholarship for it. Pretty cool.
C.J. can be reached at email@example.com and seen on FOX 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.