André Cymone wasn’t ready. He didn’t want to participate in a tribute concert to Prince, his childhood friend and former bandmate.
“It was way too soon,” he said, recalling a phone call this spring from Bobby Z, drummer for Prince & the Revolution. “Bobby doesn’t take no for an answer. He asked me four or five [different] times. I asked my crew [his kids]. They called him Uncle Prince.”
Cymone agreed to get involved with three concerts by the Revolution this week in Minneapolis.
Cymone, who grew up in Minneapolis but moved to Los Angeles in 1985, had to do some homework before he joined rehearsals in L.A. He had to learn the songs — the bass (the role he played with Prince), guitar and lead vocal parts because he didn’t know what would be asked of him.
He also had a confession to make: After he left Prince’s band in 1981, Cymone stopped listening to Prince’s albums.
“I never heard ‘Controversy,’ ‘1999’ and ‘Parade’ till four weeks ago,” he admitted. “I was blown away. His personality — his jokes — is all over that stuff.”
Cymone has plenty of stories to tell, including how Prince left his autograph on a basement vent in the house on Russell Avenue N. where he lived with Cymone’s family during high school. And the signature is still there.
On Aug. 13 at an invitation-only memorial service at Paisley Park, Cymone told some childhood stories about Prince. On Sept. 20, Cymone will release an EP, “Black Man in America.” In 2014, he performed at First Avenue to promote “The Stone,” his first album in 29 years.
“Prince and myself, we had our issues,” said Cymone, 58. “But we always came together. He’d call me before ‘Sign o’ the Times’ and play it and ‘what do you think?’ I had a song called ‘Let’s Get Crazy’ with Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King and he called and said ‘I got a song ‘Let’s Go Crazy.’ I don’t want you to think I took it from you.’”
While Cymone last talked to Prince in 2014, guitarist Dez Dickerson, who joined Cymone in Prince’s band in 1978, talked to the rock star three weeks before he died. Prince called him to talk business.
Dickerson, 61, who has a marketing company in Nashville, was en route to his fourth-grade stepson’s parent/teacher conference when his cellphone lit up with messages like “Is it true?”
“We found out what happened by googling,” Dickerson said of Prince’s death. “I had to excuse myself during the meeting to do two interviews from the school parking lot.”
Dickerson, who also rehearsed with the Revolution in Los Angeles — Melvoin replaced him in the band in 1983 — thinks the First Avenue concerts will have a higher purpose for the musicians and the fans.
“My feeling,” he said, “is you can’t keep from seeking catharsis in times of sorrow or tragedy — or anything unexpected.”