IN THE BEGINNING
Prince Rogers Nelson was born June 7, 1958, at Mount Sinai
Hospital in Minneapolis to Mattie Shaw and John Nelson. They had
been in a jazz ensemble called the Prince Roger Trio. Since Mattie
called her husband Prince, she dubbed her son Skipper "because he
was small in size and he was just real cute - he was a darling baby."
- HIS MOTHER (Star Tribune interview, 1984): He could hear music
even from a very early age. When he was 3 or 4, we'd go to the
department store and he'd jump on the radio, the organ, any type of
instrument there was. Mostly the piano and organ. I'd have to hunt
for him, and that's where he'd be - in the music department.
- PRINCE (Star Tribune interview, 1978): Around the time I was 8,
I had a pretty good idea what the piano was all about. I had one
piano lesson and two guitar lessons as a kid. I was a poor student,
because when a teacher would be trying to teach me how to play
junky stuff, I would start playing my own songs. I'd usually get
ridiculed for it, but I ended up doing my own thing. I can't read
music. It hasn't gotten in the way yet. Maybe it will later, but I
- JIMMY JAM: We were at Bryant Junior High. I was a year younger
than him. We were in a band to back up the choir at school. I was
gonna play drums, and I knew Prince played keyboards. He showed up
at practice and picks up a guitar and plays, note for note, the
intricate solo from Chicago's "Make Me Smile." I made the mistake
of getting up from the drums, and he sat there and he killed 'em.
He had the biggest Afro in the world - that wasn't fair, either.
- PRINCE (on "Larry King Live," 1999): [Minnesota] was
interesting because I grew up getting a wider array of music. I
grew up with Santana and Larry Graham and Fleetwood Mac, all kinds
of different things.
In 1976 Chris Moon, a south Minneapolis studio proprietor and
aspiring lyricist, hired Prince and other musicians to record music
for a slide show.
- BOBBY Z (drummer): Prince was playing the piano. It was an
upright or spinet - a small thing. It was moving, waving like a
cartoon, responding to his fingertips. The music was rich and full.
I never heard anything like that. I'd never seen anyone play the
piano like that. I was taken immediately.
Moon gave Prince a key to the studio so he could work at night.
They unsuccessfully pitched a demo tape to record labels, then
turned to Owen Husney, a concert promoter who also owned an ad
agency. Husney raised $50,000 from investors to support Prince
until he could land a record contract. To record a second demo, he
enlisted Bobby Z's brother, Minneapolis recording engineer David
Rivkin (later David Z), who had recorded Prince's band Grand
Central in 1975.
- DAVID Z: He did all the instruments. He had a little cassette
machine into which he'd hummed each part. The horn part, the guitar
part - he had it all separated. It was really evolved. He was 16,
17 years old. When anyone came in the studio while he was singing,
he wanted me to turn the light off because he didn't want anybody
to look at him. [My wife] came in while he was singing "Soft and
Wet," and he was a little embarrassed. He got over that shyness,
that's for sure.
- BOBBY Z: My day job was a runner for Owen's ad company, but my
job became basically to take care of Prince. He didn't drive. I
took him to get his license eventually. We found an apartment. We
bought musical gear. We'd hang out in my Pinto station wagon. We
went to a Santana concert at Northrop. We would move the furniture
around at [Husney's] office, and we'd jam until dawn almost every
night. It was Andre [Anderson, later Cymone], me and Prince most of
- OWEN HUSNEY: We put together 15 press kits and sent out seven
or eight to the major labels. The first marketing move was I put
his age back a year. I knew if he was worth so much at 18, he was
worth that much more at 17. I knew that he was shy, so the second
marketing move was that less is more. I didn't want any press
clippings or 8 million pictures. I just wanted one line [of copy].
The music would speak for itself. We also wanted to be different.
L.A. at that time was jeans; open, untucked shirts, and cowboy
boots. We were all wearing three-piece suits; we had one made for
Prince, too. And we sent the tape on a silver reel - it was
reel-to-reel, not cassette.
Husney refused offers from A&M and Columbia and opted for Warner
Bros. because its executives agreed to give Prince artistic freedom
and let him produce his debut. But first, they wanted to see him
- LENNY WARONKER (Warner Bros. VP): You could not only tell there
was talent but there was a vision. He went out and played guitar,
then overdubbed drums. By the time the drum part was recorded, it
was clear. We didn't want to insult him by making him go through
the whole process, but he wanted to finish. As I was walking
through the studio, he was on the floor. He looked up and said,
"Don't make me black." I thought, "Whoa!" He said, "My idols are
all over the place." He named an array that was so deep in terms of
scope of music that for an 18-year-old kid to say what he said was
amazing. That, as much as anything, made me feel that we shouldn't
mess around with this guy.
CREATING A CONTROVERSY
Prince began recording at the Record Plant in Sausalito, Calif.,
with veteran engineer Tommy Vicari.
- OWEN HUSNEY: Lenny and Mo [Ostin, head of Warner Bros.] came up
to the studio in San Francisco to listen. Prince didn't really want
them up there, and I'm trying my best to keep them happy. We're
listening to the playback of "So Blue." Lenny goes, "Great song,
but there's no bass." Prince turns around and says, "That's it.
Everybody out. Get out." I turned white. I thought, "It's all
over." We go shuffling out of the studio. Lenny said, "Don't worry
about it. The song is great. I get where he's coming from. I'm with him."
- DAVID Z: Prince is a great practical joker. We were all staying
in the same house, and one night Tommy Vicari was out with his
girlfriend. We took some of Owen's clothes, stuffed them full of
leaves. Prince put a knife in the back of this shirt and we laid it
on the floor of Tommy's bedroom. Tommy comes home about 4, 5 in the
morning, and he flipped out. We were downstairs playing Pong. We
laughed our asses off.
- OWEN HUSNEY: Prince and Andre were jamming at a music store in
San Francisco, and members of Santana's band invited them to meet
Carlos. We open the door: It's an all-white house with all-white
carpeting. Carlos says, "Come in, please. Please take off your
shoes." I said, "Prince, you gotta remove your boots." He said, "I
don't remove my boots for anyone." He walks across the carpeting
and I see this trail of mud, and I'm cleaning up the mud while
they're in there talking.
One day Prince comes home [from the recording studio] all excited
because he met Chaka Khan. She called up and asked, "Is Sly [Stone]
there?" Prince happened to answer the phone and he said, "Yeah,
baby, this is Sly. Do you want to come down?" About two hours later
- this is like 2 in the morning - she opens the door and sees
Prince. She says, "Where's Sly?" He goes, "Ha, ha, ha. That was
me." I guess she cussed him out. And irony of ironies, she has one
of her biggest hits a few years later with one of his songs.
After $150,000 was spent on recording, Prince's "For You" was
released in April 1978.
- BOB MERLIS (Warner Bros. head of publicity): He did an
interview with a woman at Record World. They talked about whatever,
then he asked her: "Does your pubic hair go up to your navel?" At
that moment, we thought maybe we shouldn't encourage him to do
- OWEN HUSNEY: We were visiting radio stations and no one had any
money, so Prince and I were sharing hotel rooms. Prince always had
to have music on loud all night. It was the only way he could
sleep. I remember in San Francisco, he was sound asleep, the clock
radio is blaring at 4 in the morning. I reached over and hit the
off button. He shot up and said, "Never, ever turn off the radio.
Music soothes the savage beast." He hits the radio and turns it
back on, and he's sound asleep.
Prince's single "Soft and Wet," co-written with Chris Moon,
became a Top 10 R&B hit. It was time to put together a band to
perform his music on the road. Many musicians tried out, including
Jimmy Jam, who was rejected.
- BOBBY Z: We started to audition in L.A. He liked to jam. Not a
lot of talking - the talking is through the music. This keyboard
player looked at his watch and that was pretty much it for him.
There was one guitar player that they liked, but I think he made
some reference in the limo about doing drugs. We didn't call him
back. We were on a mission.
- RICKY PETERSON (keyboardist): I'd go over and jam with them for
weeks and weeks. They wanted me in the band, but they'd say, "This
is what you can't do: You can't drink; you have to show up on time
. . . " A light went off in my head that said, "This sounds like
horrible boot camp." I didn't know what his career was going to be
because he didn't have one. I said "no" to Prince.
- BOBBY Z: Keyboard players are the hardest to find because of
the technology and what Prince's music was. My friend Matt Fink
came to audition. The first words out of Prince's mouth were:
"Let's do `So Blue.' " Matt goes, "I didn't learn that one." Prince
bursts out laughing: "There's no keyboards on there." Their
relationship was funny like that.
Fink and Bobby Z became part of an all-Minnesota band. Their
first two shows were at the Capri Theater in north Minneapolis in
January 1979. Warner Bros. officials flew in to see the second.
- DEZ DICKERSON (guitarist): We were still individuals and not a
band yet. Prince was real down on himself. I remember us
encouraging him, "Put it behind you. We did fine."
- MATT FINK: He was still learning, still developing what he was
going to do stage-wise. It went OK, but I don't think it went well
enough for Warners to say, "You guys are ready to go out on the
road." So they had him do another album, and in the meantime we
rehearsed like crazy for many months.
They finally hit the road after the 1979 release of "Prince,"
which included the falsetto-fueled hit "I Wanna Be Your Lover."
- MATT FINK: The Rick James tour was the first big tour, the
first where we were the opening act for a big headliner. I was
wearing a jail suit - you know, black-and-white stripes, because it
went well with the keyboards. But Rick [James] would come out in
this black-and-white jumpsuit that was Velcroed so he could tear
out of it. Prince came to me and said, "I think we need to change
your image. What was your second choice?" I racked my brain, came
across the doctor idea, and he said, "Ah ha!" So they sent out the
wardrobe people to a uniform shop. And that night, I became Doctor Fink.
Keyboardist Gayle Chapman dropped out of the band, so L.A.
keyboardist Lisa Coleman submitted a tape to Prince's new managers,
Cavallo, Ruffalo & Fargnoli, who had worked with Sly Stone and
Earth, Wind & Fire.
- LISA COLEMAN: He sent for me to come out to Minneapolis. I was
fresh out of high school. Prince picked me up at the airport in his
little Fiat sports car. He even let me smoke in his car. I don't
think his ashtray had ever been used. He was really romancing me.
We got to his house and went downstairs. He pointed me to the
piano and said, "You can go play, and I'll be right back." I knew
he was spying on me. I had been working on a Mozart concerto, so I
started playing some of that. He came bounding down the stairs.
Then he picked up a guitar, and we started jamming; I think he
actually played "Party Up."
I stayed the weekend in a spare bedroom. When I looked around the
house, he had the "A Star Is Born" poster - Kris Kristofferson and
Barbra Streisand - on his wall in the bedroom. I thought that was
so cute - boy rock 'n' roll.
The band was invited on TV's "American Bandstand," where Prince
gave the host the silent treatment.
- DEZ DICKERSON: Dick Clark came into the Green Room and did his
cordial thing: He's everybody's friend and puts everybody at ease.
After he left, I saw that look on Prince's face that meant: Uh oh,
something's coming. He said, "This is what we're going to do. When
Dick Clark talks to you, don't say anything." My heart sank. But it
ended up being considered pure genius. And Dick Clark talks about
it to this day.
- PRINCE (Star Tribune interview, 1980): That tripped me out when
Dick Clark asked how I come from Minneapolis, of all places. That
really gave me an attitude. TV personalities are hard to talk to.
They come out of certain bags. Music is music. A place is a place.
In the fall of 1980, Prince released "Dirty Mind," a raw record
with songs about incest and oral sex.
- MATT FINK: The "Dirty Mind" album was a critical success, but
the fans weren't quite ready for it. It was R&B, new wave, punk,
funk and rock all mishmashed together. It was so innovative and
different, it threw people for a loop.
- DEZ DICKERSON: We had morphed into the Spandex kids. We were
trying to dress as outrageously and outlandishly as we could. We
were doing two shows at the Roxy in L.A. Between shows, [manager]
Bob Cavallo came back and went through his list of critiques. For
Prince, it was, "You're wearing these Spandex pants with no
underwear. It's obscene." When Bob left, Prince got that look on
his face. He said, "Bob wanted me to wear underwear, so I'll wear
underwear." So he went out in his underwear. Period.
Prince kept things heated up with the 1981 album "Controversy" -
and he caused one when he opened two Rolling Stones shows in L.A.
- DEZ DICKERSON: It was [bassist] Mark Brown's second show with
us. Here's this 18-year-old kid who looks like a deer in the
headlights, in front of 110,000 people at the L.A. Coliseum. Prince
was in his full "Dirty Mind" regalia with the bikini and trench
coat. Halfway through the set, those natives got restless. They
started taking their Coke cups and throwing them onstage. I look
around, and Prince is gone. So I signaled to the rest of the guys:
Let's do likewise. Then more stuff got thrown.
Prince flew back to Minneapolis that night. Mick Jagger phoned to
no avail. Then Dickerson called and told him of playing in biker
bars "where no black man had ever set foot before. You can't let
them run you out of town." Prince returned for Round 2.
- DEZ DICKERSON: That audience brought stuff to throw. Someone
threw a fifth of Jack Daniels that barely missed Prince's head
during the first measure of the first song. A gallon jug of orange
juice exploded on Mark's bass. I'd point at people and smile and
wave. When all was said and done, we got through the set. Going
through that added to Prince's bravado.
BABY, HE'S A STAR
Hungering for an R&B outlet, Prince formed the Time around
drummer Morris Day, his onetime bandmate in Grand Central. The
self-titled 1981 album, which included the hit "Cool," was written
and recorded by Prince at his house in Chanhassen.
- LISA COLEMAN: Morris was undergoing this huge change. He was a
friend who would run and get us hamburgers - a funny guy with this
freckled face and big 'fro. Prince was grooming him, giving him a
haircut. Morris had some hard times. He was trying to work on some
vocals, and when I went in there he was crying. Prince could push
really hard and sometimes leave out the positive reinforcement. He
has more of a Machiavellian "you will do it."
Another side project was a vampy girl group dubbed Vanity 6.
- JIMMY JAM (Time keyboardist): On the Vanity 6 record, he did a
song a day. We watched him do it. His recording technique was
unorthodox. He would record everything way too loud. It makes
everything sound really frantic, so it always sounds louder than it
really is. There would always be an edge to his recordings. There's
not a recording we do where there's not something we learned from
the way he worked.
As with "Controversy," Prince did the double-disc followup album
"1999" mostly on his own.
- PRINCE (Rolling Stone interview, 1985): The reason I don't use
musicians a lot of the time had to do with the hours that I worked.
I swear to God it's not out of boldness when I say this, but
there's not a person around who can stay awake as long as I can.
Music is what keeps me awake.
- LISA COLEMAN: I lived in his house on and off for a couple of
years. We had a fight one day. He said something about me getting
my own apartment, and I left the house and drove around for a
while. When I got back, he had written me a whole song. It was so
cute. The lyric was, "I guess I have a strange way of saying I love
you." He had recorded it - drums, piano, guitar, bass and vocals
- CHUCK ZWICKY (recording engineer): Back during the "1999" era,
a friend of mine was dating him, and she said they'd walk down the
street or be in some club and - you know how it is in the
Minneapolis music scene - people would walk right up to him and
tell him what they thought of him: "Who do you think you are, doing
this dance music? Who do you think you are, doing this rock?"
People just came up venting their opinions. And he always had this
one response for everybody: "Yeah? Well, what are you doing?"
Through Coleman, Prince met twin sisters from Los Angeles:
Susannah Melvoin, his future girlfriend, and Wendy, his future
- WENDY MELVOIN: In 1982, my family and Lisa's family had gone to
New York City to spend Christmas. I was in [Lisa's] room, and I was
practicing. Apparently, Prince was walking to his room and heard
guitar music. He knocked on the door, "Who's playing, 'cause I know
it ain't you [Lisa]." I played some hotshot progression, and he
looked at me with that kind of twinkle in his eyes. Didn't say
much. Then he asked me to join a sound check in the Carolinas when
Dez [Dickerson] didn't come to sound check. I played "Controversy"
and got asked to join the band.
Prince fired Jam and Terry Lewis from the Time in 1983 for
missing a show, Paul Peterson was auditioned to replace Jam - the
same month he graduated from Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield.
- PAUL PETERSON: I was pretty intimidated. Prince was trying to
make me at ease. He wrote on a piece of paper: W-R-E-C-K-A-S-T-O-W.
He said, "What's that?" I don't know. He said, "Say it again." He
said, "Say it faster. What is it?" I said, "I don't know." He said,
"Where do you buy your records?" I was just this suburban Norwegian
coming into that whole thing. We all laughed, and that kind of
broke the ice. He ended up putting that bit into a movie ["Under
the Cherry Moon"].
Prince actually had been jotting ideas for a movie for some time.
His managers paired him with a young filmmaker, Al Magnoli.
- MATT FINK: Toward the end of the "1999" tour, he sat down with
me and said we were going to be doing a movie next. I just looked
at him in amazement. He said, "It's already in the works." I just
said, "OK." What more could I say, other than, "Oh, I hope he pulls
this off." But, of course, I was excited about it. Everyone was.
- WENDY MELVOIN: I had no idea what the movie was going to be. Al
[Magnoli] and Prince were writing it as they were going. During
that whole summer, people were called in and asked, "What is your
relationship with Prince? How would you see a situation arise?"
Blah, blah, blah. Then 10 days later, there would be some pages [of
script] and then they would be shooting.
- NEAL KARLEN (writer): He said something about having to "jack
up" the story of his father in "Purple Rain." In truth, he said,
his father didn't swear at his mother or have a gun. It was really
clear that his relationship with his father was the formative
relationship of his life. His father did kick him out of the house.
That song he wrote with his father, "The Ladder" [from 1985's
"Around the World in a Day"], was a critical point in the
relationship. I asked him why he was such a control freak. He said,
"What if everyone left me and there was no one around except me?
I'd gotta know how to control things on my own." I think that all
goes back to his father.
- MATT FINK: The whole summer of 1983, we were holed up in a
warehouse in St. Louis Park. We were rehearsing the material that
he brought in, and we were also co-writing some of it. At the same
time, we were working with an acting teacher that they brought in
several days a week. Also a dance instructor. It was a good three
months of work, leading into the filming in the fall of 1983.
- WENDY MELVOIN: You'd go in the next room in the warehouse and
there was Don Amendolia doing acting classes: "Act like an ice
cream and melt." Then we'd go downtown to these dance classes, and
there would be [Time drummer] Jellybean Johnson, this 6-foot-4 guy
trying to do pirouettes across the room with a trenchcoat on. It
was full of energy and excitement and big hopes and dreams.
- PAUL PETERSON: I picked out this hip pin-striped black suit [to
wear in the movie]. Prince was like, "Nobody's going to notice you
with that. Wear this." It's orange pin-striped. I said, "Oh, no, I
don't want to wear that." And he said, "Wear it." I didn't want to
make any waves because I just got the gig. And then they got ahold
of my hair. I was the only 17-year-old male that owned a curling
iron and spent more time getting ready to go out than my girlfriend.
The title track was hashed out during a day at the warehouse on
- WENDY MELVOIN: Everybody was coming up with their own parts. By
the end of the day, it was pretty much solid. I remembered this
woman walked in with her bicycle. She was like a bag lady. She sat
down on a chair in front of us while we were playing. Really quiet,
very demure, really sweet. And she just started crying while we
played "Purple Rain." She was bawling.
- MATT FINK: We did a show at First Avenue in August of 1983 that
was a benefit for the Minnesota Dance Theatre, because that's where
we were getting our dance instruction. They brought in a live
recording truck. The air-conditioning couldn't keep up, so we were
very sweaty. But we had a lot of fun. A lot of the basic tracks for
the album were taken from that show. The other songs were pretty
much him in the studio, like "When Doves Cry."
Filming stretched into winter.
- WENDY MELVOIN: Lisa and I had a condo in Edina. I remember that
our call on the set was like 4:30 or 5 o'clock in the morning, and
the two of us had to get up an hour earlier to go out and turn the
damn car on to get it warm enough to get us into town. We'd be done
filming by 10 o'clock at night. And First Avenue was cold. They had
space heaters all around.
In May 1984, a month before the album came out, Prince issued a
single that became his first No. 1 pop hit.
- LENNY WARONKER: He'd made "When Doves Cry" and for whatever
reason, he didn't put a bass on it. He was uptight about it, and he
wanted me to hear the record. I hadn't talked to him in years. I
listened to it, and there was so much action going on and so much
bottom end that he didn't need bass. I said, "It sounds good. Why
didn't you put bass on it?" He said, "When I make my records, I
work on them 'til I think they're finished."
The "Purple Rain" soundtrack zoomed to the top of the charts and
stayed there for half a year. Los Angeles critic Mikal Gilmore
called "Purple Rain" the best rock film ever made. Its premiere was
- LISA COLEMAN: It was at the Grauman's Chinese Theater, across
the street from where I'd wait for the bus to go home after school.
Doing that whole red-carpet thing, it was a fantasy.
- BOBBY Z: I was sitting next to Prince and my wife and my mom.
When people were laughing at the jokes on the screen, he cracked a
The $7 million movie grossed $65 million. Suddenly, Prince was a
huge star. His tour included weeklong stands in New York and Los
Angeles - and a record five shows at the St. Paul Civic Center.
- BOBBY Z: We were at the Forum in L.A. Madonna knocks on the
door and says, "Can I use the bathroom?" Sure. [Bruce] Springsteen
needed to use the bathroom, too. My dad was there. "Dad, I'd like
you to meet Bruce. Madonna, this is Harold Rivkin." My dad goes,
"Nice to meet you." He didn't know who he was talking to.
- PAUL PETERSON: Prince brought Bruce up and gave him a guitar to
play a solo. Then he took the guitar over Bruce's head and played a
little bit, pretending like it wasn't working right. He gave it a
little look. And then he gave it this look like, "It's fine now
that I'm playing it." He was giving Springsteen the attitude.
- ALAN LEEDS (tour manager): For every outfit, there were
matching boots. We're talking like a hundred outfits. Every night
he was breaking heels. This kid was a hurricane onstage. Someone
found a boot designer in New York who does theatrical wardrobe, an
elderly Italian guy. He told her, "The only problem is I've got a
dozen boots to make for Luther Vandross. As soon as that's done, we
can move to yours." She looked at him, pulled out an Amex Gold Card
and said, "Luther who?"
A sexy song on the B side of Prince's No. 1 single "Let's Go
Crazy" introduced a new flame, percussionist Sheila E.
- DAVID Z: We were editing "Erotic City" at his purple house [in
Chanhassen]. It was a hot summer day, and I wore this loud Hawaiian
shirt. I said, "I can't hear the bass drum too well." He said,
"That's 'cause your shirt's too loud."
The soundtrack went on to win two Grammys and an Academy Award.
- WENDY MELVOIN: [At the Oscars] we went on the podium with
Prince, and we looked like the Addams Family. It was an amazing
evening. The most incredible part was me and Lisa sitting next to
Jimmy Stewart and just being absolutely amazed at the amount of
energy in the room and around Prince.
Prince began looking at new directions for his followup record.
- LISA COLEMAN: We used to spend hours and hours playing records
for each other. Even classical music. Prince hadn't really been
exposed to it. I remember one time I was living with his girlfriend
Kim Upsher in Crystal. He came knocking at the door: "Have you ever
heard this?" It was [Ravel's] "Bolero" - he'd just seen the movie "10."
- PRINCE (Entertainment Weekly Online, 1999): In some ways,
["Purple Rain"] was more detrimental than good. People's perception
of me changed after that, and it pigeonholed me. I saw kids coming
to concerts who screamed just because that's where the audience
screamed in the movie. That's why I did "Around the World in a
Day," to totally change that.
Before the psychedelic-flavored album came out, he broke his
silence to the press in a Rolling Stone cover story with a
- NEAL KARLEN: His limo took me out to a warehouse. I'm just kind
of standing there like a dork. Finally, he sees me and gestures me
out to his car, a 1966 T-Bird, which I guess was his dad's car. He
was leaning over the steering wheel saying over and over, "I said
I'd never do this again." So I stowed my tape recorder and
everything, and we just started talking. We talked about Minnesota,
the Twins, you can't get good Chinese food here, and finally he
started up the car and started driving through north Minneapolis.
We went to First Avenue. He pulls up right in front and the crowd
parted - it was like Universal Studios where they have the fake
Moses crossing the Red Sea.
Prince decided to direct himself on his second movie, "Under the
Cherry Moon," filmed on the French Riviera with actress Kristin
Scott-Thomas. It flopped, but the accompanying album, "Parade," had
one of his biggest hits, "Kiss."
- WENDY MELVOIN: He was in a new place, and the whole look
started changing and getting sleeker. There was something very Cary
Grantish about him. He was happy, and he liked working with all
those new people. You could see him growing exponentially. He was
fearless, and he wanted to get his hands on all creative aspects of
- JEFF KATZ (photographer): We were shooting in La Victorine
studios in Nice, where Truffaut made his movies. It was just Prince
and me and this little boom box in this massive room. I would shoot
a few rolls; he would put on some music. This went on for a couple
of hours, not really talking. We ended up with that "Parade" album
cover. I was there for four months. He wasn't interested in candid
photos. It was like, "This is my look, and this is how it has to be
all the time."
- DAVID Z: I was mixing the soundtrack at a soundstage in Los
Angeles. I pull up with two huge tapes under my arms, and I see
Prince talking to somebody. "David, do you know Michael Jackson?"
In this soundstage, there was a pingpong table. They come in with
their bodyguards. Prince says, "You want to play pingpong?" Michael
says, "I don't know how to play, but I'll try." The whole crew
stops working to watch them play. Pretty soon, Prince says to
Michael, "You want me to slam it?" Michael drops his paddle and
holds his hands up in front of his face so the ball won't hit him.
Needless to say, the game is over. Michael walks out with his
bodyguard. And Prince starts strutting around like a rooster. "Did
you see that? He played like Helen Keller."
Prince actually wrote "Kiss" for an album David Z was producing
for Mazarati, a Twin Cities group discovered by Revolution bassist
- DAVID Z: Prince gave us this straight version with just one
verse, an acoustic guitar and voice, no rhythm. It was almost a
folk song. We went back in the studio and stayed up all night doing
this thing. In the morning, I came back around 9:30. Prince had
been there, listened to what we did and put his lead guitar and
voice on it. He said, "It was too good for you guys. I'm taking it
The Time broke up when singer Morris Day and guitarist Jesse
Johnson left to pursue solo careers. The new edition of the band
had played only one gig.
- PAUL PETERSON: We were all sitting around the warehouse - I'm
making $250 a week even after a hit movie and a double-platinum
record on the wall. Prince said, "Morris is gone. But I'm going to
start a new band, and you're going to be the lead singer." He
pointed right at me. Huh?
- ERIC LEEDS: The Time was basically his way of making R&B music
without being pigeonholed as an R&B artist. So he put together the
Family as a substitute, with the conscious decision of having the
lead vocalists be white people. He was thinking of George Michael
and Wham! - thinking he could get in on that market. The Family
record is one of my favorite Prince albums. Basically, what he did
was bring Paul Peterson in to mimic him. And it certainly worked,
to Paul's credit. Prince wanted to make us look like these little
rich kids who can be funky. The first day we did a photo shoot, I
looked at myself in the mirror and said, "Oh, my god, this is not
what I went to music school for." But it was fun.
- WENDY MELVOIN: Those warehouses were incredible breeding
grounds for creativity. The Time was in one room rehearsing, and
we'd be in the other. Prince was in the midst of doing the Family
record. He was really driven, and his moods started getting more
serious. He didn't have a lot of time for fun, except he would go
outside and play basketball - in the [high] heels, which he's now
paying for, I'm sure. With his heels on, he could run faster than
me, and I was wearing tennies.
- DAVID Z: We used to kid that he never slept. He took catnaps. I
remember him telling me: "You work better in the studio when you're
tired because you don't overthink things."
Meanwhile, trouble was brewing in the Family.
- PAUL PETERSON: We rehearsed for months and months, and played
one gig. It was a surprise gig, like he said, "We're going to play
First Avenue tonight." Nobody knew who we were, except we were the
new Prince group. He hugged me after the show, he was so ecstatic.
- ERIC LEEDS: In the fall of '85, there was supposed to be a
Paisley Park package tour with Sheila E, the Family and Mazarati.
The Family album was out and the single, "The Screams of Passion,"
was doing very well, but Paul was starting to have misgivings.
- PAUL PETERSON: He had me in singing, acting and dancing lessons
out in Los Angeles. Still making $250 a week. They had a contract
that they wanted us to sign. [My lawyer] said, "Don't sign it." I'd
go to Prince, and he'd say, "Don't talk business to me. Talk to my
managers." None of us signed it.
When the record came out, the band was scattered because Susannah
[Melvoin, the group's other singer] was out with Prince on tour. My
phone started ringing. John McClain [of A&M Records] said, "I want
you to leave Prince." He showed me a figure, which was like
$250,000. That was a lot more than $250 a week. Steve Fargnoli
[Prince's manager] threatened me with lawsuits and injunctions. I
got one of those rare phone calls from Prince: "What is this about?
Money? You want a house? I can get you a house." I said, "It's too
late. I've made up my mind." Here we are, 12 months after the Time
broke up; we rehearsed for months and we did one gig. Prince was
OOPS, PARTY'S OVER
"Under the Cherry Moon" had its premiere in July 1986 in
Sheridan, Wyo. - a site chosen in an MTV contest.
- WENDY MELVOIN: It was like being on Mars. I don't know if it
was the greatest marketing scheme, [but] the show at the Holiday
Inn was fierce. That night I had a huge blowout with Prince. I was
at the bar having a beer with Joni Mitchell. An interviewer came up
to me and the next day in some paper, it said: "Wendy from Prince
and the Revolution answering blah blah blah while nursing a
Budweiser." Prince pulled me upstairs and read me out about being
an example to kids. I was completely floored. It felt like
something else was wrong here. It's not about me drinking a beer.
"Cherry" was a bomb with critics and filmgoers. Prince's last
show with the Revolution came in September at Yokohama Stadium in
- WENDY MELVOIN: Onstage, he broke his "Purple Rain" guitar
intentionally. Me and Lisa looked at each other and went, "It's
over." He disappeared. Then we got a phone call to meet him at this
house he'd rented in Beverly Hills - which ended up being the house
that the Menendez brothers killed their folks in. We had dinner,
and he said: "I can't expect you guys to go where I'm going to go
next. I think we've gone as far as we can go. I've got to let you
go." The two of us were like, "What?" He called Bobby [Z] that
night, too. We were all completely spun out. We thought we'd be
around a lot longer. We were ready to be there.
- MATT FINK: He came to me that same day and said, "I'm not going
to fire you. You have a choice to leave or stay, and I'd understand
if you didn't want to stay." It was a really, really difficult
moment for me. I thought, "OK, if I quit, what do I do?" I decided
to keep my job.
- WENDY MELVOIN: Lisa was very vocal with him. And I never kept
my mouth shut. Am I intimidated by Prince? No. I was born and
raised in Hollywood. There were huge stars in and out of my house
like Bette Midler, Streisand, Peggy Lee. At times I was scared of
Prince because he had anger stuff. His eyes could burn you. He
looked like he was going to kill somebody. And a lot of times that
would be me.
Prince reconfigured the band, with Sheila E on the drums. He
recorded an ambitious three-disc set, "Sign o' the Times," but the
label persuaded him to pare it to two discs for its release in
March 1987. He took the new band to Europe but abruptly halted
plans for a U.S. tour.
- ERIC LEEDS: It was a decision that we all were very much in
disagreement with him about. We had gone to Europe and did 2 1/2
months, and the reaction was just tremendous. I looked at him and
said, "Are you out of your mind?" He said, "We're going to make a
movie out of it instead." In retrospect, that was a crucial
mistake. The album, as great as it was, lost momentum after that.
The concert film did little to invigorate Prince's career, but he
had grander ambitions. In 1987, he opened a new 65,000-square foot
playground: Paisley Park Studios in Chanhassen.
- MARK (RED) WHITE (Paisley facility director): He had the idea
for a facility where he could do recording, film and video work in
town instead of flying back and forth to L.A. all the time. It cost
between $10 million to $13 million, depending on what you want to
throw in. You couldn't replicate that today for that much money,
but at the time it was pretty extravagant. We had the opportunity
to buy the best of the best. It was state of the art.
Artistically, Prince was restless. Even though he had chart
success with the songs "Sign o' the Times" and "U Got the Look," a
duet with Sheena Easton, he was no longer on top of the music
world. He decided to make an underground recording. Then, with more
than 400,000 copies ready to be shipped, he paid to cancel its release.
- ALAN LEEDS (tour manager): "The Black Album" was a hastily
assembled project. We assumed it was: (A) his reaction to the
crossover of hip-hop into the mainstream in the era of MC Hammer
and LL Cool J becoming pop stars and bouncing real musicians and
singers off the chart and, (B) his reaction to some critics and
fans who thought his more pop material somehow represented a
sellout. He's said the reason he deep-sixed the record was bad
karma - it was a record made out of anger. The records were pressed
and boxed on the loading docks. Karen Krattinger [Paisley general
manager] got the call in the middle of the night. It was an
emotional conversation. He apologized to her for what his moods had
been in the office, things that were completely out of character.
Insisting this record be stopped was part of this.
His frustration continued as he worked frantically on "Lovesexy,"
an album that had a more positive outlook but became notorious for
its nude cover of Prince. To regain his commercial momentum, he
mounted his most ambitious tour ever.
- ALAN LEEDS: He said, "You don't know what it's like to look at
the charts and see guys at No. 1 who can't sing or play an
- CHUCK ZWICKY (recording engineer): He would work around the
clock. In the morning, he'd rehearse with his band, videotape the
rehearsals, then come into the studio and we'd work until 4 or 5 in
the morning. Then he'd go home, watch the videos and come back to
Once the tour started, he'd fly back to Paisley to record rather
than sitting around on a tour bus. On one occasion, we worked 40
straight hours through Monday morning. When he left, we had three
songs mixed. [His assistant] Therese always came in to transcribe
the lyrics off the tape. I asked her, "Do you want headphones to
get the lyrics?" And she said, "What lyrics? He's not supposed to
be singing. He's got strep throat." It was a marathon. No breaks
for sleeping or eating. And then he rejoined the tour.
- PRINCE (Guitar World magazine, 1998): People call me a
workaholic, but I've always considered that a compliment. John
Coltrane played the saxophone 12 hours a day. That's not a maniac;
that's a dedicated musician whose spirit drives his body to work so
hard. I think that's something to aspire to. People say that I take
myself too seriously. I consider that a compliment, too.
- ERIC LEEDS: The Lovesexy Tour was pretty amazing. There were
over 50 semi-trailers and hundreds of people on the road. That's
how excessive things were in the '80s. You probably didn't need
like four hair and makeup people and the ridiculous amounts of
wardrobe. But it's like they say: If you got it, flaunt it. He's
probably pocketing more net money today on his shows.
It was basically a good vs. evil show. The first half was evil;
the second half was good. I think that went over a lot of people's
heads. Also, "Lovesexy" wasn't as successful compared to the
previous albums. It was probably the start of the downturn of the
marketability of his career. And it was very frustrating for him,
because I think he considered "Lovesexy" his best or at least his
most personal record.
- HELEN HIATT (wardrobe director): He was an artist right down to
the clothes he wore. The Lovesexy Tour, I think, was the best I was
involved in. We started writing on all his clothes, and the clothes
all had graphics on them. On opening night in Paris, he came to me
and said, "Can you write `Minneapolis' on the sleeve?" And I was
like, "Sure, it's only an hour before show time." He was thinking
of every last detail up to the last minute.
- ALAN LEEDS: Early '88 was the first time we felt financial
pressure. He'd had tremendous expansion of his payroll and overhead
- the intoxication of "Purple Rain" money. But the subsequent
records nowhere matched that success. His ambition was, "I've got
to outdo the Purple Rain Tour." He hadn't toured the States since
then. It translated into six months of tedious rehearsals and some
new expensive idea every day. He wanted water fountains and a moat
around the stage. I don't know how much money the tour lost.
- ROBBIE PASTER (Prince's valet): He always had a baby grand
piano in the hotel rooms so he could play his music. One of the
promoters said, "We can't get a baby grand piano up in the room."
This was the Chelsea Harbor Hilton in London. I said, "There's got
to be a way. It's the Presidential Suite." He said, "The only way
we could do it is if we got a crane and lifted it over the
balcony." I said, "Do that." So they lifted it up three floors, and
took it out the same way. Who knows how much that cost? Who cares
how much that cost? We were there for a month, gotta have a piano.
In those days, you didn't want to cut corners.
Prince's Paisley Park label, a joint venture with Warner Bros.,
produced albums by a number of R&B greats - George Clinton, Chaka
Khan and Mavis Staples - as well as unknowns including Ingrid
Chavez and Carmen Electra. Meanwhile, the vault in the studio
basement was filling up with songs by the hyperprolific artist.
- RICKY PETERSON (keyboardist who turned down Prince in '79): He
called me out of the blue to come and help him do something at
Paisley Park. I ended up getting an office upstairs and put a
studio in there. He made me a staff producer. That's when I started
doing the Mavis Staples record.
- MAVIS STAPLES: His manager called Pops [Staples, her father]
and said Prince is looking for me. I said, "What Prince? I don't
know no Prince!" I thought he meant Prince Charles or something.
[After an oldies show] he met us back in the dressing room. I'm
talking and talking, and I notice he's just smiling and rolling
those big eyes. I started to realize this kid is bashful. So I
said, "Prince, how's the new Paisley Park?" and he just said,
- RED WHITE (facility director): Everyone was excited about
Paisley Park. Everyone from the Bee Gees to Sheena Easton, Jeff
Beck, Steve Miller, Kool & the Gang, you name it, went through that
place in the late '80s and early '90s. We filmed tons of motion
pictures out there, from the original "Grumpy Old Men" to "Drop
Dead Fred." There were tons of commercials, too. M.C. Hammer did a
British Knights commercial. It didn't make money at first, but for
many years it was at least paying for its overhead.
- TOM TUCKER (studio director): Stevie Wonder came to Paisley one
day to overdub [local group] Sounds of Blackness - he wanted a
choir on one of his songs. Stevie sat in the studio playing, and
Prince came in. That was a pretty magical moment. Another fun time
would be whenever George Benson was there making an album. I wasn't
used to seeing people just walk up to Prince, grab him and hug him,
but George would do that. Prince was a big fan. He was respectful
toward the other artists, and he became really tight with guys like
Miles [Davis] and Lenny Kravitz. When Prince was around them,
they'd all be very down to earth, and it was just like regular guys
- BONNIE RAITT (Star Tribune interview, 1987): He called me, and
he came to one of my shows. He told me he wanted to work with me.
I'm not exactly in the same fashion modus operandi. But it was nice
to be working with another singer and guitarist. He relates to
women's energy really well.
- TOM TUCKER: It was a fun pressure cooker out there. There was
an intense creativity. When he was around in the studio, or there
were other artists in the studio, I could easily work 80- to
100-hour weeks. But I was OK with that - at least they had a heated
- CHUCK ZWICKY (engineer): You were given a pager, and he seemed
to have an uncanny sense of when to call at the worst time. Right
when the meal would arrive at a restaurant, the pager would go off.
Crawl into bed with your girlfriend, the pager would go off. You'd
get called in at very odd hours, set up and wait. Sometimes he'd
show up, and sometimes he wouldn't.
- TOMMY BARBARELLA (keyboardist): My friends kept asking: "Man,
what's it like out there? Is it just women in lingerie, walking
around all the time?" It wasn't like that, but that's what people
- CHUCK ZWICKY: He was so prolific, by the time he released an
album, he may have had literally 10 albums sitting around. By the
time the critics got ahold of something and ripped it apart, he'd
moved on. When he was on the Lovesexy Tour, I was assigned to go in
the vault and provide mixes for songs that had never been mixed. I
think I did 130 songs that had never appeared anywhere.
- TOM TUCKER: We tried to talk him into archiving everything when
he was still with Warners. We were going to buy a convection oven
and bake all the analog tapes, and archive them to digital. But at
the last minute he pulled the plug. He said he didn't want anybody
to hear all that music. Those old analog tapes are just gumming up
down in his vault. And then what's going to happen if it's not in
his will? What if it's in his will to destroy that stuff? That
would be like half the Beatles' tunes being lost.
With its massive in-the-round stage, the Lovesexy Tour was a
financial disaster, but Prince was still spending blindly.
- ALAN LEEDS: [Financial woes] led to his famous New Year's '89
house-cleaning of his managers as well as his attorney and his
business manager. Rather than accept the responsibility for being
more prudent or paying more attention to the financial aspects of
the business - whether it be record-making, touring or running a
studio - it was easier to blame everybody.
After two film flops, Prince finally latched on to a hit: Tim
Burton's "Batman." He was hired on the recommendation of star Jack
Nicholson, a Prince fan who inspired the song "Partyman" on
Prince's million-selling soundtrack.
- LENNY WARONKER: Prince is working on "Batman" and, out of the
blue, he walks in with Kim Basinger [the movie's co-star, whom
Prince dated]. She walks in first; she's taller. I'd heard he'd
done this 18-minute version of "Scandalous" with her moaning or
groaning for 8 or 10 minutes. It was a setup of sorts. She's
sitting in front of me; she has her legs crossed. He gives me the
cassette. About five, six minutes into it, he taps me on the
shoulder, and he says, "That's good enough."
- ERIC LEEDS: That soundtrack was all his doing. I'm on the album
credits, but I can't find anything on there that I played. The only
thing I can think of is Prince sampled some horns and cut them into
the mix. He'll do things like that.
- CHUCK ZWICKY: He was very hyped about it, experimenting with a
number of things. He was exploring house music. He had this girl,
Cat, a rapper; she was kind of loud. One day, she walks in and
blurts out, "Man, you guys are the same size." I'm 5-4, and Prince
is really self-conscious about his height. Well, for a whole week
it was short jokes. Sheena Easton was coming in to sing a duet with
Prince, and she wanted to sing in the studio, not in the control
room, which he always did, sitting down in front of the console
with a microphone. So I go out and set up the microphone, and he
says over the speakers, "Chuck, you'd better lower that microphone.
She's really short. She's your size." I came in the control room,
and he's looking busy, trying not to laugh.
The '90s started with another Prince-directed movie, "Graffiti
Bridge," featuring the reunited Time. It collapsed faster than the
bridge over the River Kwai.
- JIMMY JAM: The original Time went to Warner Bros. and said, "We
want to do another record and a movie." We actually had a script
writer. We asked Prince to get involved with the music part,
because we felt it wouldn't be a true Time album without his
involvement. The next thing we knew, there was "Graffiti Bridge."
It became his project, and we were just kind of the bit players. I
remember standing on the set and going, "What a mess. It's going to
be terrible." We laughed our way through and had a great time.
Prince was still slaying 'em onstage. He recruited a wealth of
young talent for his band the New Power Generation.
- MICHAEL BLAND (drummer): I was playing in Dr. Mambo's Combo
down at Bunkers [in downtown Minneapolis]. Prince would come down
every couple weeks, sit in, play a couple numbers. My friends would
say, "Dude, you're gonna play with Prince." I didn't catch on until
one night he threw an after-party for Bon Jovi at Paisley. When I
got to the front door, the security guard grabbed me and said,
"Hurry up, he's waiting for you."
Keyboardist Tommy Elm and bassist Sonny Thompson caught Prince's
ear while playing with Twin Cities gospel/R&B heroes the Steeles.
Elm is better known by his Prince-invented name, Barbarella.
- TOMMY BARBARELLA: My first official gig was a warmup show at
Glam Slam. Next show, 200,000 people at Rock in Rio II. It was just
a mindblower. I rode up the elevator with Billy Idol. He was
holding a bottle of champagne with two women on his arms.