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Prince Rogers Nelson biography

Part 1 – Let’s Work

By Goldies Parade

A bemused Oprah Winfrey asked Prince in 1996 why he, a superstar, still chose to live in Minnesota “of all places”. He responded simply “I will always live in Minneapolis. It’s so cold it keeps the bad people out.” Minneapolis was Prince’s home town since birth and indeed remained his base throughout even the height and length of his career that ultimately spanned four decades. The place greatly influenced Prince’s music. Lying at the far north of the US on its border with Canada, winters in the state of Minnesota indeed average lows of -14C. The interwar period saw approximately 2 million blacks flee America’s southern states to seek refuge from racism in what experienced the country’s largest internal migration in its history. They were headed north in search of tolerant society and skilled and better paid work. A mere 4,646 made their way to Minneapolis by 1940, a figure doubtlessly low due to its uninviting winters.

Prince Rogers Nelson was born at the city’s Mount Sinai Hospital on 7th June 1958. His father, John Lewis Nelson (1916-2001) a pianist from Louisiana, named Prince after his band – New Orleans jazz outfit Prince Rogers Trio (incidentally a four-piece band). His wife and Prince’s mother, Mattie Della Shaw (1933-2002) was the band’s singer. John and Mattie married in 1956 and joined the exodus north. They headed to Minneapolis, a city that adjoined the state capital St Paul and together was known as The Twin Cities. Despite choosing to live in the city where the black community represented only 1 percent of the population, Minneapolis enjoyed a reputation for racial tolerance, owing to its particularly large Scandinavian community drawn by the cold familiarity of home. In 1959 the couple bought a house at 915 Logan Avenue North. Prince’s only full sibling, his sister Tika (‘Tyka’) Evene, was born on 18 May 1960. John’s first marriage to Vivianne Howard Nelson (b 1920) had produced Prince five elder half siblings: Sharon Nelson (b. 1940), Norrine Nelson (b. 1941), Lorna Nelson (1943-2006), John R. Nelson (b. 1944) and Duane Nelson (1958-2011). To them and school friends Prince was known as Skipper. Duane and Prince became best friends throughout school and would one day be put on the payroll to head Prince’s security.

I named my son Prince because I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do.

John L. Nelson

The failure of the Nelsons’ jazz trio in 1960 sparked the deterioration in John and Mattie’s relationship and in 1965 the couple separated. Mattie remarried in 1967, to Haywood Baker, and in 1970 they had a son Omarr Baker. By day Prince’s father was a plastics worker at the city’s Honeywell factory but at night played shows throughout the jazz clubs and strip bars of Minneapolis. The music scene was focussed in an area known as Uptown, the heart of the city’s nightlife and bohemian district. Prince often accompanied his father to the shows, standing in the wings studying his father’s performance. Prince was also a keen and proficient basketball player, but due to his 5ft 2in frame ambitions to be drafted to a major league team were never going to be realized and so absorbed himself into music. Prince’s father became a significant influence on his early career. In later years, Prince would share writing credit with John, in part to give his father financial help from the royalties. Music education was compulsory in Minnesota, and although Prince was unable to read music, as a way to escape his troubles at home spent hours teaching himself numerous instruments, starting with the piano left behind by his father and learned to play the theme tunes to his favourite TV shows such as Batman. Before long, Prince composed his first song, one that would encapsulate his coming career: Funk Machine.

By 1970, tensions living with his stepfather resulted with Prince running away from his mother’s home aged 12 to live with his aged aunt Olivia Lewis, at 3837 South 4th Avenue. Unable to house the piano, Prince took up learning the electric guitar, to the chagrin of his aunt who could not tolerate the noise. In 1972 he moved into his father’s house at 539 North Newton Avenue in north Minneapolis. In 7th grade at Bryant Junior High Prince meets André Simon Anderson, and sharing a love for music they became inseparable friends. As Prince’s relationship with his father deteriorated, and knowing he was in need of a new home, Anderson asked his mother, Bernadette, if Prince could live with them. Bernadette Anderson, a community social worker with six children of her own, took Prince in and set up a room in her basement, 1244 Russell Avenue South. Prince and André jammed for countless hours in that basement, and in 1973 they formed a band Grand Central, named after their high school – André Simon styling his stage name André Cymone.

The band comprised of Prince on keyboards and guitar, André (bass), and Prince’s second cousin Charles Smith (drums). Shortly after, the line-up expanded to involve Linda Anderson, André’s elder sister (keyboards), the Anderson’s neighbour Terry Jackson, and William Daugherty (percussion). Grand Central performed covers of their favourite funk tunes of the day; and being performed as instrumentals no singer was necessary. Daugherty’s cousin Morris Day, who had struck up a friendship with Cymone, was bought into the band in 1975 in substitute of Charles Smith as drummer. Day’s mother Lavonne Daugherty became the band’s manager and in 1976 renamed them Grand Central Corporation. It was again renamed to Champagne shortly before their graduation from Central High that June – Prince declaring his occupation in his final yearbook ‘Musician’. Indeed, on 4 December 1975 Prince and André gained employment as session musicians, stepping into their first professional recording studio, Cookhouse Studio in south Minneapolis, to lay down instrumentals for local musician Pepé Willie’s newly formed funk band 94 East. Pepé, an introduction brokered by Lavonne, and since 1974 husband of Prince’s cousin Shantel Manderville. Willie named his band after the nearby Interstate 94, which since 1964 linked St Paul and Minneapolis with Chicago to the east. Pepé took to mentoring Prince in the art of song craft and the workings of the music industry.

During 1976, 21-year-old British expat, record producer and lyricist Chris Moon was seeking a piano player for a track he was needing to record and phoned a local band named Champagne. Moon was proprietor of a $35 an hour studios on the edge of Minneapolis, named Moon Sound Studios. Once Prince began playing, Moon was amazed by the 17-year-old’s musical prowess, being able to play far more than piano but also synthesisers, drums, electric guitar and bass all to very high standards. Moon offered Prince free use of his studio and taught him how to work its 16-track recording console and persuaded him to sing, rather than just play instrumentals. Prince quit the band to spend the summer with Moon, collaborating on writing and recording tracks – Moon writing the lyrics and Prince creating the music; one was Soft And Wet. When Moon played this to Owen Husney, head of a local music management firm named American Artists, Husney was shocked to learn the band he thought he heard was just one kid playing all instruments. Realising Prince’s potential, he booked studio time with an experienced local sound engineer David Rivkin, to join him at Sound 80 in downtown Minneapolis to lay down a demo reel. Husney designed a simple press kit headed just ‘Prince’, no surname, and giving little information – Prince’s talent would do the talking. With fifteen press kits and demo reel in hand, Prince and Husney flew to LA to doorstep the major record labels. Husney shopped the tape to his industry contacts, and whilst receiving rejections from ABC and RSO, the tape gained interest from three labels: Warner Bros Records, A&M Records and Columbia. Yet Prince was just not going to accept just any deal. He would only sign with the label that would grant him full creative control in the studio. The meeting Husney secured at Warner was with their VP in charge of promotion Russ Thyret. Although it was a long established record label whose flagship band at the time was Fleetwood Mac, Warner was not known to sign black artists. The 1970s was still in the era when black music even occupied its own Billboard chart, which continued until October 1990 when renamed R&B albeit to acknowledge the growth of hip hop. Prince was impressed how Warner’s chairman Mo Ostin (who had signed Lennon, Hendrix and Fleetwood Mac) promoted the nurturing of artists. And once its head of A&R, Lenny Waronker, was so taken with Prince’s abilities following a brief studio test he was happy to allow Prince to produce the record. Seeing the star quality and talent Prince was, plus the efforts of A&M and Columba who were also doing to get him to sign, Thyret took it as his mission to convince Prince that Warner was the label he should choose. Then the deal was struck.

For You (1978)
For You (1978)

The contract was signed on 25 June 1977 and presented Prince at the tender age of 17 a cheque for $80,000 to produce three-albums: US distribution would be handled by directly by Warner, and overseas by their branches under WEA International (Warners-Elektra-Atlantic). The label also offered Prince Earth, Wind & Fire’s producer, Maurice White, with whom to produce the debut album but the young artist declined. Not wanting their sound to work its way into his record, Prince was determined his LP to be all his own creation. The signing saw Prince the youngest record producer working in the industry. That August, Prince and Husney headed to Sausalito just outside San Francisco, to Record Plant, the same studios Fleetwood Mac had laid down Rumours the previous year. Here Prince set to work with sound technician Tommy Vicari in a gruelling schedule to record the tracks for his debut album. The sessions were booked to last one month but ballooned into three, and the working relationship with Vicari was strained. It was here Prince was introduced to his key musical influence – Sly, of The Family Stone. Armed with a horde of 20 songs from his Sound 80 sessions, Prince whittled the tracks down to ten and rerecorded these at Sausalito, nine making the cut for his debut record For You. The album was released on 7th April the following year and debuted at 138 in the Billboard album chart. Uniquely, every track on the LP was not only produced by, but arranged, composed and, playing all of its 27 instruments, performed entirely by Prince himself. When asked why he did everything himself, Prince, who was no talker, answered that it was just simpler than articulating to others what he wanted. It would establish the hallmark which would define the course of the budding star’s career.

Prince (1979)
Prince (1979)

The debut album’s lead single Soft And Wet found moderate success, peaking at number 12 on Billboard’s soul charts. A backing band was assembled to perform with Prince in the live shows for a supporting tour. André was enlisted on bass, and was joined by Bobby “Z” Rivkin – brother and studio runner for sound technician David Rivkin at Moon Sound – to play drums. Responding to an ad Prince placed in The Twin Cities Reader and unglamorously auditioned behind Del’s Tire Mart, local musician Dez Dickerson was signed on for guitar. Gayle Chapman (hired after approaching Prince for audition) and Matt Fink (introduced to Prince by friend Bobby Z) joined on keyboards. This arrangement of double keyboards, substituting horns with the second synthesiser, would form the basis of Prince’s unique sound. Furthermore, from the outset Prince was intent to enlist white members to his band, drawing inspiration from Sly & The Family Stone. The backing band was also to receive a name, The Rebels, and headed to Colorado in July 1979 to write tracks for their own album. Although Warner felt this was a distraction and the act continued named simply ‘Prince’, it sowed in him an ambition to create a named band in the future.

The group staged their first gigs at the Capri Theatre 5th and 6th January 1979, playing to just 300. The first show was for the public, but the crucial second was for Warner management and considered the band were not yet polished enough to go on the road. The debut album thereby passed unsupported. Frustrated how the studio time had overrun to produce For You and had all but spent the budget allocated to create all three albums, Warner believed Prince needed the steady stewardship of a more experienced manager. They introduced Prince to the Hollywood firm responsible for propelling Earth Wind And Fire to stardom in the early 1970s: Bob Cavallo, Joe Ruffalo and Steve Fargnoli. Husney was sacked and replaced with Fargnoli, who sent Prince to Alpha Studios in Burbank, California to work alongside Gary Brandt to record his second album. Having wanted to try every trick in the book in exhausting studio sessions to lay down For You, Brandt reined Prince back and introduced him the nuances of recording. The result was a sharper record. And as if to relaunch him as a more refined artist, Prince’s second album was self-titled Prince, and released in August 1979. By December it had delivered a 141 position improvement in the album chart. The lead single I Wanna Be Your Lover also produced Prince’s his first hit, topping the Billboard Hot Soul Singles and peaking at 11 on the Hot 100. Its lyrics proclaimed Prince’s affection for LA jazz keyboardist Patrice Rushen.

Prince and the band also finally embarked on their first promotional tour, a headlining act on the club circuit. As this mini tour evolved it culminated with Prince joining Rick James for nine weeks as the support act in his Fire It Up tour, which started in February 1979. Playing 42 dates it gave opportunity for Prince to get noticed and led to his first television performance – on the popular CBS show American Bandstand, which was aired on 26 January 1980. Sadly his appearance on the show was a disaster and a humiliating experience. American Bandstand was a long-running TV staple that had introduced the likes of Michael Jackson, Areosmith and Sonny & Cher. Following Prince’s confident performance of I Wanna Be Your Lover, stage fright had him clam up when interviewed by its host Dick Clark. From that moment on Prince would only give interviews in settings he controlled, and in doing so laid the foundations of the mystique he would let foster throughout his career.

Dirty Mind (1980)
Dirty Mind (1980)

In 1980, Prince had earned enough money to purchase a ranch on Kiowa Trail in Chanhassen, a secluded district in the far outskirts of Minnesota. While awaiting his home studio to be fitted out, that May Prince set to recording his third album Dirty Mind in the basement of his rented home at 680 North Arm Drive, perched on the shore of Lake Minnetonka. He would name his home studio Uptown, and being his first LP produced in Minneapolis, gave rise to the ‘Minneapolis sound’ that would define the remainder of his career. Wanting to ensure he was not judged as yet another R&B act, come his third record Prince switched up his image to step out of the shadows, he intended to shock. Deeply rooted in funk and shamelessly lewd, the ‘revolutionary rock and roll’ of the Dirty Mind album propelled Prince into the public glare. Dirty Mind peaked in the Billboard 200 at 45. Out went the afro and in came the trench coat and neckerchief. That September, Gayle Chapman was replaced following a successful audition with Lisa Coleman. Chapman, a devout Christian, quit the band over a moral conflict with Prince who wanted her sing the highly erotic lyrics of Head for the upcoming tour. Lisa Coleman, introduced to Prince by Steve Fargnoli, was a trained pianist from LA, would become an influence in Prince’s later creative direction. The supporting Dirty Mind Tour pressed ahead that December and this time Prince was a theatre tour as headlining act. The shows also took Prince to Europe for the first time, where it received rave reviews. Filling 1,000 capacity venues back home, Prince even caught the attention of The Rolling Stones and on 9 October 1981 booked him as support act (albeit lowest on the bill) for their Los Angeles dates at the Memorial Coliseum, playing to 94,000 attendees nightly. This rock audience, however, did not take kindly to Prince’s music or avant-garde getup. After performing just four songs and food being thrown at stage-ward, Prince and his band were unceremoniously booed off the stage. Distressed, Prince flew straight back to Minneapolis, leaving Jagger himself had to convince him back to play the second date. Come 11 October, this time after just two songs, Jack U Off and Uptown, again the band was forced from the stage early. One newspaper article remarked, “rock n rollers pay to see white performers,” yet these incidents would spur Prince on, and was about to become one of the most famous performers on the planet.

Controversy (1981)
Controversy (1981)

After his inauspicious end to the tour, Prince moved into the ranch at 9401 Kiowa Trail. He had it painted purple, and having converted its ground floor family into a fully fitted out studio, he set to work to record the debut album for Morris Day, whom was fronting Prince’s first spin-off act The Time. Despite his youth, Prince had demanded a clause written into his contract with Warner Brothers to allow him sign and produce other artists to their label, to use these as additional outlets to release his already growing stockpile of songs, which had grown so broad, branched out to different styles. Prince’s involvement with Day’s record was credited under the pseudonym Jamie Starr, a precautionary measure to shield Prince’s own career should that side project fail. Prince would do this many times over with other artists, adopting several alter-egos to hide himself from these projects. But a common theme would soon emerge, under these side projects Prince demanded total creative control of their output. Feeling restricted and wishing to pursue a career of his own making, Andre Cymone quit Prince’s band in the autumn of 1981 and replaced by local bass player Mark Brown (adopting the stage name BrownMark). Yet despite positive reviews of his music, Prince was still searching for his commercial breakthrough. Warner Brothers too believed Prince was at the verge of fulfilling this, and the two renewed their contract. Prince’s fourth album, his first solo project laid down at his Kiowa Trail home studio, was titled Controversy. Intent to present himself as a serious artist, Controversy was also his first record to tackle the key political issues of the day, particularly gun violence, and for the first time merged sex and God in mainstream music – wanting the album to live up to its name. Although was his first album to break into the top 40 (number 21), Controversy did not land the major breakthrough. Morris Day and The Time joined Prince for the supporting Controversy Tour, which was played to 55 shows and while on the road, Prince wrote material for the second album for The Time as well as a new side project, a girl trio named The Hookers – which evolved into Vanity 6, named after its newly enlisted lead singer Denise “Vanity” Matthews. Until 1983, Prince had not been taken seriously in the music press, however when he was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, pictured with Vanity, caught the notice of the wider press. 1982 proved to be a prolific year for Prince, producing a wealth of martial in his Kiowa Trail home studio inspired by the revolutionary drum machine he had recently acquired, the Linn LM-1. The tracks were longer, many clearing six minutes, and laden with catchy hooks and fills. The release of 1999, Prince’s fifth album and first double LP, produced his career breakthrough. 1999 sold 4 million copies in the US, charting it at number 9. Its single Little Red Corvette became his first worldwide hit, breaking into the Billboard top ten. The resulting tour in which Prince was again supported by The Time and now Vanity 6, duly billed as the Triple Threat Tour, grossed a respectable $10m and filled arenas of 20,000 capacity. The album remained in the chart for 153 weeks.

1999 (1982)
1999 (1982)

On record, Prince showed no aversion to use the F-word casually in mainstream music. Swearwords and his fearlessly lewd lyrics became a hallmark that would stand Prince out to good advantage. His sixth album would not only receive but be the first to trigger the industry’s sleeve sticker warning ‘parental guidance’ for explicit content. The public lapped it up. 1999 not only put Prince on the cover of the coveted Rolling Stone magazine, his musical impact saw him compared alongside Michael Jackson as the first artists to truly crossover from black music and stride deep into the white mainstream. Prince later resented comparison with Jackson, and a rivalry between them ensued. Feeling impinged by Prince’s control in the studio, Dickerson quit the band following the tour’s conclusion in April 1983. It spurred Prince to double down on keeping momentum. Guitarist Wendy Melvoin, introduced to Prince by her childhood friend Lisa Coleman, was hired in replacement of Dickerson. The backing band even received a name, The Revolution. Superstardom was just on the horizon.

Part 2 – Power Fantastic

(1983-90)

Accompanied by his new band The Revolution, with whom and for the first time Prince uncharacteristically shared creative output in the studio, work was begun on his sixth album Purple Rain. Recording got underway in August 1983 and during this time Prince even wrote the second album for Vanity. But when its then lead singer (former model and then girlfriend of Prince) Vanity Matthews quit, the group assumed the name Apollonia 6 after her replacement, 22-year-old Mexican actress and singer Patrica “Apollonia” Kotero. She would play the female lead and Prince’s muse in the movie Purple Rain to accompany the album.

Purple Rain (1984)
Purple Rain (1984)

The concept for a movie stemmed from the Triple Threat Tour, when Prince’s manager Bob Cavallo began to tout Prince to Hollywood, and, after some persuasion convinced Warner Films to finance a $7 million movie that documented the backstory to Prince’s troubled upbringing and emergence in the Minneapolis music scene. The film would be very much based in fact but not without dramatic embellishment. The narrative of the story would recount his increasing insecurity performing alongside The Time, who shared the same bill during the 1999 tour. Initially titled Dreams, the project was soon renamed Purple Rain. Fame scriptwriter William Blinn was brought onboard to contrive a story that charted Prince’s struggles. Director, Albert Magnoli, who had just one movie short to his name, took the project on after some convincing, and spent four weeks rewriting much of the script. Preproduction began on 15 September 1983, followed by ten weeks of filming starting from 1 November. Shot at various locations throughout Minneapolis production moved to Los Angeles to escape the extreme cold of Minneapolis winter and wrapped in March 1984. It was shot at locations important in Prince’s early career, particularly First Avenue, the nightclub Prince played often and honed his live act since 1980 when the venue was known as Sam’s.

Some of the movie’s soundtrack was recorded live at the same venue as well as a local warehouse and at Prince’s home studio on Kiowa Trail. Prince was delighted with the material for the new album, and his writing became ever more prolific; penning at this time hits like Sugar Walls for Sheena Easton, concealed under the name of Alexander Nevermind; Manic Monday for Apollonia, which he instead gave to The Bangles, and Nothing Compares 2 U which was later famously passed to Sinead O’Connor in 1990.

Requiring Prince to write a track to use as a segment in the film, Magnoni wanted it to back a montage portraying Prince’s troubled upbringing, the song written was When Doves Cry. When released in May 1984 as the soundtrack’s lead single, When Doves Cry was not only Prince’s first number one hit, but the biggest selling single of his entire career – topping the charts for 12 weeks it remained in top 100 for 50 weeks. The second single from Purple Rain, Let’s Go Crazy, followed two months later likewise topped the Billboard Hot 100. These portents of success of the movie and its soundtrack would set the course of Prince’s meteoric rise to stardom.

Prince may be the unlikeliest rock star in recent memory – but a star he definitely is.

Bill Adler, New York Times

The Purple Rain album was released on 25th of June 1984 and sold 1.3 million copies that day, a number that eventually rose to a staggering 24 million. The film premiered at Grumman’s Chinese Theatre, Hollywood the following day and grossed $70m – a not only highly impressive take for a music movie but made it one of the year’s major blockbusters and most successful music movie since The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night. The soundtrack was acclaimed at the Academy Awards, winning Best Original Score on 25 March 1985 and was the highlight of the 1985 awards season yielding Prince’s most successful year. The resulting Purple Rain Tour was also an instant success. Selling 1.7 million tickets and breaking venue records across its near 100 shows, the tour grossed $30m. Eric Leeds, bother of Prince’s tour manager Alan Leeds, was added to the line-up to play saxophone on the tour. The tour began in November 1984 and ran until 7 April 1985, drawing an audience of 55,000 on its final show – staged at Miami’s Orange Bowl (renamed ‘Purple Bowl’ for the occasion). Although the Purple Rain Tour was intended to continue to Europe, exhausted by the gruelling schedule, pressure, and just wanting to work on something else, Prince pulled the tour to a close. He had its Syracuse show broadcast live to Europe to placate fans who could not now visit the tour in person. This recording also sold double Platinum when released as a VHS home video titled Prince And The Revolution: Live. Above all, the LP collected three American Music Awards in January 1985 and two Grammy Awards on 26 February (two for Purple Rain: Best Original Album and Best Performance, plus a third for Chaka Khan’s cover of I Feel For You as Best R&B Single – which also charted number one). Amid all this whirlwind success, Prince found time to work with Sheila Escovedo to create her debut album The Glamorous Life. With The Glamorous Life having also received a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Single, it saw Prince with two nominations in the same award category.

Being the world’s biggest star in 1985, Prince was invited to participate in LiveAid, but owing to scheduling commitments with the Purple Rain Tour Prince declined the offer to sing on the single We Are The World. It was a controversial decision not to turn up at A&M Studios right after the AMA’s having already collected three awards that night. In truth, Prince did not wish to perform vocals in front of Michael Jackson and forty other music icons – preferring even to send his own engineer from his studio while laying down vocals. Prince instead offered a specially written song 4 The Tears In Your Eyes for the accompanying album. The track was recorded on the Purple Rain stage at the New Orleans Superdome. A subsequently shot video of him performing it was aired during the LiveAid concert at Philadelphia on 13 July 1985. Prince’s non-involvement in the event was met with both incredulity and destain in the media, viewed as an apparent arrogant snub. It brought Prince his first negative press coverage, which compelled him to write Hello (issued as B-side to Pop Life with his next album) in response to the criticism: “I tried 2 tell them that I didn’t want 2 sing, but I’d gladly write a song instead. They said ‘Okay’ and everything was cool, ‘Til a camera tried 2 get in my bed.”

Around The World In A Day (1985)
Around The World In A Day (1985)

Prince’s follow-up to Purple Rain was widely expected to reprise its winning formula. Although largely written during the Purple Rain Tour and recorded at a rented warehouse – 9025 Flying Cloud Drive in the quiet outskirts of Minneapolis, the style and tone of Prince and The Revolution’s second album Around The World In A Day was polar opposite in comparison. The music press, Warner, and the buying public alike, all eagerly anticipated radio-friendly tracks of a very similar style of its predecessor, considering that album’s stellar success. But Prince had other ideas. Bored performing Purple Rain on tour and not wishing to write what was to his mind an obvious and all too easy squeal, Prince took a different slant, drawing Around The World In A Day on psychedelic influence. The album received mixed reviews as result, yet charted number 1 and sold 4.2 million copies worldwide, as well as produced two top ten singles – Prince’s fourth chart topping single Raspberry Beret winning an MTV gong for video production. With The Time disbanding after their third record Ice Cream Castle citing Prince’s inflexibility to accommodate any creative input, in 1984 Prince assembled a replacement side-project named The Family. The band was formed of those from The Time who remained loyal to Prince, and a guise for him to grow his relationship with its appointed lead singer Susannah Melvoin (twin sister of Revolution guitarist Wendy Melvoin). White and unlike Prince’s past Latino girlfriends, Susannah became the love of Prince’s life and in 1985 they got engaged.

Eager to start a life together, the couple moved into their new home, a secluded mansion set within a 30-acre private parkland at 7141 Galpin Blvd. Purchased out of the proceeds from his success with Purple Rain, whilst the fitting out his home studio which would not be complete until March 1986, Prince flew to France to shoot his second movie Under The Cherry Moon. Filmed entirely on location in the French Rivera between September and November 1985, requesting a purple Rolls Royce despite being shot in black and white, the film was a commercial failure. Having met considerable success with the Purple Rain movie, Warner dared not question Prince’s judgement. Under The Cherry Moon grossed a mere $10m at the box office. Its soundtrack Parade – Prince and The Revolution’s third and as would transpire final album – fared considerably better, charting within the top-5 in both the US and UK. Recorded between Hollywood’s Sunset Sound and far less glamorously at Prince’s new rented warehouse on Washington Avenue in the suburb of Edina, Minnesota, its lead single Kiss produced Prince’s fifth US number one, and fourth Grammy win; Best Vocal Performance.

Parade (1986)
Parade (1986)

On returning to the US after the filming, Prince played 11 short notice shows that became known as the ‘hit and run’ concerts. These were audience tests for a larger tour, the Parade Tour, which would be staged in Europe, his first full-scale tour of the continent. For it, The Revolution’s touring line-up was expanded to include a second guitar to free up Prince, filled by Miko Weaver recruited from Sheila’s band E-Train. Matthew Blistan was enlisted on trumpet following recommendation from Eric Leeds to give the band a proper brass section. Prince gave Atlanta resident Blistan the stage name Atlanta Bliss. A dance trio was also added – Jerome Benton, Wally Safford and Greg Brooks. Although the Parade Tour was a brief run of 19 arena shows, it immediately sold out its entire allocation of 150,000 tickets, and was joined by Sheila E as support act. The tour also introduced the aftershow performance, which became a feature of Prince’s tours since. Once back in his now operational Galpin Blvd home studio towards the end of 1986, Prince continued the most prolific year of his recording career. As well as working on an three albums of his own, his attention also turned to expanding the catalogue of his side projects: a second album for Sheila E, plus a new and untried avenue as an instrumental jazz funk quartet named Madhouse – its line-up comprised of just Prince on keyboards and Eric Leads on sax, and soon expanded into a full ensemble for the follow-up album, to include Sheila E (drums) who likewise introduced Prince to her Oakland band mate, Levi Seacer, to play bass.

As the Parade Tour progressed throughout the summer of 1986, Prince grew increasingly constrained as he wanted to pursue new creative directions he felt was unable to do in a collaboration. The expansion to the touring line-up caused infighting in the band, which the musicians felt was morphing into a dance show with the inclusion of Benton, Safford and Brooks. Prince’s frustration was laid bare during the climax of the tour’s final show, when he smashed his two custom Cloud guitars onstage while performing Purple Rain. Doing that and to this song seemed to symbolise his desire to draw an end to The Revolution era and move on alone. In that moment the band realised their time was over. Prior to the tour, the recording sessions for what was to be The Revolution’s fourth album was already complete by April 1986, but when the tour ended that September, Prince fired the whole band and printed the announcement as a short press release on 17 October 1986 confirming “Rock star Prince is disbanding The Revolution, his band of the last four years, and is exploring a new direction.” The band’s final project was a double LP named Dream Factory, which they completed just prior to the Parade Tour and was to be their forth album. On his return to the studio, Prince sprang to work on a new solo project, crediting its tracks to his new pseudonym Camille. By that November an entirely new eight track album titled Camille was ready. But that too was soon abandoned as he returned once again to the tracks recorded for Dream Factory. Prince set about reworking the project to cleanse The Revolution’s input from the material. The record in result expanded into a triple album which he named Crystal Ball – with much of the new tracks drawing inspiration from the breakdown of Prince’s relationship with Susannah Melvoin, largely due to wanting to isolate her from her fired sister Wendy.

Sign O' The Times (1987)
Sign O’ The Times (1987)

Anxious for the commercial potential of a triple LP, Warner’s Lenny Waronker received the awkward challenge to talk Prince into paring the album down to two discs. Prince begrudgingly obliged and, settling on a new name for this project, the configuration of the resulting double album was Sign O’ The Times. It was released to critical acclaim on 30 March 1987 charting deep in the US and UK top-ten. Although producing three top ten singles, including U Got The Look – a late addition to the tracklist and duet with friend Sheena Easton – Sign O’ The Times failed to meet expectations with the American audience. A new touring band was needed to replace those fired from The Revolution. Its sole survivor Matt Fink remained on keyboards. He was joined by Sheila E in replacement of replace Bobby Z on drums and a new member “Cat” Glover was enlisted as dancer and backing vocalist. Just like the earlier Parade Tour, the Sign O’ The Times Tour was focused in Europe to shore up Prince’s ever growing fan base overseas. It was a turning point in his career, that for the first time saw Europe overtake the US in sales of his music, largely due to the US market viewing Prince as slipping too deeply into mainstream pop since Purple Rain forsaking his funk roots of earlier albums. It was indeed the core reason behind Prince disbanding The Revolution to refresh both his studio output and live act. The supporting outdoor tour was dogged by poor weather; two shows planned for London’s Wembley Stadium that June were cancelled and trouble finding alternative indoor venues large enough and at short notice saw its UK schedule pulled. However, 350,000 fans managed to catch its run of the 34 dates played. Because many had missed the shows due to cancellations caused by weather and missing out the US, Prince had two of its concerts filmed in Netherlands. This footage was spliced together with extra scenes filmed at Prince’s newly completed Paisley Park Studios, the facility’s debut production, the accompanying Sign O’ The Times movie. Burned by the commercial failure of his previous movie Under The Cherry Moon, Warner declined to distribute the new movie, leaving Prince to source an independent provider. Against expectations the movie grossed a highly respectable $3 million and, with Sign O’ The Times since considered Prince’s masterpiece album, the accompanying movie was hailed the greatest concert movie of all time. The success of 1987 helped restore Prince’s American following.

Prince was not used to not getting his way.

Alan Leeds, tour manager – 1983-1989

Prince moved his studio out of Galpin Blvd in 1987 and into his custom-built recording studios and film production complex at 7801 Aubudon Road, which he christened Paisley Park. Through his successes, in January 1986, Prince commissioned the construction of his own recording and tour rehearsal space Paisley Park Studios, a sprawling two-storey white panelled exterior state of the art recording facility complete with movie soundstage. It was more akin to an industrial unit than a star’s mansion, hidden in the rural outreaches in the Minneapolis suburb of Chanhassen. Back in 1985 Warner had allowed Prince to establish his own label, Paisley Park Records. Albeit an imprint of Warner Brothers Records, the music giant had taken the rarely used step to grant an artist full creative control of their label’s entire output. Not only was Prince intent to use the studios to produce his own music, Prince set about signing new acts to his newly inaugurated Paisley Park Records. The first he signed was Jill Jones an occasional girlfriend who Prince knew since 1980 and had appeared in the Purple Rain movie. So keen was Prince to showcase her vocal talent, he wrote every song on her debut self-titled album. Prince concealed his involvement under the pseudonym Joey Coco, the Jill Jones album is arguably the best associated artist albums released under the Paisley label.

Never before had an artist established a self-contained creative compound. Paisley Park became operational on 11 September 1987, built to a final cost of $10m and housing two full recording studios and one rehearsal studio, as well as 12,400 square foot soundstage and suites boasting facilities able to stage full-scale film production and concert rehearsals. Such was its facilities, until 1996 the complex was also open for commercial hire. Patrons included Madonna and Stevie Nicks. Paisley Park remained Prince’s main recording studio until the end of his life in 2016, functioning as a record label in its own right and receiving the production credit to Prince’s albums until 1993. Madonna produced portions of her Like A Prayer album at Paisley Park in 1988, for which Prince co-wrote and duets Love Song, as well as provided guitar solos for Keep It Together, Act Of Contrition and produced the first cut of the title track Like A Prayer. Several movies were also shot there.

Lovesexy (1988)
Lovesexy (1988)

Responding to criticism Prince had lost his funkiness and that Sign O’ The Times lacked bass, in 1986 Prince worked on a new album this time influenced in the emerging genre of hip hop. Returning also to the name Camille, he intended this to be the funkiest album ever made. Its cover would be badass black and the project was so named The Black Album. Yet its content proved too dark even for Prince to release, and in December 1987, days before its planned street date, Prince pulled the album from sale. Having felt its lyrical narrative was too negative and lewd, having written it during a one-time experimentation with ecstasy, Prince’s inaugural studio project at Paisley Park was to produce its hurriedly worked replacement – a record far more positive in tone as if in atonement for creating The Black Album. This new LP, Lovesexy, Prince tenth, was finished by February 1988 after taking a mere three months to complete. It was one of history’s quickest completed albums from writing to release. Hitting the top spot in the UK album chart but only number 11 in the US, yet again more copies of the LP was sold in Europe than did in the US. So once again, the supporting Lovesexy Tour kept Prince on friendly ground and concentrated in Europe; drawing a total audience of 500,000 to stadium-sized venues across its 77 dates. The show’s production was performed ‘in the round’ and was so extravagant it barely broke even despite selling out. Frustrated with faltering momentum in the US, Prince fired his management team Cavallo, Ruffalo and Fargnoli 3 January 1989, who would be replaced by Purple Rain director Magnoli as his manager.

Magnoli’s first task was to reinvigorate US interest in Prince. The star had shied from interviews, throughout the 1980s, and so in 1989 Magnoli put together a TV documentary titled Prince: A Musical Portrait to reintroduce him to the nation. He shot footage of the interiors of Paisley Park where cameras were previously forbidden, and captured interviews with Eric Clapton, George Clinton, Terence Trent D’arby, Quincy Jones, Little Richard, Randy Newman and Miles Davis, associates Owen Husney and Alan Leeds and band members to chronicle the enigma of Prince. The documentary also included archive footage of rehearsals and an aftershow on Lovesexy Tour, personal footage from Dirty Mind Tour, as well as at work in the studio. The project subsequently passed to the BBC and was re-edited and aired as an hour long Omnibus special The Prince of Paisley Park, on 13 December 1991.

Batman (1989)
Batman (1989)

Although growing in popularity in Europe, interest in Prince had slowed in the US. In the attempt to boost the profile of their star signing, Warner Brothers encouraged Prince to contribute to the soundtrack of their latest big-budget movie blockbuster, Batman. Since its director Tim Burton hoped to include 1999 and Baby I’m A Star in key scenes of the movie, Prince, a fan of the TV series since childhood, decided to instead make an entire album of new material and write and record that solo. It was a considerable success, storming to the top of both the US and UK charts. Selling 6 million copies in the US, 11 million overall, Prince’s Batman soundtrack became one of the fastest selling albums to that date (achieving 1 million sales within its first week) and furthermore its lead single Batdance gave Prince his sixth US number one single. The experience rekindled Prince’s interest for movie-making, and latching to his renewed success Warner agreed to finance Prince to script his third movie and its accompanying soundtrack. The resulting Graffiti Bridge album was recorded mainly by Prince again working largely alone. Its tracks were re-workings of much older material amassed within his now fabled vault of quite considerable unreleased back catalogue. The soundtrack included appearances from a specially reunited The Time, their first collaboration with Prince since shooting Purple Rain. The project was planned to be a visual and audio spectacle, with Prince reprising his role as The Kid, it would be created in the hope the new film would emulate the winning formula of its 1984 predecessor.

Graffiti Bridge (1990)
Graffiti Bridge (1990)

The Graffiti Bridge movie was shot entirely at Paisley Park Studios over a mere 36 days and complete by March 1990. The film is in essence the sequel to Purple Rain; continuing the story of one-upmanship between the two battling bands, this time fighting over two competing venues. But plagued with too many changes in personnel and to the script, the movie failed to perform anywhere close to the cinematic success of its forerunner. The Time had reunited for the movie also for a reported fee of $10 million and was afforded far greater creative input into their reunion album Pandemonium. Yet they and the movie’s stylish dance routines and lavish music scenes could not improve its fortunes. The film was poorly received and swiftly pulled from theatres.

To Prince, the movie’s failure at the box office was a massive blow. Its accompanying soundtrack Graffiti Bridge dropped in August 1990 to build momentum for the release of the movie. Plagued with reshoots, its premier slipped to November, portent of its dismal success. The album comprised of reworked versions of older out-takes Prince pulled from his vault, it received one newly written lead single, Thieves In The Temple created at the last minute – it reached the top 10 in both the US and UK. In the UK the album topped the chart (reaching number 6 in the US). That June Prince embarked his Nude Tour, a tour so named to highlight this was a stripped down arena affair to recoup the expenses incurred by the preceding Lovesexy shows. Nude was additionally Prince’s first tour not in support of an album, and because of album sales yet another tour that would not be staged in the US. Nude Tour was nonetheless attended by 1 million throughout its run of 60 shows across Europe and Japan. Although performing only a few songs from either Batman or Graffiti Bridge in its later dates, while on the road Prince crucially rekindled his love for playing with a band. Eager to return to the studio following the tour, he cast aside his drum machine and sampler, as his next album would have edge and the driving power of a band. Yet Prince himself was still reaching for a big commercial hit to rebuild his US following, in steady decline since his Purple Rain peak. His frustration began a simmering blame toward his record label, Warner Records. In truth his late 80s output was received as trend following than defining new limits in music. Faced with the prospect of diminishing relevance against the growth of hip hop, having veered too deeply into the white mainstream and more aligned to European tastes, a much-needed reboot was required to his career and material for his next and what was to be thirteenth (and not so solo) studio album. It was time to get funky.

Prince biography continues »
The Warner dispute (1991 – 1996) & NPG era (1997 – 2016)

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