Our Teen-Age Virtuoso Is Home To Play At Last

January 5, 1979 (Friday)

The Minneapolis Star

Our Teen-Age Virtuoso Is Home To Play At Last

by Jon Bream

Few people had ever seen the kid perform. But everybody in the local music community was talking about him.

“Hey, have you heard those tapes by that Minneapolis teenager who played all the instruments himself?”

Well, several major record companies heard the tapes and began courting the kid, known as Prince.

Warner Brothers Records signed him in 1977 to a reported three-album, six-figure deal and let him produce, arrange, compose and play all the instruments on his debut record, “For You,” which was released last spring.

Now, almost three years after Prince Nelson began creating a buzz, the local music community and Warner Brothers bigwigs finally will get a chance to see him perform. The extraordinary one-man-band will take the stage as a mere bandleader tonight and tomorrow at the Capri Theatre, 2027 W. Broadway.

“I’m nervous,” Prince said with a sheepish smile. “I’ll be terrified, because it’s gonna take a while to block out the fact there are people out there. I find it extremely hard to perform for people.”

“I think I found it hard to sing and play in front of my band at first,” said the 19-year-old, who has not performed publicly since he left a high school dance-band three years ago. “But now that I got to know them better, it’s really easy now and we all bounce off each other as far as energy goes. I think before I can bounce off the crowd it will take a few songs.”

Prince paused and looked down, displaying the reserve that has, in the past, led him to shun interviews and public appearances. He talks slowly, without a great command of the language. He stops in mid-thought, then suddenly, his big brown eyes peek out under the bill of his cap and he continues in soft-spoken monotone.

“I’m really free and open once I get to know a person. But when I first encounter something, I’m a little laid back and cautious. People constantly call me shy. I don’t feel shy, but I guess I sometimes come off that way to people. Everybody at Warner Brothers has a big impression I’m really quiet. If he doesn’t talk, he probably won’t dance or sing too much. I have to put to rest all those accusations.”

Making the transition from a one-man band to a frontman was difficult at first, but Prince says he’s handing it. “It’s complicated at times,“ he said last week in an interview at the west Minneapolis home where his group rehearses. “It’s fun when you hear it [his music] all come back with someone else’s interpretation. Deep down, I can tell it’s different, but sometimes on the surface it’s better. It’s not just me doing everything, trying to keep my energy level up at all times.”

Onstage, Prince will play different instruments on different songs. He has been working out the arrangements for the past several weeks with the five members of his band.

Like their leader, the other members of the band are young, unknown Minneapolis musicians, some of whom play more than one instruments. The oldest is 23.

Prince spent about four months auditioning local musicians for his group. He was determined to limit his search to local players because he feels there is “a lot of unknown talent here.”

However, he said he feels the local music climate stifles musicians. “There is not a lot of incentive here like there is in Los Angeles,” Prince said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m doing the concert [which is a benefit for the Capri, whose owner hopes to make it into a club]. There could be more clubs and more [variety to] radio stations here.”

Nevertheless, Prince appreciates the quiet of the Twin Cities and goes out of town for excitement. He’s kind of a loner and homebody who prefers to record in his studio and experiment with the couple of dozen instruments he plays.

When he was 5, Prince, the son of a show business couple, composed his first song using two rocks. He says he graduated to bigger rocks and bricks before his writing began to improve and he took up the piano at age 7.

He had one lesson. He never learned how to read or write music, but that didn’t deter his curiosity about instruments. When he was 13, he picked up the guitar. A year later, he began playing drums. The bass, organ, clavinet and an arsenal of synthesizers soon followed.

During those formative years, Prince preferred to make music, rather than listen to it. He stayed at home and learned his instruments. Thus, his childhood was rather introverted.

“I missed out on a lot,” he reflected, “but I don’t regret it. I missed out on socializing. But I get high off playing my music or going to a movie alone. I used to like to play sports, but I had to quit that. I used to want to go to college. I certainly don’t have time for that. At one time, I wanted to get married and I don’t have time for that. I wanted kids, too. But I don’t have time for that, either. I think the things I missed out on, my mind has changed about them. I think I’ve done what I wanted to do in life. In teen-age life.”

Indeed, at 18, Prince became the youngest person ever to produce an album for Warner Brothers.

He spent five months holed up in ritzy recording studios in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Sly Stone and members of Santana stopped by and offered encouragement. Prince was honored, but he already had enough confidence, even though his one-man project ran way behind schedule.

The results have been pleasing, he reports. “For You” entered the top-200 album charts and also scored on the soul and disco charts. His single, “Soft and Wet,” was well received in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston and the Carolinas.

To help promote his album, Prince attended autograph parties in some of those areas. “It was weird,” he recalled. “It was mostly kids from 11 to 20. They were relating to me being so young. There’s been ads in the teen magazines and my age has really come up.”

“The kids would ask me if my real name is Prince, what “Soft and Wet” means, and did I really play all those instruments myself.”

At a recent autograph party and disco dance in North Carolina, however, Prince didn’t have much of a chance to talk to his fans. He said about 3,000 kids showed up and after about 20 minutes, the crowd rushed the stage. Amid the hysteria, Prince departed and Warner Brothers representatives just passed out posters of him.

Back home, the budding recording star is removed from that kind of commotion. He doesn’t have to listen to Warner Brothers’ overblown build-up, look at record-store posters or read the write-ups in teen magazines and black publications.

“I try not to listen to that,” Prince said. “People expect you to be an egomaniac because of who you are. The way I am now, I was always. I suppose if I lived in California and rode in limos and had people waiting on me hand and foot, I could change. I’m not into all that.”

Although he may be removed from the west coast record business mania, Prince is not without his pressures in Minneapolis. He recently parted with his manager, Owen Husney, who had been his mentor and benefactor for more than two years. Husney declined to comment but Prince said the split was for personal reasons. The musician said he has arranged to “take care” of his business affairs.

Prince’s booking agency is setting up a brief concert tour this winter and spring. Agents for such performers as Ashford & Simpson, Santana and Chaka Khan have expressed interest in having Prince appear as their opening act.

After his tour, Prince expects to return to the studio to record his second one-man album. He hopes the disk will be an improvement over “For You,” but he doesn’t feel pressured.

He often thinks big, but he speaks with a soft-spoken confidence.

“I do what I want to do,” he said, “otherwise, this business will kill you. It [success] will happen if it’s supposed to. I don’t worry about it too much. What it all boils down to is nothing means nothing except love. As long as I got that, I don’t need money. If I went broke, it wouldn’t faze me. Love and music. As long as I got that, everything’s cool. Everything.”

Prince: A One-Man Band And A Whole Chorus, Too

April 30, 1978 (Sunday)

Minneapolis Tribune

Prince: A One-Man Band And A Whole Chorus, Too

by Tim Carr

Two summers ago, Chris Moon, the proprietor of Moon Sound Inc., a recording studio in south Minneapolis, had written what he felt was salable original material. He recorded the songs with just an acoustic guitar, as a demonstration tape for his studio, but when he played them back he realized he needed a piano player to “sweeten” them.

Moon had previously recorded tapes by a local group, Champagne, which featured a 16-year-old musician, who not only was good but would play the piano for not too much money. Moon gave the kid a call, and he accepted. After the pianist had laid down the keyboard track, he asked Moon if he wanted some bass on the song.

“Sure, but I don’t want to pay for a bass player”, Moon said.

The kid went into the studio and laid down a perfect bass line…then he put some drums on the tape…added an electric guitar lead line…and finally went in and put down some multiple tracks as a backup singer.

A slightly dazzled Moon edited the material and took the finished tape to his musician-manager friend Owen Husney to see what the thought about it.

“Not bad. Who are they ?” Husney said.

“It’s one 17-year-old kid,” Moon replied.

Maintaining his cool, straightening his tie, and squeaking in a high voice, Husney managed to ask, “Who ?”

“Prince”.

Prince – no mast name, no first name, no ”the ,” just Prince – was born in south Minneapolis on June 7, 1959, the son of a swing-band leader who used the stage name Roger Prince. His mother was the lead singer of the band. At the age of 7, Prince took up the piano.

“Around the time I was 8,” he said in an interview, “I had 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 doubt it.”

While in the seventh grade at Bryant Junior High, Prince joined a local dance band, Grand Central, which he played with until he was 16. (The group changed its name to Champagne when the members moved over to Central High School.) At 13 he had picked up the guitar. At 14 he was practicing daily on a drum kit. The bass followed naturally, as did an assortment of keyboard instruments – first a Magnus Chord Organ, a clavinet, and finally an army of synthesizers.

When Husney first heard the tapes, Prince has moved from Minneapolis to live with his sister in New York. Husney called him there, offered to be his manager and called him back back to Minneapolis to make some professional ‘demo’ tapes at Sound 80 Studios, where he discovered how a fully equipped recording studio worked and had a field day with the studio’s battery of synthesizers. His demo tape was very professional and impressive indeed.

Husney took the tape to the West Coast to peddle it to the major record companies. The Tape sold itself. Husney said every major record company was knocking on his door, wining and dining and offering him bids. “I meant, it was amazing. Herb Alpert (the A of A&M) was calling my office directly.”

Husney and Prince decided to go with Warner Brothers Records, which reportedly offered the now 18-years-old a six-figure contract, a three-record deal and allowed Prince to produce his own debut album. He is the youngest person ever to have produced a Warner Bros. album.

“Prince – For You” is the title of the album. Besides producing the album, he composed and arranged its nine songs and played every instrument and sang all the vocal parts on each song.

On the record, Prince plays the studio as if it were a musical instrument – as much so as any of the 27-or-so instruments he plays on it. Overdubs and multitracks bend together into a shimmering, lushly produced whole. A conglomeration of synthesizers creates the illusion of a full orchestra on some tracks, a horn section on others and a quizzical, simple serpentine organ line on others. There’s a little of everything here, even some blues buried deep down under all the jazz and pop and funk and rock and…

The album opens with Prince singing against 45 other vocal tapes of himself – a Niagara of voices cascading and intertwining over and around each other in a dreamy, romantic melody. It closes with a hard-rocking fireball titled “I’m Yours ,” wherein Prince shows that his guitar playing need not cower beneath his synthesizers. Three clean lead guitar lines a la Carlos Santana, all distinct and all cooking, wind around each other, jump from track to track (he knows how to use the studio) and wind up into a final, fiery fade-out.

And there are seven songs sandwiched between those two, too, varying vastly in mood, instrumental arrangement and musical genre. They are mostly love and lust songs, sung softly and carrying a big beat.

“I wanted to make a different-sounding record,“ Prince said last week while sitting in Husney’s Loring Park office. “We originally planned to use horns, but it’s really hard to sound different if you use the same instruments. By not using horns on this record, I could make an album that would sound different right away. So I crated a different kind of horn section by multi-tracking a synthesizer and some guitar lines.” ”I got hip to polymoogs (polyphonic-two handed-synthesizers) when I was here working at Sound 80. I liked them a lot then. I was trying to get away from using the conventional sound of pianos and clavinets as keyboards, as the main keyboards, so I Thought I would try to use that as the main keyboard on a few songs – and it worked. I think the main reason artists fall when they try to play all of the instruments is because, either they can’t play all the instruments really well – there is usually a flaw somewhere – or they don’t play with the same intensity each track. It’s a hard project to do, but you have to pretend each time that this is going to be your only track and that you’re the only guy who’s going to play that instrument. So every time you go into the recording booth, you have to play like it’s your only shot. If you do that, what you end up with is a whole band that is playing with the same intensity.”

What Prince ended up with was indeed a very intense pop-funk band…er… “I don’t like categories at all,” Prince said, reeling at the mention of a label for his music. “I’m not soul and I’m not jazz, but everyone wants to call me one or the other. The Bee Gees aren’t called soul. They’re pop or something. Whatever it is to whoever is listening to it is what it is. It’s hard to categorize the record, so I try not to use any categories at all. There is not one categorization that all of the tracks can fall into. Some are funk, some hard rock and roll, others like “For You” could be classical, you know ?“

What makes all them “Prince” ?

“It’s hard to say. I guess it’s just the basic sound. It’s hard to classify Earth Wind & Fire, for instance, but you can always tell it’s them when you hear them. It’s not a brand of music, it’s a group sound, identity of their own. If you want EW&F, you just go out and buy them. Maybe my voice, or just my total sound, who knows ? It is my album.”

Now Prince, who says he doesn’t want his real name known “because it’s too hard to remember,” is putting together a band to take with him on a national tour to promote the album.

“So far I only have a bass player, Andre Anderson from Champagne,” Prince said. “I’m going to New York to audition some people. I’m going to have two keyboard players on stage and have a lot of synthesizers. I’m not sure who I’ll have on stage. Right now I have to try to figure out who’s going to fit. I have to try and create a personality group. I’m looking forward to going out on the road ; I like performing.”

Will he bring any horns or woodwinds with him on the road ? “Well, I’m going to pick up a flute pretty soon.”