by Cynthia Horner
Prince is a mystery man. His record company biography is a collection of information similar to a Right On! fact sheet. It simply tells his name (the name he chooses to use), his age, and the fact that he’s the youngest producer in the history of Warner Bros. Records.
When you finally meet him; he’s still a mystery. It’s no wonder that Right On! (one of his favorite magazines) is one of the few publications that’s granted the opportunity to meet him, because those who have, have gone away unsatisfied. Why? Because Prince refuses to talk about himself. Getting answers from him is like trying to pry open a clam.
It’s not that he’s trying to keep himself a mystery, he just doesn’t have much to say. Sometimes it’s because he’s being a tease, and other times because he really doesn’t know what to say.
When I was sitting in a recording studio listening to him play an intricate piece of music on equipment I’ve never even seen before, I was amazed at the talents this eighteen-year-old genius possesses. His finesse on these instruments is better than musicians twice his age. Sunglasses temporarily hide his resemblance to one of the Sylvers, but outside in the bright sunlight, your struck by his handsome looks, his wistful, longing expression, and his glorious head of hair. Surprisingly, this strong masculine figure is really short—no more than about 5’2″ probably.
Prince’s home is in Minneapolis, Minn., a city, not typically known for producing music giants the way California and New York churn them out. His musical background consists of pianoplaying father (the person who insisted his first name be Prince) and a mother who sings. No, he didn’t grow up taking music lessons. “I took one piano lesson and one guitar lesson,” he recalls. “I didn’t learn anything. I taught myself.”
Thinking back, he laughs for a second and reveals a tiny part of his nature. “I’m stubborn,” he said, his brown eyes boring right through me. “I took a few music classes in school but mainly, I worked on my own.”
As the amazing success story unfolds I find it necessary to tell you that Prince not only wrote, composed, arranged, and produced all the tunes on his debut album, For You, but he also played all the instruments. Funny that he never had anybody teach him how to use any of them. When questioned about the amount of instruments he plays, he shrugs nonchalantly and says, “I don’t know, I never counted. I am learning to play the flute, though,” he offered.
A teenager’s deep immersion into the recording business is indeed rare. While other young men are exploring the wonder of the opposite sex or trying to prepare themselves for a career, Prince was creating an album which was so exciting, that it immediately drew interest from multiple record companies. The fact that his parents aren’t musical giants on a level of Maurice White or a Stevie Wonder makes it even more of a phenomenon. His personal manager Owen Husney, the person Prince turns to the most, explains.
“Prince is from a regular family, depending on how you define ‘regular,’ Compared to having been born in a Maurice White family, yes. But I think that the best thing Prince had was that he knew how to work with the right people intuitively in making the kinds of decisions that furthered him. This know-how helps him get to the right places at the right time.’’
Besides being at the right place at the right time, Prince’s self-confidence (even though outwardly he appears to be very withdrawn and reticent) has taken him to unbelievable heights. After all, how many musicians would be bold enough to produce their very first album?
As Prince sees it, “I thought I knew my material better than any other producer and it seemed like I was best suited for the job,”
Obviously, Warner Bros. agreed since there was no hesitation in allowing this Gemini to produce his package the way he saw fit. In fact, his disco tune “Soft And Wet” which incidentally, is one of the tunes he sent to the record companies on demo tapes, is rapidly climbing record charts as well as being played constantly. How does he feel about it?
“It doesn’t seem like me,” Prince admitted, moistening his lips. Without meaning to, he does it very sensually. “Mainly because where I live is kind of isolated from the musical scene in itself. I can only tell what’s going on from reading magazines. When I hear ’Soft And Wet’ on the radio, it seems like someone else is singing.”
I’m inclined to agree because even though Prince, the singer, belts out his tune in a very high falsetto tone, his speaking voice is low and deep.
On a not-so-serious side, I ask Prince what are his interests besides music? Not a bit hesitantly, he replies, “Women, all kinds.” When prodded, he elaborates, “I like the ones with nice personalities.”
“Do you get out much?”
“No. Not really.”
“What age range of young ladies do you like?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
What are some of his “favorites”? He ponders but can’t think of any special activities or movies.
No favorite musicians either because as he puts it, “I haven’t had a lot of time to develop a favorite artist. I try not to listen to too many people. It’s distracting.”
Spoken like a dedicated musician.
“What kinds of clothes do you like to wear?”
“I hate clothes.”
Then you Probably seldom shop.”
“Well, no, not really, somebody goes for me.”
He looks down at his slacks and his nearly open-to-the-navel shirt over which a scarf rests fashionably.
“Mashed yeast,” he says seriously, with eyes sparkling in humor. “I don’t know,” he laughs.”
“You just like to play around. Now tell me some of your favorite foods.”
“Okay, you win,” I tell him. “Tell me what your favorite subjects were in school besides music and I’ll stop.”
“Dismissal,” he says. “I didn’t like school or sports. Only when I was younger.”
Has success changed the Minneapolis boy wonder?
He shakes his head no. “But it changes everybody else,” ,he observed. “How they treat you. It’s not bad though,” he screws up his brow trying to figure out how to explain the phoniness of people involved with show business. “I don’t dislike it yet. The only thing I have disliked is the late hours. Not that I like to go to bed early, it’s just that when I’m working, it gets pretty weird.”
When told he’s becoming a sex symbol probably faster than he’s becoming a respected musician, his eyes naively widen in amazement. He’s not sure how he feels about it but he does know he won’t be getting married soon. When? “By the time I’m ready to get married, there won’t be marriage,” he said philosophically. “Probably in the year 2066.”
“I wouldn’t mind having a child though, a test tube baby,” he said looking at me through those , that could turn a body to jelly.
“And I just want to say one last thing,“ added, taking over the tape recorder ” I really want to thank everybody for buying my album.”
After all, it was written for you!