Alan Leeds (born January 26, 1947) is an American music executive, tour manager, production manager, writer and archivist best known for his work organizing performances and concert tours for artists such as James Brown, Prince, D’Angelo and Chris Rock. Leeds received a Grammy Award for Best Album Notes in 1992 for his work on the James Brown compilation Star Time. Leeds also penned the liner notes for the 1993 Prince box set The Hits/The B-Sides, and cowrote The James Brown Reader with Nelson George.
Housequake is very proud to present an interview conducted with Alan Leeds, one of the persons with a deeper knowledge on Prince’s career, and a fan of his music like all of us. We hope you will enjoy reading the interview!
There is a wide documentation of the Prince work during the first part of his career, while this knowledge is much lower from the early 90 onwards. Among the many shelved projects, is there something significant not disclosed thus far? If so, could you elaborate?
I think the sparse documentation of Prince’s activities from the early 1990’s onward is a function of how his business structure changed. Until 1989, Prince’s businesses were centrally based at Paisley Park and administered by a sizeable staff of professionals (both in Los Angeles and Minneapolis) with little turnover in personnel.
There was a consistency to how his business was handled. Nearly all his activities were documented and the common knowledge of several employees. However, after his “house cleaning” in 1989, Prince went through three different management structures, sometimes including legal and financial teams, in less than five years. As the size and loyalty of his staff diminished, so did the documentation of his activities. I am not personally privy to any aborted projects in the 1990’s that are of particular interest or significance.
In 1986 Prince started doing nightly aftershows. How did this idea come up? Can you tell more about it? How did band members think about it?
The aftershows were a natural outgrowth of an artist who was intrigued at the idea of performing often and in a variety of venues. It was clear to me that during a tour consisting of arena shows, Prince enjoyed the intimacy and immediacy that small clubs provided. He could veer away from rigid tour setlists and experiment with new material. The aftershows were not “nightly”. Without doing any math, I’d guess that during the mid to late 1980’s we probably averaged one or two such shows a week. Sometimes Prince would want to do an aftershow and we either couldn’t locate a suitable club on short notice or the equipment was in transit to the next city.
I had the impression that the band had mixed feelings about these shows. Since they were well enough paid, any reservations weren’t about money. But a band member might have made personal plans after a show or on an “off” night and resent having to remain on-call. Sometimes the crew protested an aftershow because of fatigue. Crew would be at an arena venue from early morning load-in until well after the evening’s show. Even on nights without a load-out, they’d be exhausted. The least pleasant aspect of organizing an aftershow was going to the crew and explaining that their work day just grew by another 4 or 5 hours.
Alan, we have a “Bootleg Discussion” forum on www.housequake.com and therefore been pressured often by Prince’s management to remove it. We are however in our rights to discuss them. Hence, most Prince fans we know, claim full hearted that they have remained a Prince fan for all those years, mainly because of them. But that aside, Prince’s most famous bootleg at the time is of course “The Black Album”; did you or Prince realize at the time (when its release was retracted), it would become one of the most famous & widely circulating bootlegs ever?
Regardless of the obviously illegal status of bootlegs, we would like to know if you consider they are a useful tool for music lovers who want to know every single aspect of the work of their favourite musician.
I wish the BLACK ALBUM had NOT been widely bootlegged – maybe the original legit copies would have held their market value – LOL. Bootlegs are a touchy issue. Theoretically, unissued studio recordings have no place on the black (forgive the pun) market – an artist’s prerogative to control the access to his or her recordings shouldn’t be questioned. The behind the scenes glimpse at the creative process might be fascinating to fans and musicologists but ultimately it’s “Peeping Tomish” if the recordings are unauthorized. While I was running Paisley Park Records we captained a major investigation, along with the R.I.A.A. and the F.B.I., into the black market CD’s that were showing up all over the U.S. and Europe. No legal action resulted, other than to confiscate illegal product from dealers. The proliferation of bootlegged material suggested someone who had regular access to the tape vault and suspicion was directed towards several Paisley Park associates and employees. But because Prince himself was so generous (and careless) with cassettes of his unissued material, it was impossible to legally prove guilt in any one direction.
Prince always expressed anger and frustration over these unauthorized records and C.D.s., but there’s no question that they contributed to his mystique and to the loyalty of his die hard fan base. Legalities aside, I felt differently about recordings of concerts. Given the technology that made it so easy for fans to record gigs, it seemed hopeless to try to police it. Furthermore, concerts are, by nature, performances for the public. Of course it’s unethical and illegal for bootleggers to profit from these recordings at the artist’s expense. At the end of the day, I always felt that fans who bought bootlegs knew exactly what they were getting and likely already had each and every legal Prince recording on the market.
As cunning as Prince is about exploiting the market place, I suspect that his true inner feelings about bootlegs might be just a little different than what he expresses publicly.
The movies made by Prince had a truly striking evolution, going from overhype (Purple Rain) to overflop (Graffiti Bridge) in just 6 years. In your opinion, what are the reasons explaining this?
I think an analysis of Prince’s film career is actually quite simple. PURPLE RAIN was an otherwise mediocre film with amazing performance scenes. Despite the success of the CONTROVERSY and 1999 tours, most of the general public had yet to discover the legend-in-the-making that PURPLE RAIN revealed. And culturally it was the right statement at the right time. Disco was dead, pop was bland, punk was struggling to find a balance between underground and the mainstream, and funk was attempting a renaissance. Like no other project, both musically and visually, Prince and PURPLE RAIN brilliantly captured and illustrated that particular place and time. Most importantly, it was a film produced and directed by professionals. I have little doubt that Prince could have been a fine film director/producer had he elected to study and learn the craft.
I suspect the runaway success of PURPLE RAIN may have fooled him into thinking he could take shorts cuts into a film career. He couldn’t. On UNDER THE CHERRY MOON he was surrounded by a talented and experienced crew but Prince frequently ignored their input. On GRAFFITI BRIDGE he avoided that “problem” by surrounding himself with a crew that hesitated to question him. Film is a field that demands enormous patience, both in preparation and execution. Just lighting a scene can take tedious hours, particularly when the director improvises changes on the spot. And everyone knows that the one attribute Prince lacks is patience.
The relationship between Mo Ostin and Prince, according to reports, was privileged. What is the influence it had on Prince’s career? In spite of this, Prince left WB with a bad taste for both parts, probably. After all these years, who do you think had a more significant responsibility in that conflict?
Mo Ostin did what any “artist friendly” 1980’s label head would have done with an artist as gifted as Prince, nurture and support him. It was Warner’s executive Russ Thyret that first sponsored Prince to Ostin and devoted many weeks to priming Prince during the making of his debut album. Ostin and Prince enjoyed a mutual respect but they were never close. In fact by 1983 Prince seldom consulted Ostin (or anyone else at Warner Brothers). He spoke to them only to express his plans and desires. He wasn’t interested in any label input. To their credit, Ostin and his staff of senior executives indulged Prince to an uncommon degree. Sure they had their conflicts – S.O.T.T.’s cancelled 3rd record, for example – but Ostin remained unconditionally supportive through LOVESEXY.
As for Prince’s Paisley Park projects, I know for a fact that Ostin financially backed the label and wanted to see it succeed. The conflicts increased once Ostin decided that Prince wasn’t taking the label seriously enough. Ostin felt that a succession of “girlfriend” records and Prince’s generosity towards legacy artists past their prime weren’t representative of a real label. I don’t doubt that once Prince’s own record sales slowed, Ostin might have expressed some opinions that weren’t to Prince’s taste (I was out of the mix by then). By and large, I believe Warner Brothers was incredibly patient and supportive of Prince. One can only imagine what Prince’s career might have been had he been signed, for example, to Sony Records under the outspoken and confrontational Tommy Mottola.
I believe Warner Brothers was incredibly patient and supportive of Prince.
The whole change name from Prince to 0(+> had a huge negative impact in the media perception about Prince as a musician. Although this is a rather well known story, we would like to if you could provide further illumination to understand the human (as opposite to the superstar) reasons which led him to start, first, the name change, then the fight against WB. Do you think that his public image has been completely recovered since 2004, once the “normal” Prince has been massively exposed through tours and TV broadcasts?
One thing Prince proved is that no matter what he calls himself, he’s basically the same guy. In retrospect, I’m not sure the whole name change issue is significant. Prince’s curious and singular approach to his music, his recordings and his public image hasn’t changed much since he took complete control of his career in 1989. No one should dispute his right to retain control and one can only conclude that what he does professionally is by choice and to his liking. As for how his image is interpreted by media, that is THEIR right.
You have previously discussed your years running Paisley Park Records, and your opinion about Prince lack of interest in having actual success with the artists signed to that label. However, do you think any of those acts had real potential to get a hit album? And if so, would in all cases be required the creative input from Prince, or there was some artist who deserved success by himself?
Let’s face it. Warner Brothers was motivated to invest in a Prince record label simply because of his proven ability to conceptualize a project and then write and produce hit songs. He had done it for The Time, Vanity 6, Sheila E and even The Bangles (albeit on another label). Warners wanted more of that.
What they got was a series of projects which had artistic credibility but lacked mainstream appeal. That doesn’t discredit the viability of those artists. This business has always been full of fascinating, gifted artists who, for one reason or another, never got that one magic song that was capable of racing up the charts. Still, there’s no doubt that several Paisley Park Records could have benefited from more creative input from Prince.
What is your opinion on the state of Prince’s numerous unreleased recordings? I heard a rumor that the mastertapes for a lot of this material is now degrading and if Prince doesn’t transfer it to new media it may be lost forever. Linked to the above question, I heard that near the end of his relationship with WB there were plans to archive the vault onto digital media, but Prince decided against it at the last minute.
Given his current religious beliefs and apparent disinterest in his own past, many fans are concerned that the vault material may be past saving, and that the poor quality bootlegs circulating may end up being the only record of these songs! Do you think there is any truth to this, and what’s your opinion on matter?Recording tape doesn’t last forever. Preservation and deterioration are issues facing any label or artist with a vault full of tape. I haven’t heard any horror stories specifically about Prince’s archive so I have no reason to believe his tapes are in any more danger than anyone elses. Nor do I agree that he is disinterested in his past. Given his overt concern about his legacy, I can’t imagine Prince not properly preserving his master tapes.
Do you think there’s any hope for a revamp and remaster of Prince’s back catalogue? Other major artists have been enjoying revitalised sales with remastered and repackaged archive releases. Prince’s back catalogue in comparison is woeful, with the sound quality on some of the CD versions of his past albums being decidedly poor by today’s standards.
I’d love to see Prince allow his back catalogue to get the sort of treatment recently enjoyed by The Cure or Madonna. Of course it would be great to get expanded releases with extra tracks, but even just a straightforward remastering job (like David Bowie) would be hugely appreciated. Especially if they included sleeve-notes from yourself, like the Hits albums or James Brown’s Star Time collection. What’s your opinion on this?I appreciate you suggesting me being involved with any potential upgrading and repackaging of Prince’s back catalogue. It would be a labor of love, but I’m not holding my breath. I don’t doubt that at some point Prince will turn his interest towards his catalogue. I assume the Warner Brothers rights to the old albums is an issue for Prince. Hopefully he can park his distaste for all things Warners long enough to broker some sort of compromise deal that could be beneficial for both parties. That it hasn’t happened is a travesty.
I don’t doubt that at some point Prince will turn his interest towards his catalogue.
You have spoken before about the “insular situation” of Prince. Do you think that the quality of Prince’s output has been hampered by a lack of personal interaction with the standard world? When comparing the pre-Lovesexy years to the albums released after Graffitti Bridge, do you think there was a difference in this regard that could somehow explain the post-Lovesexy downhill that is commonly accepted among Prince fans?
It’s difficult to say what exactly has influenced the type of writing Prince has done since the “high water mark” of his pre-LOVESEXY output. All the legends who lived long enough to enjoy lengthy careers had periods in which they did their best work – Ray Charles, James Brown, Elvis Presley et. al. One could argue that an artist simply defines himself or herself and from then on basically repeats themselves – their work increasingly derivative of their earlier benchmarks. Perhaps some artists simply lose interest in the creative process once their popularity has peaked out. Because Prince’s best work was so cleverly creative, musically and lyrically one might assume that he used to spend more time on his compositions. But I know that many of what are considered his best songs, developed very quickly – sometimes literally overnight.
The “insulation” argument held water throughout the 1990’s, but recent years have seen Prince mixing socially and professionally with a wide variety of folks at his infamous L.A. house parties and countless jams in Las Vegas. Whether he absorbs anything new in these circles or merely basks in the adoration is anyone’s guess. I can’t imagine anyone left in the music world who hasn’t recognized his brilliance. That he still appears to covet “acceptance” is odd. He has absolutely nothing left to prove to anyone, except apparently himself. On the other hand, maybe that’s what keeps him passionate about his performing. The fact is that Prince is no longer a young man and, like any of us, is assumedly pretty much set in his ways. I don’t doubt that he will continue to surprise us with WHAT he does, but he can’t much surprise us with WHO he is.
He has absolutely nothing left to prove to anyone, except apparently himself.
The “The Rainbow Children” album and later the ONA tour raised many hopes that Prince had reached a turning point of maturity in his career. However, many fans have expressed disappointment when he released the albums “Musicology” and “3121”, which have been considered by some hardcore fans as a soul-less approach to the masses, mainly intended to become popular again, but without a heartfelt, honest creative input. As a long time coworker with Prince and fan of his music yourself, what is your view on the music output of Prince since the release of “The Rainbow Children”?
With all due respect, it’s much more accurate to call me a fan of Prince’s music than a long time “co worker”. Despite 10 years in Prince’s employ, I never wrote or played a song in my life. Of the three albums you mention, I do feel THE RAINBOW CHILDREN is the most creative. All of which means just about as little as anyone elses opinion. Prince doesn’t write bad songs or make bad records.
However he does sometimes write boring songs that even his enthusiastic performances can’t make memorable. Which merely means he’s human. But to suggest that these records are not heartfelt or somehow dishonest is unfair and presumptuous. Before I pass judgment on any artist’s output I always remind myself that the music I enjoy the most seldom achieves mainstream popularity. If I can have eccentric, or offbeat taste why can’t an artist. I have no reason to think that Prince’s most recent music isn’t what genuinely appeals to him.
Closely linked with the above question, the Prince maturity is a topic that I would like to discuss in some depth. There have been artists enabled to capitalize on his back catalogue, while keeping a good commercial profile and focusing on live tours to keep his popularity and fan base (Bruce Springsteen or Van Morrison are two obvious examples). Yet, Prince fans, for the musical/business reasons outlined above, but also due to issues related with Prince personal life, are quite unsure on what will be the fate of Prince’s career in next years.
We don’t intend to digg into personal aspects, but given your long personal relationship with Prince, and his current situation, how do you expect him to deal with an artistic career in his 50s?
More than ever before, I don’t feel qualified to presume what Prince will, or should do, in the future. I have had virtually no personal contact with him, professionally or socially, in almost 15 years. When I left Paisley Park, Prince was still a young man and I was at the onset of middle-age. Now he’s middle age and I’m just a few years away from enjoying the perks of a senior citizen. I point this out because several mutual friends have told me that Prince today isn’t the guy I once knew so well. Some differences are obvious to all who follow his career but while I accept that people evolve, I’m one who doesn’t believe folks usually change that much. Whether it’s selling a “purple image” or heralding a religious awakening, it’s the same assertive passion. Everything Prince does, no matter the genre, seems calculated to have an effect on his audience. In this crucial sense, Prince hasn’t changed a bit.
There has been recent speculations about possible collaborations and recordings of Wendy & Lisa with Prince, several years after the official disbanding of The Revolution. And today more than ever, the reunion of famous bands of the 80s is the flavour of the day, with The Police being the most recent example. In your opinion, and taking into account the personal relationships of their members, is there any possibility of reuniting The Revolution? Do you think it would it be a good or bad move?
A Revolution reunion tour would be an absolute blockbuster but, once again, I don’t hold my breath. Prince has proven he doesn’t need them to sell out large venues. His bands may seem more anonymous with every tour, which I think is unfortunate, but the general public probably couldn’t care less as long as Prince remains capable of tearing up a stage. The members of the Revolution have all gone onto successful careers of varying degrees, none of which have any real ties to the kind of music and touring that Prince still relishes – a couple of them no longer even play regularly.
One of the reasons the band broke up was that Prince had musically outgrown most of them. On the other hand, the band’s brief performance at Sheila E’s Family Jamm in L. A. a couple years ago was impressive – making Prince songs come to life without Prince is no small accomplishment. Given all of the above, a reunion would be a financial not a creative statement. It could be a lucrative, one-time payday for all involved with a touch of nostalgia for the band and fans. However, it would make a lot more sense if Prince first devoted an album to new songs recorded with the band. Then a tour could stand for something more than a cheesy flashback.
However, it would make a lot more sense if Prince first devoted an album to new songs recorded with the band. Then a tour could stand for something more than a cheesy flashback.
Some might say Prince is a cultural icon with the inability to properly market himself. For example, three years after one of his most lucrative tours – Musicology – one would think a concert DVD would be on the shelves by now. Your thoughts?
You and I might not agree with every move Prince makes as a music executive in charge of his own output. But the fact is that he has remained an Internationally acclaimed, culturally relevant performer. Now 20 years past his biggest success, Madonna is probably the only peer of his generation. His marketing of MUSICOLOGY, both the album and tour was brilliant. His decision to perform at the Super Bowl proved equally stellar. He took what had been a disaster for Janet Jackson and a dismal non-event for the Rolling Stones and turned in a landmark appearance that will be remembered for years to come. Here is an artist who hasn’t had a genuine hit record in many, many years and is still viewed in the fickle world of pop music as a major force. If that isn’t successful strategy I don’t know what is.
Some happenings during 2006/07 point out to a rather unprofessional management of Prince career, in spite of the huge success of the Super Bowl. Although I’m tempted to suggest you to contact Prince to take charge of that task again, my question is: Given the Prince’s long experience in the music business, how could you explain such lack of quality management to drive the career of one of the top musicians in the modern music?
I think Prince’s “management” situation is exactly where he wants it to be – think “Mom and Pop” store competing in the retail world of Wal-Marts and Target Stores. Prince knows what elements of the entertainment business are important to Him. He has figured out unique ways to accomplish what he needs without getting caught up in the trappings of the industry. His approach – internet based publicity, one record deals with major labels, world tours with established tour promoters – doesn’t require paying percentages to managers and agents. He and his attorneys can negotiate his deals. This approach can continue to work for him as long as he retains his icon status and box office appeal.
Within the industry, there is still a cachet to being in business with Prince and he deserves all the credit for that. The downsides are the aspects of his “Mom and Pop” approach that may sometimes appear less than professional compared to the slick, formulaic career strategies adhered to by major labels and agencies, and most management companies and artists. In short, Prince has cleverly carved out a niche for himself, using (even manipulating) the industry when it serves him, and ignoring it the rest of the time. And I don’t think he cares a bit how it might look compared to anything else.
NPG Records is basically a boutique label. Why do you think Prince has shown no interest in signing new acts? Do you think it’s because he’s content with one album deals with the majors and seeing higher financial returns?
See previous answer. I think Prince is perfectly content with his situation which successfully eliminates interference from corporate record companies. As for NPG, the fact is that Paisley Park Records revealed that Prince’s interest in producing others is infrequent at best. Even when he did so, he usually molded an artist into his world rather than adorning what that artist already was. Every one in a while, he gets a passion to involve himself with another artist, such as Tamar. But, by and large, unless he sees an artist as some kind of extension of himself, he’s more comfortable devoting his production chops to his own records.
From the point of view of both a professional manager and a music lover, what is your opinion about the internet-related business of Prince, mainly by using the NPGMC?
For a somewhat reclusive artist, who enjoys contact with fans under the guise of anonymity, the internet was the ideal invention. As early as 1989 he was envisioning a cyber world where he could bypass traditional fan clubs, traditional record distribution etc. I know because he told me so – teasing me (and everyone else on his payroll) for not completely co-signing his vision.
Which are, in your opinion, the highlights in Prince’s career? I address not only the success points, but rather, the events which marked, for good or bad, landmarks in the musical story of Prince.
No profound answer here. Just my favorites. (A) The 1999 album and tour excitingly took Prince from being a “niche” artist into a dynamo who could write brilliant songs, out perform just about every rival and sell out arenas. The sense of awestruck “discovery” in the audiences and the enthusiasm among the cast and crew was among my most stimulating career experiences. (B) The ground- breaking runaway success of PURPLE RAIN, the movie, was beyond all our wildest expectations. The tour deserves the treatment of a whole book – the receptions on the opening shows was as close as anyone could get to a “Beatles” experience. Surreal. (C) The preparation for and filming of UNDER THE CHERRY MOON was an exciting time in the Prince camp.
We were all growing professionally but still enjoying the intoxicating wave of public and critical support. That we spent 3 months in the South of France didn’t hurt. The camaraderie within the immediate Prince camp was probably at its highest during 1985-1986. (D) The SIGN O THE TIMES shows – Prince’s first extensive European tour. The music was first rate, the band was on fire and the show was wonderfully imaginative without the over-the-top largesse of the later LOVESEXY tour. Which leads me right up to my biggest disappointments: canceling the U.S. portion of that tour and the mishandling of LOVESEXY the following year.
My biggest disappointments: canceling the U.S. portion of that tour and the mishandling of LOVESEXY the following year.
I am a Duke Ellington fan, and therefore watched and listened to his music & concerts often. Knowing you are a Jazz fan, you must have seen a lot as well. Many people say “The Duke” was the greatest, and most influential bandleader of all time. You were fortunate to see James Brown & Prince up close on stage directing their band members. Could you perhaps compare Prince with with James Brown & Duke Ellington as a bandleader? What are their similarities or differences?
Many similarities. All three shared certain skills including attracting the best musicians and earning their loyalty by translating their artistic visions in ways that gave everyone a “sense of ownership” in the outcome.
In each case, the bands felt a passion more typical of self-contained bands than mere sidemen. In other words, Prince, JB and the Duke knew how to get the most out of their musicians without them interfering with the artist’s own vision.
Whatever differences they had were pretty much just the dynamics of their individual personalities and mostly irrelevant to the music.
The control over the music output from Prince was one of the main issues during his last years working for WB. However, he has been in full editorial control on his music since 1996, and in spite of this, more than a few fans complain because they consider that the promises made back in the day (about more albums) have not been fulfilled; furthermore, many people think that Prince is in need of some kind of close authority with the ability to do some quality check. What is your take on this situation?
I think my feelings on this are pretty much expressed in comments above. Prince NEVER made a record because a record company pointed him in a certain direction. It’s Prince’s house, and for better and worse, it should remain so. I’m convinced that any outside intervention into Prince’s music or creative process would suffocate who Prince is. I’m not the least bit interested in seeing Prince record any other way, despite the fact that I may not personally like everything he does. His modus operandi is what makes him Prince and his repertoire so preciously unique.
Have you witnessed the birth of a Prince song in a studio or elsewhere (from start to finish), and if you did, can you tell us how all that happened?
Something I’m not really into describing except to say yes and it’s a bit like watching astronauts walking on the moon – something beyond imagination. For the record, I felt the same way the few times I watched James Brown and his J.B.’s put together a jam from scratch in a recording studio. As a non musician, you just sit in awe of where it all comes from.
Without any specific mention, the relationship between Prince and some of his most devoted fanzines and fan websites has been controversial, to say the least. Furthermore, the perseverance of some of those fanzines and websites to continue discussing and documenting Prince’s career, against his own will, is nothing short of amazing. However, this situation is paradoxical, as any outer observer would consider that Prince should actively support such kind of fan resources. Why do you think Prince attitude towards them has been so harsh?
I can’t hazard to speak for Prince on this issue. I have sometimes felt he was unduly harsh towards fans. But I also recognize that his lack of cooperation actually contributes to the very interest the fans bring to the table. If he were consistently involved, I suspect some fans would soon lose interest.
With regard to James Brown, it was recently reported that you are involved in the release of a series of double CD sets entitled “James Brown: The Singles”, from which the first volume (“The Federal Years: 1956-1960”) is already available. Could you please elaborate on the plans for this interesting release?
This series, it’s something I’m very excited about and humbled to be involved with. The intent is to cover the entire JB career, documenting each and every single release – including those which, for various reasons, were canceled or went unissued. Shortly before his untimely death, James saw Volume 1 and gave the project his unconditional blessings. The second volume is now available and Vol. 3 should be out in May.
What’s exciting for me is the need to research and write about each and every record with respect to it’s place and time as well as it’s commercial and creative impacts. Brown released an inordinate amount of singles, from 1956 through the mid-1990’s, so it’s a hefty task that will end up filling at least 9 or 10 volumes. The CD’s are available solely from Hiposelect.com, Universal’s on-line division that specializes in limited edition collectibles.
The recent death of James Brown, and your relationship with him, deserve a question in this interview. But rather than asking anything specific, we would like you to write about the figure of James Brown and its huge impact in the music of the XX and XXI centuries. Besides, you mentioned in a previous interviews for www.prince.org that you were writing a book on your career, where you probably treat this matter. We would like to have an update on its status and on its publications plans.
That’s another subject worthy of a book – one I’m actually working on. So rather than distil it into a couple paragraphs, I’ll just suggest we wait for the book. The release of the book will be sometime in 2008 – in conjunction with the Spike Lee directed biopic of JB’s life to be distributed by Paramount Pictures.
There are more than a few fans of D’Angelo at www.housequake.com. What is the situation regarding future albums from him?
D’Angelo, I’m thrilled to report, is alive and well.
He has resumed working on new material and sometime soon there should be news of an exciting new recording agreement. We’ll leave it at that for now.
There has been much speculation on the existence of recording sessions of Prince with Kim Basinger, although some circulating records have been commonly considered as a fake, non related to Prince. However, some recent discussions suggested that those recordings exist indeed. Could you please shed some light on this topic?
During Kim’s time in Minneapolis, she spent many a night in the studio while Prince worked. It’s entirely possible he used her vocally on some tracks, but I have no first hand knowledge of titles.
Given his overt concern about his legacy, I can’t imagine Prince not properly preserving his master tapes.
The relationship of Prince with Miles Davis has been discussed many times, including the interview you did for The Last Miles, so we won’t go again to that matter. However, was there any attempt from Prince to get in touch with James Brown?
The influence of James Brown is obvious, and therefore one wonders why no collaborations between both happened ever.Prince had several influences, not the least of which was James Brown. But I’m not aware of any attempts by Prince to forge a relationship with Mr. Brown. The one time Prince attended a JB show in Minneapolis, he turned down my suggestion to hang out and meet with James after the show. Brown has said that they had a brief conversation at a show in Los Angeles, but I never confirmed that. The night Prince infamously jumped on stage with Brown in Cali, Prince left the theatre before the show ended. Prince never said so, but I got the impression that he was a little intimidated by JB. Understandable. Brown’s final public performance was last November when both he and Prince were among the honorees at the U.K. Music Hall of Fame in London. It’s entirely possible that they visited that night although I don’t know that to be a fact.
The importance of Prince as musician has been the subject of countless discussions, where some fans qualified him as the Mozart of the XX century, while critics stated that he is just a tricky producer of standard (and sometime mediocre) songs. Your knowledge of modern music, and your years working with Prince, probably qualify you as one of the most entitled persons to give a fair opinion on this topic. Therefore, what is, in your opinion, the actual status of Prince among modern musicians? And besides, do you think that his consideration in the world of music fits that status?”
Of his generation, I think only Prince stands next to Miles Davis, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield and George Clinton in the pantheon of black music. He is also the most complete pop artist of our time. There are other great pop writers, great pop musicians, great pop singers and great pop performers but no one combines all four elements as effortlessly and with the longevity, integrity and quality of Prince.
As for how he’s perceived by others, I think he gets taken a lot more seriously than he used to but a little more humility might help his cause. I think of his earth shaking solo on the all star tribute to George Harrison during the R & R Hall of Fame banquet a year or two ago. He absolutely stunned every guitarist in the room and stole the entire evening, but his arrogant slamming of the guitar at the end was tasteless and disrespectful to the other artists on the stage with him. That kind of behavior was appealingly rebellious in his early years but now seems childish and insecure from an adult with his long list of accomplishments.
Alan – it’s interesting that you’ve worked with both James Brown and Prince and they now have a collaborator in common – Maceo Parker. Are you suprised that Prince and Maceo have worked together and what are you thoughts on the dynamics of two different-era musicians working together?
It struck me as ironic when Maceo joined Prince’s band. But, why not? As my brother Eric once told Prince, “I guess it’s an honor when my replacement is one of my own greatest influences”.
In surrounding himself with veterans like Maceo and Larry Graham, maybe that was Prince’s way of imagining himself as James Brown or Sly Stone – LOL. And it’s no surprise that Maceo fit in as he did. He’s been spitting out funky sax solos in his sleep since the 1960’s! There isn’t an r&b; saxophonist alive who would be the same today if there hadn’t been a Maceo Parker.
Having said that, (with all obvious prejudice) it’s interesting to me that Eric’s
style and voice on tenor is still more closely identified with “the Prince sound” than the other saxophonists who have passed through the band. There’s a certain kind of “solo for hire” that works for almost any decent band. But there are situations where a soloist just happens to magically match the texture and colors of the artist he or she works for. Maceo was that foil for James Brown – it was once said that if James had been a saxophonist, he would have played just like Maceo. The great David “Fathead” Newman was the same thing for Ray Charles. And some have said that of Eric for Prince.
There’s been quite a confusing history of Prince embracing and then shunning his fan base alternately dating back to the days of the closure of Controversy Magazine and the subsequent setup of the NPG Magazine. What was Prince’s relationship with his fanbase during the time you worked with him? Did he care about the opinions of his fans or did he place more merit on the opinions of his peers? Have you followed his interactions with fanzines and fansites such as Uptown Magazine and Housequake.com enough to give your opinion on the difference between his feelings towards his fans then and now?
I’m not familiar enough with the Prince of today to comment on his feelings. In the past he seemed to care what people thought on the surface but I sensed a fan’s unconditional loyalty was his real litmus test. I think he viewed a fan base as a measure of his impact more than anything else. Truth be told, he was never very interested in anyone’s opinions. Sometimes he might read a fan letter and personally respond. (His staff would process fan mail but give him the odd letter that was of a particular interest).
Like most artists, his music was designed for his own pleasure before that of his fans. He appreciated the devotion and affection fans provided as long as it didn’t become invasive. As the supporters of various fanzines and web sites have learned, all bets were off when Prince felt privacy (or control) lines were crossed.
Since the closing of Paisley Park Records Prince has not had any “protegé” projects, except Chaka Khan and Larry Graham who of course were already established artists. What was Prince’s feeling with regard to the lack of success of the acts on Paisley Park Records? Did he feel that it was due to a lack of commitment from WB or was he content to have just had the records released?
I think I commented on this last week, and certainly have in other forums. Prince was never content with the promotion and marketing devoted to Paisley Park Records. He always felt it was inadequate and I usually agreed. But the Warners commitment was directly related to the type of records he chose to produce. As I implied last week, there’s evidence that he pretty much grew tired of the whole idea of protégé acts.
Such projects were always extensions of Prince’s own visions but THE TIME, VANITY 6, SHEILA E and MADHOUSE were all credible, unique ideas built around undeniably deserving talents. However as the years passed, his protégé acts became less distinctive and their records sometimes seemed like “B level” Prince albums.
It has been suggested (and recently stated in a new biography of Prince, written by Brian Morton) that the huge impact of Prince in modern music does not have any clear continuator, and there is no direct inheritor of his ways of making music. Do you agree? If so, which are the reasons explaining that?
Hmmm…..that’s a subject that deserves a lot more thought than I have time to devote right now. But off the top of my head, it strikes me that this may be a dynamic of technology – how music and records are made today which correlates to how artists develop. Aspiring recording artists today don’t pay dues playing in local bands – don’t even necessarily learn how to play musical instruments beyond a computer keyboard. That alone is a huge distinction between the young Prince and any would-be inheritors.
Of course there are dozens of artists younger than Prince who ARE talented musicians and singer-songwriters.
None, however, have yet reached Prince’s level of craft and vision. The closest possibility that I’m personally aware of would be D’Angelo if he ever developed the motivation and commitment to become more prolific. He is a genuine musician, a soulful vocalist, an imaginative writer-producer and a dynamic performer. The scope of D’Angelo’s musical gifts and performance ability are way beyond what his limited career has thus far revealed. But two albums and two tours in ten years doesn’t a Prince make. The old saying holds that potential and a dollar will buy a cup of coffee, so the jury is out..
Imagine you had to explain to someone who never heard of Prince about his unbelievable talent for music; what could be the story you witnessed, that could be used to evidence such amazing gift?
That’s the subject of another book, not a question. I haven’t yet read Brian Morton’s work – maybe it contains the answer.
If I had to explain Prince to someone who’d never heard of him, I’d just shut up and give them a copy of SIGN O’ THE TIMES.
The Madhouse 24 story is subjected to some confusion. We know about two Madhouse 24, but you spoke about a third project with such title. Is that third Madhouse 24 the same music that was released later in the “Times Squared” album by Eric Leeds, or are both completely different projects? Could you please elaborate on the whole Madhouse 24 saga?
Note: this is one of the remaining questions from the second list I sent you before; we think it’s interesting, but I don’t know if you don’t want to answer it; anyway, let’s try again
I didn’t answer it because it’s boring – LOL. There were several ideas for a third Madhouse album over the years. And a lot of material that was not specifically recorded for Madhouse but could be (and sometimes was) considered for the project. Eric has explained the evolution of his TIMES SQUARED album elsewhere in great detail but, suffice it to say, at some point during the making of MADHOUSE 24, Prince decided it should be an Eric Leeds solo project. Eric then took several of the songs and reworked them considerably so as to differentiate his album from the Madhouse template. As to the blow-by-blow evolution of the various runs at a third Madhouse album, Eric is probably the only one who could accurately recreate the chronology.
I would also like to clarify something I said earlier regarding Prince’s brilliant performance during the George Harrison tribute at the Rock And Roll HOF banquet.
When Prince was younger and still under-appreciated by critics, I used to get a kick out of him inviting other artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Ron Wood onto his stages. Invariably he’d throw the band some private signals and try to disrupt the guest performers. Afterwards he might even gloat about “showing them up”. As bratty as his actions might have been, he could get away with them because he was still the underdog. But that was the 1980’s.
Since then Prince has received just about every imaginable acknowledgement of his talents, from fans, critics and his peers. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame banquet performances are, by definition, testimonials and recognitions of and by performers. The spirit and intent is camaraderie among the creators and performers of this music. Unlike Prince, some of those on stage that night actually knew George Harrison and there was a respect and integrity to the tribute. Prince’s cocky attitude during that breath-taking performance might have been “rock and roll” on its surface but struck me as needlessly disrespectful to the others on stage (and what Harrison stood for). Prince arriving on stage just before his solo and dramatically rushing off the stage afterwards was all to draw attention to himself. It should have been enough to let his guitar solo speak for him. It was the one time he should have been a team player. He hasn’t been an underdog in an awfully long time.
Normally I don’t allow myself to get into back-and-forth dialogues following interviews because they have a way of developing a life of their own. But I would appreciate you posting an additional thought or two.
First of all, I was submitted a lengthy list of questions, covering a multitude of Prince-related topics. I was free to select which questions I was interested in responding too and equally free to ignore any I didn’t deem appropriate or stimulating. At no time did the list of questions strike me as prejudiced or leading me towards a pre-determined agenda. Anyone who takes my comments to task is free to do so, but blame me not anyone at Housequake!
Secondly. Regarding the James Brown issue. When I suggested Prince might have been intimidated by James Brown, I was thinking in general terms. Anyone who has been in the presence of the James Brown “aura” would know what I meant. Now Prince has an aura when he walks in a room but, believe me, he’s a novice compared to JB – it’s like comparing a tremor to a tsunami. There was never a meeting or a conversation that JB didn’t know how to control to his liking. James was just as outspoken and dogmatic as Prince can be, and he didn’t suffer anyone who disagreed with him. They didn’t call him Godfather for nothing. I once witnessed a JB dressing room visit from Muhammad Ali in 1970 or 1971. Ali adored James – saw him as a father figure. They discussed race, politics and other more personal topics. The entire time Ali sat on the edge of a chair, dumbstruck and silent as JB offered career advice and second-guessed the champ’s politics (Ali had been stripped of his title because of his anti-war stance). Ali was like a little kid – I was astounded.
As for the 1983 show. Maybe intimidated isn’t the word but Prince was clearly uncomfortable on JB’s stage and it wasn’t because of drugs. Prince had gone to the show with no intention of getting on stage, much less following Michael Jackson. James barely knew who Prince was at that time. Michael can be seen (in the video) in JB’s ear, encouraging him to bring Prince on stage. Put on the spot, Prince jumped on Chick’s shoulders and made a dramatic entrance but once on stage found there was little to do. James didn’t know enough about Prince to know what to expect so he stepped back and let the band vamp. Finding himself in an awkward position standing next to two legends, Prince did a few dance steps and finally borrowed a guitar. But the song the band was playing didn’t lend itself to an effective guitar solo, so Prince was pretty much left to just play some innocuous rhythm parts. Sensing there wasn’t much he could do to salvage the situation, he dove offstage into Chick’s arms, at the same time unceremoniously hooking a foot into and knocking down a stage prop. Rather than return to his seats, where Bobby Z and Jill Jones were sitting hiding their faces, Prince rushed up the aisle and out to his limo. According to Bobby, Prince had absolutely nothing to say all the way back to their hotel. Maybe the intimidating factor wasn’t James Brown. Maybe it was Prince’s inability to control the situation to his benefit. A viewer of the video can imagine whatever they want, but the fact remains it was one of Prince’s least comfortable moments on a stage.
As for moi, sure I’d like to work on Prince’s catalogue but I have no illusion that it’ll ever happen. I am very blessed in that my years since Prince have been just as interesting and rewarding as those I spent in his world. I am not a musician or performer. My only right to comment on Prince is that I have an opinion like any other human being. Despite my years under his employ, I don’t honestly think my opinions are worth much more than those of anyone else. However, because of my career I have been privy to real experiences that are facts, not opinions. Maybe BECAUSE I can’t write, sing or play a note of music, I always try to speak of artists with respect (and even sometimes awe). But anyone who has read my writing or previous interviews also knows I’ll try to keep it real. If I don’t, there’s no point in me having anything to say at all.
Keep the music alive (and keep it real)!
April 6 / April 13 / April 14, 2007