PRINCE IS DEAD AT AGE 57!
What shock! I first worked him 40+ years ago. Watched him grow from a self-assured teenager to a world famous Hall of Fame musician, singer, songwriter, actor, musical innovator and creator of a new genre of music. Always his own man, always stuck to his roots. Born and raised on the north side of Minneapolis, spent his adult life in his purple fenced home and recording studio, Paisley Park, a few miles from his first home and his youthful friends.
His tours were some of the biggest on the road, and yet he gave concerts, some announced, some impromptu, for his fans at small familiar venues like First Avenue and Paisley Park. His roots. His fans.
He left behind a great legacy of music and memories for people all over the world. Here’s just a few of my memories of Prince that I first posted a couple years ago.
The first time I worked Prince was in the early 70’s. There was a benefit at the Orpheum and Prince Nelson was one of the many performers. There already had been a lot of buzz about this young talent. He was somewhere in the middle of the card. The acts that followed him, didn’t stand a chance. Everybody present, especially Prince, knew that this youngster could be Big Time.
And it didn’t take him long to prove everybody right. Unlike the other Minnesota musical phenom, Robert Zimmerman, a.k.a. Bob Dylan, who paid his dues working small coffee shops in Minneapolis and New York for years before he was recognized, Prince Nelson, a.k.a. Prince, hit the ground running. He released his debut album when he was only 20. Less than a year later, his second album went platinum. And unlike so many others born in ‘fly-over country’; Prince kept his base in his homeland, rather than moving to the glamour cities of the coasts. As a result he generated a lot of opportunities and wages for the locals.
I worked Prince in concerts, benefits, rehearsals, but the longest stint came with the PURPLE RAIN tour production tech in the fall of 84. Prince was at the top. His single, PURPLE RAIN, was arguably his best single. His album, PURPLE RAIN, was arguably his best album. And his movie, PURPLE RAIN, was his first movie and would turn out to be his best movie, not argument on that one. And he wanted the PURPLE RAIN tour to be his best.
The set would be one of the biggest ever to tour the arenas. It was the first one, that I know about, where the set was constructed downstage in the arena, while the lights and sound were being hung. Then the set was rolled by a very large crew to it’s proper position. It was two-tiered with plenty of ramps to dance on and had three scissor lifts to add to the excitement.
To further enhance his tour, his second front act was SheilaE, another of his many protégés and one of his main squeezes at the time. SheilaE was already a much sought after percussionist with stints with names like Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross. She also had the very sexist title of the best female drummer in the land. When Prince ‘discovered’ her, he got her a recording contract and wrote two songs for her to sing, THE GLAMOROUS LIFE, the title song of her first album, and THE BELLE OF ST. MARK, both of which cracked the charts.
His first front act was a girl trio, Apollonia 6, featuring Apollonia, his co-star in the PURPLE RAIN movie. It started out as a replacement for Vanity 6, when Vanity went out on her own. The trio’s act on the tour was short to begin with, and got shorter when Prince decided that Apollonia was pretty, but really couldn’t sing any better than she could act.
For me, the tour production was four weeks of long, long days. In the four weeks I might have had a full eight hours of sleep two or three times. Several times worked around the clock, once for 48 hours before I had a chance to sleep for a few hours on packing blankets. We started the production at the Met Sports Arena, then moved to the Minneapolis Auditorium, over to the St. Paul Civic Center, and finished out back at the Met. Big money, but a lot of hard work and a lot of pain. Although offered a job on the tour itself, I said no way and was elated when we shut the door on the last truck on the way to Detroit to begin the tour itself. Purple Rain. No! Purple pain – for a lot of us.
Prince himself got me good one day. I was walking in the circular hallway around the arena at the Met. All of a sudden I heard, ‘Stop! Watch out!’ Luckily, before I had a chance to turn and maybe get hurt worse, something hit me in the back of the legs. I was prevented from falling forward by a set of arms and legs. I fell backwards onto a road box.
‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Are you okay? I’m sorry!’ I looked up into the face of the apologizing Prince. I told him I was okay.
‘Good’, said a voice coming from beneath me. ‘But darn, you’re heavy.’ I looked around and saw the face of SheilaE. Now it was my turn to apologize. I quickly got off her.
It seems that His Purpleness wanted to have some fun and got SheilaE to sit on the front of the road box. Then, head down, he pushed the box as fast as his short legs could pump. They rounded a curve – and there I was. Not too much damage to me, except a purple, naturally, bruise on the back of my legs. They turned the box around and laughingly continued their fun in the opposite direction. While I limped back down the hall.
Prince laid down the law as regards the tour, he would not tolerate any drug use whatsoever. Musicians, roadies, security force, nobody. And this policy caused a future governor of Minnesota some pain.
What with his new found super star status, Prince needed super star protection on tour. He employed the foremost rock show security company at the time, owned and operated by Big Chick. Chick hired a security force, some of whom graduated from Chick’s school. Once requisite was the person hired had to be BIG. The second, the person had to be completely drug free with nothing to link him to past drug history use, either proven or rumored, except of course, for body-building steroid use.
This particular day the stage environs were dark except for the setting of the show lights. I was out in hallway working on a special road box. Norton, a security guard already hired, was sitting at a desk a few feet away. Norton was one of many reigning Heavyweight Arm Wrestling Champion of the World. He was concentrating on sparring with imaginary foes. Some he took down quite rapidly, others forced his arm almost to the desk, and he would let out a loud grunt and slowly got his arm raised and slammed his opponent’s down for the win. When he beat one of the tough imaginary foes, he would let out a loud ‘YES’ and wipe the sweat off his brow. I tried not to laugh or even smile at Norton’s ‘training exercising’, so I kept my head down, just working hard on my project.
Jesse, ‘The Body, Ventura, a former big name pro wrestler, came down the hall and slammed himself in the chair next to Norton’s desk. He and Norton had been high school football teammates during the years when Ventura went by his given name, James Janos. ‘You were right,’ Jessie said, ‘Chick won’t hire me’, he said to Norton, who briefly looked at his old friend, and then continued with his sparring matches.
‘Said he heard I was a party man on the circuit. Told him I’ve been sober for a while. Got a family. The roids are causing blood clots. No more roids or any other kind of drugs for me. Need a job. Don’t think I can wrestle anymore. Need a job. Got a family. Said he wasn’t going to lose Prince’s contract by hiring someone linked to rumors about drugs. Don’t know what I’m going to do…..’
I didn’t want to hear this monologue anymore and I put my tools in the road box and rolled it down the hall. I don’t know if Norton felt the same way about Jesse’s tirade because he wasn’t saying anything, just continued with his arm wrestling training in silence.
Jesse gave up trying to be the next ‘Big Chick’. Went back to the wrestling world, a few bouts but mostly as a heel, the term for a wrestling commentator who argued in defense of the ‘dirty’ rasslers. He perfected his outspoken style of commentary. Jesse, ‘The Body’ became Jesse, ‘The Mouth’.
He had a short, forgettable career as an actor. Went on sports radio where he concentrated more on politics and conspiracy theories than sports. Entered the race for the governorship of Minnesota. With the vote between the Democrat and Republican candidates split, Ventura, running as an Independent, nosed the other two out by a small margin. To Jesse, the small margin of victory was a mandate of the people, and was stepping stone to bigger things.
A one-termer, a couple of the highlights of his time in office was singing WEREWOLVES OF LONDON with Warren Zevon at the inaugural party, and later in the term, was a referee in a national televised pro wrestling match. While most governors complain about not having enough time to carry out the duties of the office, Jesse even found time to finish ‘writing’ a political brag-book titled I AIN’T GOT TIME TO BLEED,’ as well as completing two other political books. He gave up running for office when Colin Powell didn’t go along with Jesse’s idea of a presidential ticket of Powell for president with Ventura as VP. He’s been keeping busy as a ‘celebrity’ spokesman on politics and other conspiracies; and of course, in threatening and in some cases actually filing law suits.
A jack of a lot of trades, master of none. But the one thing his bio does not have is security guard for Prince.
Like I pointed out, the rehearsal for the tour took a lot out of people. Made them do things they wouldn’t do if they weren’t tired. Even Prince suffered because of rehearsal fatigue. Like the last week, a few days left to wrap up the rehearsal and take the show on the road…. But rather than me writing about it, the talented Joel Orf drew a cartoon of the incident that my alter ego, The Old Hand, related to him. (Click on it to enlarge.)
PURPLE RAIN was recorded 30 years ago. Prince just announced he was reissuing the CD with improved technology. SheilaE’s autobiography is due to come out soon. (Probably not with the story of me ending up on top of her.) And she is about to release her first CD in 13 years. And Jesse Ventura won a lawsuit – against a dead man, and he will collect 1.3 million dollars from the widow and the two small children .
For more of my posts with rock and roll cartoons by Joel Orf go to:
And another post with Prince and SheilaE:
R.I.P. PRINCE NELSON. Thanks for the music and the memories.