It’s common for fans, friends, artists and others around the world to feel a sense of obscurity when it comes to the icon. As Tony M. from Prince’s former band The New Power Generation tells us, “The mystery for me is the creative process” – even after working with him closely for years.
As the band who played on some of his biggest records – and also his last – The New Power Generation now keep Prince’s music and legacy alive, and will bring with them a collection of his most beloved hits as they play Byron Bay’s Bluesfest in 2018, along with a run of sideshows, paying tribute to one of music’s most enigmatic icons.
Many of those whose lives Prince touched have also given their own insight into his life in recent years, revealing stories about everything from his famous beguiling humour, to being called by the legend in the middle of the night – and even parallel parking. Here we’ve compiled just a few that each reveal a different shade of his character, starting with one from the man himself.
Members of Prince’s band The New Power Generation tell us tales of his life ahead of their Australian tour
Years as a bitter and angry teenager
Prince was close to father John Nelson, a musician who always encouraged him to play music, however the poverty the teenager grew up with in Minneapolis caused him to develop anger issues. He opened up to Rolling Stone in 1985 about how that began to spiral out of control, setting the scene with a frequent haunt on Plymouth Avenue.
“We used to go to that McDonald’s there. I didn’t have any money, so I’d just stand outside there and smell stuff. Poverty makes people angry, brings out their worst side. I was insecure and I’d attack anybody. I couldn’t keep a girlfriend for two weeks. We’d argue about anything… Once I made it, got my first record contract, got my name on a piece of paper and a little money in my pocket, I was able to forgive. Once I was eating every day, I became a much nicer person.”
A surprising openness to hip hop
During our interview, Tony M. took us back to 1990 after being recruited by Prince for both his film Graffiti Bridge and the Nude tour. He related just how seriously both of them took the new hip hop venture, in light of the icon’s previous coldness towards that style of music.
“We actually sat down and had a conversation about it. Quite frankly, I was like, ‘You didn’t embrace hip hop’, and I wanted to make sure that when we did this, it was in his own realm where he didn’t try to do hip hop beats and then just have me rap over it. It was going to be his music, and if I could incorporate my rap into that, that was the way we were going to approach it.”
Regimented yet spontaneous
Tony M. also reflected on just how quickly Prince’s creative mind worked on tour, saying, “You had to be very agile to be around this man.”
“You come in, you start setting up and getting in your areas, and he would say, ‘Here are some notes’. So we would listen through them and make those arrangements, so by the time he came downstairs we were ready to roll. Then on the fly, by the time he even came down, he’d already thought of two or three other arrangements. So once we learned what he wanted us to figure out the first time, he would change it on us.”
Some of Prince’s famous pranks even ended up on records like ‘Cream’
A renowned prankster
At a diametric opposite to Prince’s perfectionist side was his fierce humour. Morris Hayes (musical director), Tommy Barbarella (keyboards) and bassist André Cymone from The NPG chatted to Forbes about a few of his exploits – some of these actually wound up on the 12-inch version of ‘Cream’. One of the most memorable was the genius “putting in crazy calls to their hotel rooms and pretending to be room service until they would swear”.
Having an altered sense of time
Many individuals who worked with the legend have spoken about how he seemed to live on a different plane, especially when it came to time. Speaking to GQ last year, Prince’s former publicist and co-manager (1990–1993) Jill Willis looked back on when the musician needed her help in an unexpected way – and at three in the morning.
“‘Got a pen?’ was the way many of those conversations started. ‘Um, got a pen?’. ‘Not under my pillow. I’ll be right back. Okay, I’m back. What’s up?’. ‘I’m not sure which morning show it was, but one of them was doing a story on this woman – I think she was in Boston. Somewhere in Massachusetts. She has spent most of the past 10 years trying to save money to buy a building for feeding homeless people, and she’s found a building but doesn’t have enough money. I want to ﬁnd her and give her the money’. ‘Okay. Did you catch her name?’. ‘No’. ‘Okay. We’ll ﬁnd her.’”
Prince’s embrace of hip hop came as a surprise to New Power Generation rapper Tony M.
Human like the rest of us
While we certainly can’t write a melody like Prince does, one thing we can relate to is his inability to… parallel park. Minneapolis journalist Martin Keller recounted this funny moment to GQ while Prince and his crew were rehearsing for the Controversy tour in 1981.
“We were across the street, and we see this BMW with Prince in it, like, ‘Oh, Prince is just pulling up to rehearse’. And I think he got very self-conscious, because he kept looking at us. He started to back into the space, then he didn’t do the one-two-three manoeuvre that you do when you parallel park, so he hit the curb. Went up the curb a little bit, then he looked sheepish, pulled out, and I think Vanity (his then-girlfriend) started laughing. Then he pulled back in and completed the exercise. I think he was embarrassed. He’s just like the rest of us – some days you can parallel park, some days you can’t.”
Always a Minneapolis boy at heart
Despite Prince’s troubled childhood, as Tony M. related during our chat, you couldn’t take the roots away from the man.
“When you sat down and talked to him, he was still northeast side Minneapolis through and through. I think that’s a big part of why he always stayed home, in that he could still walk down the street and hang with his friends, or just stop at some of the local spots he knew he could frequent without it becoming a big spectacle. It was always home for him.”
For an authentic live tribute to Prince, be sure to catch his band The New Power Generation as they play Byron Bay Bluesfest from March 29 to April 2, alongside Robert Plant, Lionel Richie and more, and don’t miss their sideshows in Melbourne and Sydney – dates below.
The New Power Generation Bluesfest 2018 sideshows
26 March 2018
170 Russell, Melbourne
27 March 2018
170 Russell, Melbourne
28 March 2018
Enmore Theatre, Sydney