Inside Prince's Revolution

by Evan Sawdey

4 June 2009


How collaborative was Prince during this time?

How about you, Alan?  How collaborative was Prince during this time?  Who did he play best off of in the ever-changing Revolution lineup?

LEEDS: Wendy and Lisa particularly brought Prince a musical camaraderie he was unaccustomed to. During the course of the Purple Rain Tour, his posse of musicians swelled to include Sheila E. and horn players Eric Leeds and (Atlanta) Matt Blistan. Prince spent scores of hours jamming and recording with various combinations of these musicians—sometimes also including Levi Seacer and Matt Fink. While much of this activity was just jamming for fun, Prince was unusually open to learn from those around him. Lisa, a wonderfully talented keyboardist, brought a sophisticated arsenal of chordal ideas. Wendy brought a Joni Mitchell-inspired melodic sense. Sheila brought her rich variety of rhythms and Eric brought his background in jazz and arranging. Their frequent jams casually brought these things out. It’s also been well documented that Wendy, Lisa, and Eric were exposing Prince to musics he was unfamiliar with by regularly turning him onto albums by a wide variety of artists including Miles Davis and Duke Ellington. In short, it was probably Prince’s most curious phase of his evolution as a musician and thus he was the most open to “outside” influences.  On the other hand, most of the wealth of material recorded during this phase remains officially unissued. So the songs that Prince did choose to include on his albums were more often those he had written himself.

After the film and soundtrack went on to garner huge profits and incredible acclaim, all reports that I’ve read indicated that Prince became more introverted and secluded during this time, almost as if he was deliberately shying away from the spotlight even after he designed Purple Rain to be the very thing to turn him into a superstar.  In your view, how did the success of the project alter Prince’s personality?  Additionally, how did it change the fabric of the Revolution?

LEEDS: I don’t think it changed Prince much ... maybe just exaggerated who he already was. His increased seclusion was more a result of the degree of his popularity/notoriety than any changes within himself. Thanks to avid fans and media attention, it simply became more complicated for him to appear in public. Trading his “freedom” for the spotlight was a “deal with the devil” that he willingly made way before Purple Rain.

As for his professional “personality”, Purple Rain doubtlessly increased his self-confidence. While he always had decided what was best for his career, NOW he KNEW what was best. All the skeptics who thought a black wanna-be rock star with but a couple mild hit albums under his belt could never succeed in the film world had to eat a lot of crow.

The Purple Rain phenomenon may have ultimately had more of an effect on the five core members of the Revolution than on Prince himself. There were indications that they felt the significance of their unit was more than that of simply Prince’s back-up band. Prince’s post-Purple Rain quest to enlarge his band to include additional musical elements and input put that theory quickly to rest. Without speaking for anyone, I suspect there were some members of the Revolution who would have preferred the band remain the same and intact with a somewhat inflated sense of self-importance.

FINK: It became a little bit more [of a] business-oriented relationship [between band members], but there was still socializing that took place.  He wasn’t 100% divorced from playing in the group at all.

During his time with the Revolution, a lot of people argue that this was Prince’s most prolific and creative period.  Of course, you were there for those three major Revolution albums (four if you count 1999),  so what do you feel the Revolution’s greatest challenges were, and—conversely—what were its greatest successes were as a band?

FINK: Well, obviously the Purple Rain album was the most successful and we got the most creative input on the record as far as some co-writes and playing on the album.  Around the World in a Day—I really didn’t really participate in very much.  That one was another one of Prince going in and doing what he wanted to do away from the band except for maybe a little bit of input from Wendy & Lisa on that record.  After that, same thing.  Going forward from there, he really had his own vision.  By the time Sign ‘O’ the Times rolled around, I was fortunate to have, again, a co-write on the song “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night”, but that was also primarily a Prince-induced song.  It was taken from my influence of musical jam much in the way that “Computer Blue” was germinated.  Lovesexy: another Prince production all the way through.

So, as a band, you had less input over the years.

FINK: Yeah, but Wendy & Lisa, I’d say from Purple Rain through Parade, were pretty integral to the session work on those records.

How would you describe your own relationship with the Time during that period?

FINK: Oh I was always good friends with those guys.

Jammed with ‘em?

FINK: A little bit.  Not too much jamming, but just when we were on tour with them, we were all good friends for the most part.  Until the big food fight [Laughs.]

The food fight?

FINK: Oh yeah the food fight.  The famous food fight at the end of the 1999 tour.  We had a two-day food fight with them backstage, off-and-on.  A food-fight war, culminating in a full-bore cream pie fight backstage.  It was kind of fun.

I can imagine Jerome having one helluva arm for some reason.

FINK: It was pretty fun, actually.  It turned into sort of a competition.  That’s gonna be coming out in a book someday. 

A quick hit: what’s your favorite song from Purple Rain?

LEEDS: Maybe “Father’s Song” which wasn’t on the album. Seriously, probably “Let’s Go Crazy”. Purple Rain was a brilliantly crafted album of pop music but the songs didn’t lend themselves to much flexibility. As a result the shows, except for the extended jams on “Baby I’m A Star”,  pretty much all seemed the same and the songs got “old” about half way through the tour. For whatever reasons, songs on other Prince albums seemed to better lend themselves to various interpretations so arrangements could change from year to year and keep the songs fresh. Purple Rain just is what it is—such a perfect album that nothing should change and it’s almost difficult for me to separate the songs. I honestly hear it more as an album, one solid piece of music with nine different parts.

FINK: That’s really a tough one.  That’s a tough question, and I’ve been asked that before—I’d have to say I like “The Beautiful Ones”, ‘cos artistically it’s a really beautiful song, followed by “Darling Nikki” maybe.  Right in there.

So it’s kind of the sexual/soul duo though.  The one that always gets me is “Take Me With U” ‘cos that’s such a pure pop song.

FINK: I almost said that one.  That’s what I mean: it’s really difficult for me to pick those, to choose the tracks that are my favorite.  Those are my Top Three.

In rewatching Purple Rain, I find it surprising how many real-life details were brought into the script, ranging from Morris Day and the Time promising that they were going “to kill” the Kid performance-wise on stage during a given night right to Wendy & Lisa arguing over the Kid’s refusal to hear any of their songs.  For someone as often closed-off as Prince, why was he so ready and open to reveal some of his less-pleasant mannerisms in a format as broad-reaching as a movie?

LEEDS: Perhaps naively, I think Prince felt that by altering some aspects of the “Kid’s” biography from his own, he bought himself a smokescreen for the traits that more accurately reflect the real Prince.  His “aversion” to interviews never hid the fact that his meticulously devised media campaigns revealed an artist that very much wanted fans to know and understand certain things about him as long as he could maintain control over the flow of information.  One can argue that Prince was remarkably ahead of his time in recognizing the boom in media attention that international cable television and the digital age was going to thrust on the entertainment business. He understood “branding” and what aspects of an image were most likely to retain media’s attention. Along with Michael Jackson and just a bit later Madonna, Prince helped create what has become a template for the marketing and promotion of young celebrities.

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