What did the Revolution allow Prince to do that he wasn't able to accomplish on his own before?
The Revolution were around for three of Prince’s most important albums, given full credit on the album covers (and partial-credit on 1999). In your opinion, why was bringing in a full backing band important during this stage in Prince’s artistic development? Or to put it another way: what did the Revolution allow Prince to do that he wasn’t able to accomplish on his own before?
LEEDS: Coming from the world of James Brown where spontaneity in the studio was paramount to his genius accomplishments, I personally prefer music that embraces the rapport between an artist and his or her collaborators and accompanists. Like jazz, most R&B music had traditionally depended on this kind of musical interaction. Stevie Wonder, and then Prince became the notable exceptions. Of course without the advancements in studio technology and the development of synthesized musical instruments, none of this would have been feasible. Like Stevie, Prince uniquely combines the skill sets of writer, producer, singer and multi-instrumentalist. Unlike Stevie, Prince is actually more than good at every instrument he plays. So his recording needs simply never depended on other musicians. That he chose to record with various members of his bands said more about the flavors and individual voices that Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman, Eric Leeds and Sheila E. brought to the table. The caliber of musicianship in his band grew during the Purple Rain period and I think it was simply a case of Prince recognizing the elements that these musicians could contribute to his palette.
Of course the very plot of Purple Rain required Prince to have a band that was heavily involved. I suspect Prince wanted the “spirit” of having certain songs recorded with the band for the film and album. And for authenticity sake, he encouraged the band on tour to carry themselves with the appearance and presence of their roles in the film. The fact is that the band was never as close to a “democratic” unit as the film hints at. Everyone in the Revolution deep down knew they were “hired hands” and, as time has demonstrated, could all be replaced with little hindrance to Prince’s box office appeal.
Looking back at your tenure during the Revolution, were there any moments that stick out to you, especially during the Purple Rain era?
FINK: Well the process for getting ready for the film during the summer of 1983 leading up to actual filming, we were basically in “Boot Camp”—a disciplined regimen of dance class, acting class, and band rehearsing throughout that whole summer for about three months straight leading up to the start of the filming process. Prince had an acting coach brought in, a dance instructor brought in—it was just day after day filled with all those elements taking place six days a week. I think we usually had Sunday off, sometimes Saturday. For the most part it was a standard work week, morning ‘til early evening filled with all that stuff.
FINK: Not too bad. I didn’t find it to be exhausting. Actually, I really thrived on that because it brought back my days of studying with the Children’s Theatre again when I was studying dance and acting, so it was kind of fun to get back into it again, and, also, you know, sharpen up my old skills which had fallen by the wayside.
I was watching the film the other night, and there were the scenes where the band was arguing over their input on the songs. I can only imagine how many portions of that were taken directly from real life experiences …
FINK: None of that was really true to life—and if it was, nobody voiced those sorts of thoughts to Prince [Laughs.] Even if they maybe thought them inside, no one ever in real life would say something like that because the reality is that this was his career, and we were just allowed to fortunately be along for the ride as his sidemen. In 1978 he was signed to Warner Bros. as a solo artist—he had no band, and much like a Madonna or someone doing that sort of thing, they had to hire a backup band. Now with Madonna, her main collaborator was Patrick Leonard in the early days, her keyboardist, and he co-wrote a lot of material but the rest of the band members didn’t—they were just there to play. They were touring musicians in that sense. Fortunately for us, we were at first brought in as strictly sidemen—touring/live players—and then allowed to be brought in on the creative process as well, which was really nice of him to do that. He didn’t have to do that, really. He could’ve had his pick of just about any great sidemen that were around out in L.A. or New York. He could’ve hired people out of town but he choose to go with primarily Minneapolis people to begin with, and then later he brought in Wendy & Lisa who were based out of Los Angeles.
You were also there during the time that he made the transition from the Revolution to right before he formed the New Power Generation.
FINK: Exactly yes. Then he incorporated a lot of Shelia E.‘s people into the NPG and the Sign ‘O’ the Times/Lovesexy-era, and then by 1990, he had brought in Michael Bland on drums and Rosie Gaines on keyboards and vocals by then.
Was there a different vibe that you felt with the NPG in contrast to the Revolution?
FINK: Whole different vibe. Completely different.
Good different or bad different?
FINK: All good, for the most part. Some of the newer people that were involved were a little green and were making some demands that maybe weren’t all that realistic. They wanted star treatment when they really hadn’t paid their dues yet. That kind of stuff: there were just some people who hadn’t paid their dues and were asking for certain things and they were coming to me as the “senior member” to go to management to ask for favors or ask for special things to come along their way. I said “You know, that’s really not my place guys: I think you should address that yourselves”—and I’m not naming names! [Laughs.]
Unless it’s Tony M. That’s the only exception.
Alan, how would you equate the Revolution to the New Power Generation later on? Are they even comparable?
LEEDS: For my personal taste, the most exciting Prince bands were the expanded Revolution on the European Parade tour and the band with Sheila E. on drums for the Sign ‘O’ the Times tour. Sonny Thompson and Michael Bland may have, in some ways, been Prince’s best ever rhythm section simply because they play so extremely well together. But I never felt the music recorded during the NPG era was as interesting as the 1980’s albums. Unfortunately, the format of Prince’s heavily produced tours, and even his increasingly predictable after-shows, didn’t consistently afford the band members much opportunity to display all their abilities. It was, after all, Prince’s show. But I never felt he got everything he could have out of players with such diverse vocabularies as Sheila and Eric.
For you, what was the hardest part of managing Prince and co. during the Purple Rain era?
LEEDS: It wasn’t hard. I had youth, compassion and commitment on my side, all of which easily overcame any adversity. In retrospect, the only difficult aspect was finding time to rest.
Finally, taking your whole career into consideration, so far, what has been your biggest regret, and—conversely—what’s been your proudest accomplishment?
FINK: I have a few regrets about leaving Prince after working with him for 12 years. It was a very difficult decision for me at the time.
Do you mind if I ask why did you?
FINK: Well, it’s a bit personal. So I can’t really get into that. I mean, I parted in good company with Prince. Regardless of that, I was looking to get into other things at that time and stay off the road. I was in 12 years of a lot of travel and touring …
It takes its toll.
FINK: Yeah, and I was kind of looking to get married and have kids and all that stuff. I had met somebody: the woman who I’m married to now and have a family with. I really wanted to stay off the road and raise my family and not miss out on being there for my kids—so that was part of the reason. Later on down the road, 10 years after leaving Prince and then reconnecting with him again, expressed my interest in working with him again, but he really did not seem to care about that at that time and did not really want to go there. Other members of the Revolution have also tried to see if he’d be interested in a reunion of sorts—and not necessarily usurp his current band members, but just to do a separate side-project or possible live dates with the Revolution or a side-album as a reunion effort—but so far, with several of those offers being made to him by each band member, he’s those them down, pretty much—or totally—since about 2000 and then [during] other points during this current decade. There’s been overtures made to him. So, that I regret. I have some regrets about that and wish that he would work with us again in some capacity, because the desire is there on the part of the band members. Also there’s a few regrets about leaving maybe too soon, maybe not. I don’t know. Over the years I thought “Oh, maybe I should’ve stayed on longer”, so I don’t know. I’ve had some of those thoughts, but I don’t use sleep over them.
And you, Alan?
LEEDS: Biggest regret is not having followed D’Angelo’s ground breaking 2000 Voodoo tour with a follow-up show. The table was set for what easily could have been for this decade what James Brown was for the 1960s and Prince was for the 1980s. Coitus interuptus is never fun.
Proudest accomplishment is having played however modest a role in spreading these artist’s wonderful music around the globe—from the smiles tour shows put on fans faces to, in more recent years, the CD reissues I have been fortunate enough to be involved in producing.
As you can see, when it comes to the Revolution, there’s still quite a bit to talk about all these years later.
[Editor’s Note: a very special thank you to Matt Fink and Alan Leeds for their contributions to this project.]
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.