Miss You

Miss You

(Featured Image: “Prince Pandemonium” at the Soul Shack in Charlotte, N.C., 1978; from Right On! magazine, photo stolen from prince.org.)

Even as Prince was plotting his next move as a recording artist in mid-1978, relations were souring with the management team that had helped get him signed in the first place. Owen Husney had organized a small promotional tour after the release of For You, to some success: particularly in Charlotte, North Carolina, where a crowd of 3,000 showed up and threatened to overwhelm security. It was a significant enough event to warrant a short news story from teen magazine Right On!, which ran with the headline “Prince Pandemonium in Charlotte.” “That’s when he said he felt like a piece of meat being carried around,” Prince’s cousin and early mentor Pepé Willie recalled to biographer Dave Hill. “But he was high, really high up there, you know? To bring him back down to earth was a real chore” (Hill 45).

Indeed, the 20-year-old’s small taste of celebrity had only left him less satisfied with the progress of his career–and, in what would become another of his determining patterns, he began to vent his frustrations on his management. “Prince didn’t have enough experience to know that this is a really slow process,” Husney later told Per Nilsen’s Uptown fanzine. “He had been told that he was fantastic so much that he believed that he was really going to be successful straightaway. And when he wasn’t, he was really disappointed. He started to blame Warner Bros. and then he started to blame me… We became very disappointed and started to wear on each other” (Nilsen 1999 49)

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Just Another Sucker

Just Another Sucker

(Featured Image: Cover of Just Another Sucker by James Hadley Chase, Corgi, 1974; probably not the inspiration for this song, but who knows. Photo stolen from pulpcrush on Flickr.)

In addition to the music he was recording for himself and his prospective protégés, Prince still managed to lend the occasional hand on sessions for other local artists. He’d helped raise money for his 1976 demo tape by contributing guitar and backing vocals to the Lewis Connection’s “Got to Be Something Here” (later released on their self-titled album in 1979), and had also played and sung on “10:15” and “Fortune Teller”–featuring a young Colonel Abrams on lead vocals!–by his cousin and mentor Pepé Willie’s band 94 East. The latter had been intended for release as the group’s first single, but a change in management at Polydor Records resulted in 94 East being dropped in mid-1978. Pepé and singers Marcy Involdstad and Kristie Lazenberry were understandably upset; but Prince, Willie later claimed to Minnesota Public Radio’s the Current, “was more upset than anybody.” With the help of André Anderson–another beneficiary of Willie’s tutelage, from his time in Grand Central–he resolved to “go back in the studio and record more songs with Pepé” (Renzetti 2016).

The resulting sessions took place at Sound 80, with Willie on percussion and keyboards, André on bass, and Prince, as was his wont, on everything else. Two of the three tracks recorded, “Dance to the Music of the World” and “Lovin’ Cup,” received no formal songwriting input from Prince–though the former, an instrumental, does feature some fiery synthesizer and guitar licks by the 20-year-old virtuoso. It’s the third track, however, that’s the real gem: “Just Another Sucker,” the only song in either the 94 East or Prince catalogue to bear a “Willie/Prince” songwriting credit.

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Loring Park Sessions

Loring Park Sessions

(Featured Image: Prince in his first press kit, 1977; photo stolen from Nate D. Sanders Auctions.)

Last time, we talked about some of the ways in which Prince’s new management, “American Artists, Inc.” (a.k.a., Owen Husney and Gary Levinson), helped to foster his artistic growth in late 1976 and early 1977. Another one of those ways was to set up a makeshift rehearsal space in the company’s Loring Park offices: a kind of surrogate for Prince’s former home in the Andersons’ basement, giving him the space to write and demo new songs outside of the formal studio environment.

The majority of the songs recorded at the Loring Park space are not, to my knowledge, currently in circulation; as with the uncirculating Moonsound demos, however, we know at least some of the basic information. There was the aforementioned “I Like What You’re Doing,” as well as a sister song of sorts, “Hello, My Love,” written for an attractive secretary who worked in Husney’s office. According to Per Nilsen’s The Vault, Prince left a cassette of the song on her desk after completing it, but “she didn’t seem overly impressed” (Nilsen 2004 16); Prince, it seems, needed to work on his game in 1977. There was also another, presumably more experimental track, the promisingly-titled “Neurotic Lover’s Baby’s Bedroom,” which Prince wrote after Husney and Levinson bought him his first drum machine. Interestingly, despite this early dabbling, he would continue to use primarily live drums in his music until the release of Controversy in 1981.

Today, the Loring Park sessions are known mostly for, well, the “Loring Park Sessions”: a series of eight jazz-funk instrumentals recorded by Prince, André Anderson (remember him?), and Bobby “Z.” Rivkin sometime in early 1977. These songs, if indeed we can call them that, weren’t really intended for release; they aren’t even named in the circulating bootlegs, just numbered. But they offer a compelling glimpse at Prince’s musicianship and versatility in the months leading up to the his first album–not to mention the musicianship and versatility of two notable future sidemen.

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If You See Me (Do Yourself a Favor)

If You See Me (Do Yourself a Favor)

(Featured Image: 94 East, circa 1975, from the cover of their 2013 7″ release of “If You See Me”;  Pepé Willie is second from right. © Numero Group.)

Visit the website of Pepé Music Inc. and you’ll find an entire subpage dedicated to what they call the “Prince Connection.” “We want to set the record straight!” the copy reads, and proceeds to outline the “enormous contributions” made by a man named Pepé Willie to Prince’s success: presenting its claims alongside a large and byzantine flow chart that purports to illustrate “the intimate involvement” between Willie and Prince, but, to be frank, only manages to dramatize a confusing intersection of music industry and family relationships. Yet the “Prince Connection” page also makes a trenchant point about its subject–one that will become something of a recurring theme in the early years of Prince’s musical progression. “No one,” the copy declares, “makes it completely on their own!”

Willie’s own career is a testament to that adage. He made his entrée into the music industry via his uncle, Clarence Collins, a founding member of the Brooklyn Rhythm & Blues vocal group Little Anthony and the Imperials. Willie spent his teen years in New York and Las Vegas in the 1960s, working as a valet and road manager for the Imperials. During those years, he encountered the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and Elvis Presley; he also learned a little about the business and craft of songwriting. After a stint in the armed forces, Willie then moved out to Minneapolis in the early 1970s and married a woman named Shauntel Mandeville–who happened to be the first cousin of Prince Rogers Nelson.

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