Categories
Podcast

Podcast: Yes – A Conversation with Chambers Stevens

It’s been over half a year since the University of Salford’s interdisciplinary Prince conference, but I keep connecting with people who presented there and whose topics of research are too interesting not to discuss. This time, I’m talking to actor and playwright Chambers Stevens, who has a fascinating theory about the influence of improv training on Prince’s approach to life and performance. But we aren’t just retreading Chambers’ presentation from the Salford conference; he also has some hilarious stories to share about his own run-ins with Prince (and Chaka Khan), as well as some thoughts about the peculiar nature of Prince fandom. We had a lot of fun recording this–hopefully you’ll have fun listening as well!

And speaking of fun, there’s still a little more time to participate in my giveaway for a free copy of Duane Tudahl’s new book Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984. The rules are simple: just subscribe to d / m / s / r on your podcast app of choice (logging into iTunes or Stitcher and searching “dance music sex romance” should do the trick), and leave a review. It doesn’t have to be a positive review; feel free to rake me over the coals if you want, just make it well-written. On Tuesday, December 12, I’ll look at all the reviews that have been submitted, pick my favorite–again, not necessarily the most positive!–and announce the winner on the next episode of the podcast. Oh, and speaking of that next episode, this is one you’re not going to want to miss: I was fortunate enough to speak to the one and only Marylou Badeaux, former V.P. of Special Projects at Warner Bros. Records and author of the upcoming memoir Moments: Remembering Prince. Come back and listen to it next week!

Categories
For You, 1978

For You

Prince’s contract with Warner Bros. stipulated that he deliver his first album to the label within six months. But before he could begin work, there were a few issues that needed to be addressed: specifically, the executives at W.B. remained wary of giving full production responsibilities to an unproven teenager from Minnesota. “Warners basically said, ‘We know he’s talented, we know he can play the instruments, we know he can write songs, but does he have record sense?’ Those are distinct areas,” Prince’s then-manager Owen Husney told biographer Per Nilsen. “The question was, ‘Does he have the ability to make a record that will sell?’” (Nilsen 1999 35)

Warner wasn’t sure, so they did what any record label would do in their situation: they hedged their bets. In an odd echo of Columbia’s earlier, failed strategy, W.B. chairman Mo Ostin tried to convince Prince to work with an experienced star producer: Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire. But not even the superior White brother could dissuade the 19-year-old phenom from his ambitions. Prince, according to Husney, wrote a lengthy note laying out the reasons why White wasn’t a good fit for his debut: “He had analyzed [Earth, Wind & Fire’s] music and felt it wasn’t going anywhere in the eighties… He didn’t want that. He felt it was going to pigeonhole him. So I called back Mo and I said our decision was still ‘no.’ We wanted to be self-produced” (Nilsen 1999 35).

In the end, Husney and Ostin settled on a compromise–once again, following the earlier negotiations with CBS almost to the letter. Warner flew Prince back out to Los Angeles, under the pretext of offering him some free studio time. As he worked, however, the label sent producers and executives to surreptitiously observe his process: including head of A&R Lenny Waronker, Russ Titelman (best known at the time for his work with Randy Newman), Gary Katz (producer of Steely Dan), and Ted Templeman (the Doobie Brothers, Van Morrison, et. al.). “He thought some of these people were janitors,” Husney claimed to Nilsen. “They were all walking in and out of there. Prince had no idea who the heck it was” (Nilsen 1999 35). But the ruse worked, and in the artist’s favor: Waronker and Templeman in particular were impressed, and agreed that Prince should be allowed to self-produce. “You could not only tell there was talent but there was a vision,” Waronker later recalled to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “He went out and played guitar, then overdubbed drums. By the time the drum part was recorded, it was clear. We didn’t want to insult him by making him go through the whole process, but he wanted to finish” (Star Tribune 2004). With Warner Bros. sufficiently convinced, Prince became the youngest producer in the label’s history.