Prince’s Hot Rock: The Secret Life Of America’s Sexiest One-Man Band
Most influential one-man band
By Debby MillerApril 28, 1983
What does a twenty-two-year-old musical wizard in bikini briefs have that other rock stars don’t? Whatever it is, it makes him the world’s sexiest and most influential one-man band.
John Nelson moved out of the family home when Prince was seven. But he left behind his piano, and it became the first instrument Prince learned tosongs he practiced were TV themes – Batman and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. “My first drum set was a box full of newspapers,” he has said, explaining how he came to play a whole range of instruments. “At thirteen, I went to live with my aunt. She didn’t have room for a piano, so my father bought me an electric guitar, and I learned how to play.” But the aunt wasn’t keen on the noise, and she threw him out. It was then that Prince turned up at André’s.
Hardly into their teens, Prince and André (who uses the surname Cymone) had already formed their first group. Prince recalled, “I got my first band. I wanted to hear more instruments, so I started Champagne, a twelve-piece band. Only four of us played. Eight were faking. André and I played saxophone. I also played piano. I wrote all the music. The songs were all instrumentals. No one ever sang. When I got into high school, I started to write lyrics. I’d write the really, really vulgar stuff.”
André, on the other hand, claims the first band had Prince playing lead guitar, André himself on bass guitar, his sister Linda on keyboards and the Time’s Morris Day on drums. The group was called Grand Central, later renamed Champagne. The musicians all wore suede-cloth suits with their zodiac signs sewn on the back (Prince, born on June 7th, 1960, had Gemini, the twins, on his). For a time, they were managed by Morris’ mother, which didn’t make Prince very happy. “She wasn’t fast enough for Prince,” says Mrs. Anderson. “He wanted her to get them a contract right away.”
The band practiced in André’s basement, where Prince had established a bedroom of his own. “It sounded like a lot of noise,” says Bernadette Anderson. “But after the first couple of years, I realized the seriousness of it. They were good kids. Girls were crazy about them.”
André – whose father had played bass in the Prince Rogers Band – says that although the family was poor, Prince “dug the atmosphere. It was freedom for him.” There wasn’t enough money to buy records, but there was a family friend – a reclusive black millionaire, says one source – who gave the kids the money to go to a local studio to record a few songs. The studio they picked was called Moon Sound.
Moon Sound was an eight-track studio that charged about thirty-five dollars an hour back in 1976, when Prince and André and the rest of Champagne walked in the door. The owner, Chris Moon, was a lyricist looking for a collaborator. “Prince always used to show up at the studio with a chocolate shake in his hand, sipping out of a straw,” Moon remembers. “He looked pretty tame. Then he’d pick up an instrument and that was it. It was all over.”