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.
Prince soon agreed to work with Moon, and the studio owner handed the seventeen-year-old a set of keys to the studio. “He’d stay the weekend, sleep on the studio floor,” Moon says. “I wrote down directions on how to operate the equipment, so he’d just follow the little chart – you know, press this button to record and this button to play back. That’s when he learned to operate studio equipment. Pretty soon, I could sit back and do the listening.”
One person who heard Prince’s early recordings was Owen Husney, who became his first manager. Husney put together an expensive package that included a demo tape of three twelve-minute songs on which Prince sang and played all the instruments, and he went off to L.A. to make a pitch to the record companies. Three labels – CBS, Warner Bros, and A&M – eventually made offers. Prince finally signed with Warner Bros., where, says an executive, they “were taken with the simplicity of his music and a future that looked wide open,” and where he was offered a firm three-LP contract, unheard of for a new artist.
Lenny Waronker, then head of A&R and now president of the label, was impressed enough to allow Prince to act as producer of his debut album. “I met him when we first signed him,” Waronker recalls. “[Producer] Russ Titelman and I took him into the studio one day, much to his chagrin. So we said, ‘Play the drums,’ and he played the drums and put a bass part on, a guitar part. And we just said, ‘Yeah, fine, that’s good enough.'”
Sales of the first Prince album, For You, released in 1978, weren’t so hot, but the fact that the kid was a one-man band – and his own producer – got a lot of attention. Then, in 1979, the single “I Wanna Be Your Lover” from his eponymous second LP went to Number One on the soul charts. But the age of innocence was almost over. Prince was back in Minneapolis putting together a new band, a straggly mix of blacks and whites, all recruited locally. His old friend André Cymone was among them, playing bass.
“There was a lot of pressure from my ex-buddies in other bands not to have white members in the band,” Prince has said. “But I always wanted a band that was black and white. Half the musicians I knew only listened to one type of music. That wasn’t good enough for me.”
The band, with its double keyboards, learned to reproduce the music Prince had been creating alone in the studio. The synthesizers, often playing horn lines, are a hallmark of the Minneapolis sound. The guitar signature is edgy rock, but the beat reins in any long guitar solos. “Around here, if it’s not synthesizers, it’s nothing,” says a local Minneapolis musician. “This is a keyboard town. It’s simplicity. If you listen to a lot of Prince or the Time, it’s simple. It’s direct and straight to the point. And it feels so good.”