…continue Pg2 – Eric Leeds Interview – April 2016
But he got on the road with Kiss, I think was February 1983, and the production designer for that show was a guy named Tommy Marzullo, who came from Pittsburgh. He knew me because he used to come out and hear my band Taking Names and he’d to come out and hear Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band all the time in the early ’80s. Prince was on the road with the “1999 Tour” and, as it turns out, Tommy was also the production designer for that tour. He was going back and forth between tours and he mentioned to Alan that Prince had just fired his current road manager and was looking for a new road manager, and Alan told Tommy, “If there is any way in hell that you could possibly see if I could get on the Prince tour…” And Alan still had a few weeks to go with the Kiss tour when Tommy came back and told Alan, “I could probably get you the gig with Prince.” Alan said, “I still have a few weeks with Kiss.” Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley told Alan, “Man, we’re good. Everything that needs to be put in place, you’ve pretty much taken care of. Go! Get the Prince tour. We’re cool with it.” Alan finished up the Prince tour and went back to New York in the summer of ’83, and he got a call back from Prince’s manager, who said, “We need you to come to Minneapolis to manage the office at Paisley Park and be a road manager in place.” Alan said, “Well, why?” and they said, “We’re starting to film a movie.” He moved there in ’83 while they filmed “Purple Rain” and after that went out with him on subsequent tours. After the last tour in ’88, Alan became the head of Paisley Park Records until ’92.
So, how did you get into the group?
Prince’s group, Morris Day and the Time, that band was breaking up, just before the movie was going to be released in the summer of ’84. The Time broke up and Prince wanted to put another band together that would allow him to be more heavily R&B/pop, so it was going to be different from his own band and was going to be called The Family. And for the first time, Prince entertained the idea of using horns. Alan told Prince, “If you’re looking for a sax player, I just happen to know someone.” Alan gave Prince something of my playing and he was sufficiently impressed. He said, “I love the way your brother plays. Call him and tell him to come up to Minneapolis.”
So, what was that first meeting like?
Walked into a room, Alan introduced us, and Prince said to me, “I’ve got four or five tracks already done for this project. If you would like to listen to them for a few days and come up with a few ideas…” And I wasn’t feeling cocky and arrogant or anything, but I said, “I’m fine with just diving in and starting right now if that’s what you’d be interested in doing,” and Prince smiled at me and said, “Cool, let’s go,” and we worked for about two or three hours that afternoon and finished about four or five tracks.
What was Prince like to work for? I know that James Brown was tough on his band. Prince seemed to be that kind of perfectionist. Did Prince take a cue from James Brown in that sense?
I would think to a certain degree. I had known James Brown since I was a kid because Alan was James Brown’s tour director back in the late ’60s, early ’70s, and that gave me an opportunity to know James and most of the guys in his band. They were really mentors of mine. Prince didn’t run it in the almost-militaristic fashion that James did. Prince was demanding and he was a perfectionist, and that’s what we appreciated. Because I played an instrument that he didn’t play — and after the first album, The Family project fell apart — I was fortunate that he just moved me over to his band and expanded The Revolution at that time. And he said, “I would like a trumpet player, do you know anyone?” and I recommended Matt Blisten [aka Atlanta Bliss] from Pittsburgh. Matt and I went to school together at Duquesne and we’d been playing in bands together for 10 years. Because Prince couldn’t play the horns, he had to rely on us to contribute horn arrangements and things of that nature. He had always had tremendous players in his band regardless of what instrument they play, but if they played guitar or keyboard or bass or drums, he could really pick up the bass or guitar or get behind the keyboard and drums and show them exactly what he wanted by playing it. He couldn’t do that with the horns, so the method of communication was a little bit different and it kind of enabled us to take on more of a role in the band. And because he didn’t play the horns, it enabled us to do a lot more recording with him because he could play all the other instruments that he did. And we found [recording in the studio] to be one of the most interesting and fulfilling aspects of working with him.
You were a studied and schooled musician and he was a self-taught player. So how did you evaluate him as a musician?
Hands down, he’s as remarkable a musician as I can remember ever working with. I would say he’s a remarkable musician and on his best day, he was a downright brilliant — not only his instincts but the fact that he had so much music in him he wanted to get out. I’m very grateful that the years I was working with him most closely, from ’84 to ’90, I think those were probably his most creative years, and he was showing a lot of growth in his music. I was lucky to have been there at that time when he was very open to reaching out to other people, including myself and Matt Blisten and Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman. He was very open to the idea of reaching out to others in his music, which I understand he was not prone to do in his early days, and certainly I don’t think he did that much in the later years as well. It was just period of time when he realized he was still growing and trying to do a lot of things. He was determined after the success of “Purple Rain” that his next album would be entirely different, and certainly the next album, “Around the World in a Day,” is very, very different, and then came “Parade,” which was the music from “Under the Cherry Moon,” and “Sign of the Times,” which I suspect most critics would look at as perhaps being his high-water mark.
Did you ever know anyone who could record an entire album by themselves?
From what I understand, Stevie Wonder did. If you go back to early articles on Prince about Stevie Wonder, the reference was obvious. I understand that when they first brought him to the attention of Warner Bros. Records, they hyped him, saying, “This kid could be the next Stevie Wonder.” At that time, the ability to play all those instruments and with the depth he did… He was known as an iconic rock guitar player, that’s a given. The instrument I used to love listening to him play more than anything was bass. I had a lot of opportunity to hear him play the other instruments to a degree that others did not, at jam sessions and long soundchecks. Before Paisley