Photo: Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Bobby Z. On 'Prince And The Revolution: Live' & Why The Purple One Was Deeply Human
Prince is rock royalty for good reason, but that level of reverence threatens to do him a disservice: He was a human being who brought people joy. Here, Revolution drummer Bobby Z. discusses how their newly released live album highlights his multitudes.
Did you know that Prince performed "Yankee Doodle" — yes, that "Yankee Doodle" — at the peak of his career?
It's true. Onstage in Syracuse, New York, during the Purple Rain tour in 1985, the seven-time GRAMMY winner and his Revolution bridged the lascivious "Take Me With U" and "Do Me, Baby" with the goofy schoolyard classic. As the wheedly melody gave way to shimmering drones, he delivered a voice-of-God monologue: "Can you see me?" he asked the audience with a hint of vulnerability. "Can you hear me?"
By now, almost everyone in the Western world has seen and heard Prince. As Revolution drummer Bobby Z. puts it, Prince has become the legendary Purple One — "this mythical, immortal character." But vaunting Prince as such threatens to do a disservice to one of the hardest-working people in showbiz — by making him some kind of deity.
"Everyone knew him as kind of this odd guy. It's a mystery that he became the coolest guy in the world, you know what I mean?" says Z, a two-time GRAMMY winner himself. What brought this odd duck to the zenith of rock-stardom? A vanishingly rare confluence of brain-breaking talent and the mother of all killer instincts. And those qualities are blindingly apparent on Prince and the Revolution: Live.
That's the name of the newly released Prince and the Revolution live album, culled from that very Syracuse show and released June 3 — four days ahead of what would have been his 64th birthday. (Although, it must be said, he didn't celebrate birthdays.) Featuring classics from "1999" and "Little Red Corvette" to "Let's Pretend We're Married" performed at a head-spinning velocity, the collection is a treasure worth beholding.
What separates it from the other spectacular Prince live releases, like 2018's Piano and a Microphone 1983? His most famous band at full tilt, which allowed Prince to be the most himself he could ever be. Yes, the genius who wrote "Darling Nikki" is here, but also the lovable nerd who could somehow get away with a sexy soliloquy over "Yankee Doodle."
Prince and the Revolution: Live presents The Artist in all his multitudes — the hornball poet, the compositional savant, the born bandleader, the guitar firebrand, the odd duck determined to prove himself. And once its two hours have passed, you'll be reeling from a full Prince immersion. He may have been royalty among rock stars, but he was also incontrovertibly human.
GRAMMY.com sat down with Bobby Z. about what fans will hear in Prince and the Revolution: Live — and what he believes is the most misunderstood thing about him.
When a fan picks up Prince and the Revolution: Live, what are they holding in their hands? What are we dealing with here?
What we're dealing with is basically: The Purple Rain tour had done 105 shows, and it was then time to decide what Prince wanted to do about Europe and Japan. To everyone's chagrin, he was already ready to move on. Before we even hit the stage in Detroit for the first show of the Purple Rain tour, Around in the World in a Day was already in the can. Mixed, mastered, ready to go.
And that was Prince! For him, it was like a secret: He was already on to the next thing, even though the public was still reveling in his music. So, the end of the road was coming, and there was going to be a break, and they were going to ship everything to Europe, and he said, "No."
His compromise was the relatively new invention of pay-per-view. Cable was just forming and things were just getting started. Satellites were starting to be available for commercial use. So, they came up with this innovative way to broadcast to Germany and then throughout Europe. They picked a couple of weeks before the end of the tour, which was Syracuse, New York, on March 30, 1985.
The [Carrier] Dome was a great location. He was fired up, and we performed live for the world. We recorded on tape, and now, Sony has expertly remixed and retooled and restored and brought this amazing show back to life.
It seems to have this quality that the greatest live shows have: unrepeatability. There were many superb Prince concerts, but there's only one of these.
Yeah. This [incorporated] many, many cameras and many, many angles. Any Prince concert shot well would be a memorable experience from his performance alone. But, I agree. The thing about Prince was that music was life and death. You can't move; your eyes are riveted. You are literally in suspended animation. It takes you to another place.
Whether he wanted it to or not, Purple Rain became a diamond because of the pressure, and the pressure was time. We now know that Prince would release an album per month if he could. He just had music flowing out of him. But we had to write the movie, rehearse the movie, shoot the movie, rehearse the tour, and then the record… there were many steps to this that created compression of time.
He had songs competing against each other. "The Beautiful Ones" kicked out "Electric Intercourse," which was a fantastic song that we recorded. The movie kicked it into high gear, and the tour was definitely the most ambitious, crazy thing to date.
I have to stop and give credit to LeRoy Bennett, the lightning designer who's now with Paul McCartney and Lady Gaga. He designed this amazing stage with elevators and Vari-Lites, which were the first versions of lights that move to the music. We called him the seventh member of the band. His genius made it even more spectacular.
What are your favorite moments on Prince and the Revolution: Live?
"Yankee Doodle" makes me chuckle. Any costume change, or when he would leave the stage, we had to create [backing vocalist] Lisa [Coleman] a moment. There are always these moments that are not just throwaway. Every moment was rehearsed and well-thought-out.
I loved just sitting back there and watching him play piano. I don't know if you saw the Beatles' Get Back; Ringo just watches McCartney. I kind of related to that. I just got to watch Prince's genius — sit there, take a breather and come in on cue. I had the best seat in the house.
That's what got me started — Ringo, and, of course, Buddy Rich on "The Tonight Show." It became interesting because I became a muse for electronic, playable drum machines unwittingly.
Prince and I had a tech background. In the beginning, we were very unfamous together. I was working at his first manager Owen Husney's office as a driver and delivery boy. Prince would disrupt the office business and just ride around with me all day and do photocopy deliveries.
And we would shop for cassettes! Cassettes were so crappy that finding one with less hiss was [paramount]. So, the technical aspect really carried through. And when the Linn[Drum] happened — the drum machine — it was all new and pioneering. It was a far cry from Buddy Rich banging around on "The Tonight Show"!
Every decade has music that resonates and music that doesn't. To you, why does Prince's music endure?
Just like Lennon and McCartney, it's words and music. When you distill those songs — like he did at the very end, ironically, with Piano and a Microphone — and just take them and play them as songs with lyrics, they're beautiful, exquisitely-written songs.
When you add a powerful band behind it that's well-rehearsed and choreographed and lit and costumed and everything, it just enhances that. Prince had an unreal ability to write songs, and that's it right there.
So, it doesn't matter what the vibe is, or the flair, or the aesthetic — without a great song underneath, it's all bound to topple.
So many of them! And he's maybe the most prolific writer in all of history.
I met him, let's just say, in 1977. I knew him for 43 years. If you just say a song a day, you're probably not far off. You're talking about 14,000 songs. Cut that in half and it's 7,000 or 8,000 songs. I mean, this guy did that! And a great many of them were just incredible — and hits, on top of that!
By the numbers, it's staggering. But by theory, melody, as a percussionist — he did things on the three and two of a bar, unpredictable dots and pushes on a four-bar measure. There are only four bars and 12 notes in rock 'n' roll — sometimes it deviates — but what he could do with 4/4 time is incredible in its variation.
To embellish what we were talking about just a second ago, the recordings live on because of the nuances in these measures. In his repetitiveness, there's change constantly, which is known as ear candy, I guess. He could decorate a song in a way that keeps you listening and hearing new stuff every time you hear it.
It's easy to take ultra-prolific artists from Prince to Stephen King for granted, but every artist's prolificity is driven by something. What internally drove Prince to create such a prodigious body of work?
It's really hard to say. It goes back to the beginning. I used to think, "What would happen to him if this didn't happen?" because everyone knew him as kind of this odd guy. It's a mystery that he became the coolest guy in the world, you know what I mean?
When you meet the fans, [you realize] he attracted a different kind of person. He saved a lot of lives, in terms of giving people hope and direction. I think his hope was just a combination of DNA and a unique ability of music being like air, water, food. Just a strange adaptation of life in the music, in that it was just everything.
And performance was everything. Everything. Life was on the line. And he laid it out in a way that was just different from other musicians. I used to say he was like the Muhammad Ali of rock 'n' roll. He was after everybody, in a humorous way.
Do you think part of what drove him was plain old insecurity? Being the odd duck he was, I wonder if he felt that burning need to prove himself.
He wanted to prove himself over and over. And as a businessman, he did. The business became frustrating to him, the way the major-label system worked. He changed that. "The Artist" sold a hundred thousand albums out of his trunk, meaning on a website.
In so many ways, he gave artists a voice that still resonates to this day — about owning your masters and freedom and not giving away your rights in a very bold way. His challenge to the business is still giving artists confidence today — to speak up at a time when it was difficult to do that.
I think he evolved in so many different ways. We're talking about a little bit more innocent time. Syracuse was a dream realized. The movie, the album, the tour… it was definitely a long way from that '74 Pinto I was driving around doing photocopies.
For me to take him with him on that journey is something I will appreciate forever. He saved me from a normal life!
Prince aside, what's going on in your career? What else are you working on lately?
I've enjoyed producing records and assembling digital playlists for different labels. I really took to the streaming era and enjoy listening and spreading music in any way I can.
I ultimately enjoy playing with a band. We kind of resurrected the band after Prince passed. COVID stopped us, but we even played on the GRAMMY tribute to Prince, [which] was a fantastic evening. We got to play and honor our leader.
From your perspective, what's the biggest misunderstanding about Prince?
That he wasn't human. That he was this mythical, immortal character. In the early days, he was a band member. He was the leader, of course, but he had to be in a band. People got hungry; they wanted to go back to the hotel. He had to go through the motions at the beginning.
His work ethic was legendary, but at the same time, he had a warm side. He was funny. And the camaraderie was appreciated. He was kind of a binary character. Questions would be answered with questions. Sometimes, you couldn't get to the heart of the matter.
It would always be your choice on a musical part. You were right in his eyes or wrong in his eyes, but he appreciated the effort you put in. It's a big life lesson. He knew how to push people, but at the same time, he was a humorous, funny guy who enjoyed a good laugh.
He enjoyed a good concert. He was a fan. He loved being impressed by songs. He loved music. He loved other people's talent. He loved the whole thing about music, concerts, recording. He loved to learn about it and he loved to give it back.
I'm sure you miss him as much as ever.
Yeah, I do. I mean, the guy's intense. There's no doubt that having him in your life is a focus. My wife and I were talking the other day; he was great friends with her and loved her and gave us his blessing. But he's kind of more important than your parents sometimes!
He's really a presence in your life that you have to deal with. It's an honor and a privilege. It is sad that he's gone, but I definitely feel like it's important while the five of us are still alive, to carry this on and talk about his genius and his stage presence and skills as a bandleader.
It's critical. Life is short. And once we're gone, can anybody speak of it in the first person like this? They'll watch this thing, but it's great that people like you and others are pushing this and getting a whole new generation to see what Prince was.
I'll just say this: there's a lot of hubbub about the court, and who owns what, and how he passed, and the ending, and all that stuff. But what was all the fuss about to begin with? It was this. Just watch Syracuse; this is what the hubbub was.
This is why Prince was Prince: because he was a figure skater up there. An unbelievable dancer, singer, performer, guitar player, bandleader. It's history, and there's nobody else like him.
Anything else you want to express about Prince and the Revolution: Live before we get out of here?
Just sit your kids down! And cover their eyes sometimes.
But, definitely, watch a real show, with real musicians playing real music. And watch some hard work in action that we loved giving back. He fired us up every night. At this particular show, he was frantic. He knew we were making history. He said it over and over again. And we did.
Wild At The GRAMMYs: It's Miller Time
David Wild has written for the GRAMMY Awards since 2001. He is a contributing editor to Rolling Stone, a blogger for Huffington Post and an Emmy-nominated TV writer. Wild's most recent book, He Is…I Say: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Neil Diamond, is now in paperback. Follow him on Twitter.
The GRAMMY Awards broadcast is the biggest show on earth — or at least the biggest show on television. At least that's the way it looks from my admittedly subjective and sweaty point of view in the GRAMMY trenches.
Think about it for just a moment: There are more moving parts on the GRAMMY show than any other television event that I can think of. See, most of the big TV events are based around actors walking out on a stage in a theater and speaking, and then showing film or video clips. Other shows may feature a number of performances, but no show features more performances than the GRAMMYs. And in search of great GRAMMY moments, performers tend to push things to the limit on the GRAMMY stage, and sometimes slightly over the limit too.
Capturing all of those moving parts on camera in an artful and appropriate way is largely the job of the person in the truck calling all the shots for the camera operators attempting to cover all the musical action — namely, the director.
For the last 29 years, my friend Walter C. Miller has directed the GRAMMY Awards television show. That's not a typo — that's a fact: 29 years. That means every great GRAMMY moment most of us remember, we remember the way Walter wanted us to remember it. I've personally been there and witnessed him take every performance seriously, from Eminem and Elton John, to Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, and Prince and Beyoncé. "You get to be a part of a lot of musical history on the GRAMMYs," Walter told me recently. His historic track record is remarkable for any business, but much more so in an entertainment industry where survival is more often measured in intervals of 15 minutes than 30 years.
When GRAMMY Co-Executive Producer Ken Ehrlich first brought me in to help write the GRAMMY show a decade ago, he introduced me to Walter, who immediately insulted me in some witty yet somehow warm way. Being a lifelong Don Rickles fan, I liked the guy immediately. He is super sharp with a long lifetime of stories and a singular ability to tell them with fresh wit and the sting of truth. Just between us, Walter reminded me of my father. I remember seeing another director friend after meeting Walter and asking if he knew who Walter was. "Yes, David, Walter Miller basically invented live television,” he told me.
Having Walter on the GRAMMY team has meant the world to all of us lucky enough to work with him.
"I've learned so much from Walter," says Ken Ehrlich. "Wally had been and continues to be like a brother and a father to me. It's been like Butch and Sundance, and we're always ready to yell 'St' and jump off the mountain together."
"In his 30 years with the GRAMMY Awards, Walter Miller has not only created the look for our show, but for all other music award shows too," says GRAMMY Co-Executive Producer John Cossette. "He created the template for everyone else to follow."
In recent years, I’ve been lucky enough to find myself down in Nashville working as the writer for the Country Music Association Awards, another very big and distinguished show Walter executive produced and asked me to write after we first met at the GRAMMY Awards. One Sunday afternoon, the two of us had a few hours off in Music City, and decided to go see the new George Clooney movie Good Night And Good Luck. As we left the movie theater, I stupidly said something to Walter like, "Wow, can you imagine being in TV then." Walter looked at me, and said, "David, I was."
And so he was.
This year, Walter decided it was time for him to step back from directing the show, and he's been consulting on the show instead. Another legendary TV director, Louis J. Horvitz will be in the truck calling all those camera shots, and I have no doubt he'll do a great job. "Walter is the king of live television event directors," Louis told me the other day. "He's one of the founders of the whole form."
This year, Walter is also quite rightly receiving the Recording Academy's prestigious Trustees Award. He's earned it, because every time you look at the GRAMMYs for these past 30 years, you could rest assured that the great Walter C. Miller was there.
Walter C. Miller is still here, and thank God for that — and for him. The King lives. Long Live The King.
(Click here to read Wild's other GRAMMY blog installments.)
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic.com
The Week In Music: Prince Is Down In The Digital Dumps
Artist refuses to record until the piracy battle is won
It's been almost a year since Prince formally declared the Internet to be "completely over," and now the artist formerly known as a symbol is back on his Web-hating soap box. "I personally can't stand digital music," said Prince in an interview with the Guardian. "You're getting sound in bits. It affects a different place in your brain. When you play it back, you can't feel anything. We're analog people, not digital." And the other problem with the Internet according to Prince? The lack of regulation when it comes to copyrighted content available for free on the Web. "The industry changed," continued Prince. "We made money [online] before piracy was real crazy. Nobody's making money now except phone companies, Apple and Google. It's like the gold rush out there. Or a carjacking. So I'll just hold off on recording." While we shouldn't expect a new album from the artist anytime soon, we can certainly rest assured that he'll be coming to a town near you, at least for one (or 21) nights.
With a combined 10 GRAMMY Awards, comedian Stephen Colbert and producer/musician Jack White are adding another commonality notch to their belts in the form of a musical collaboration. White and his Nashville-based Third Man Records have produced Colbert's recent single "Charlene II (I'm Over You)," the follow-up to the comedian's '80s new wave release, "Charlene (I'm Right Behind You)." Colbert, along with his backup band — female goth rock group the Black Belles — premiered the single live on June 23 on "The Colbert Report." The song is available for download at iTunes, but audiophiles can also purchase a limited-edition vinyl pressing in red, white and blue available from Third Man Records just in time for the Fourth of July holiday. But fans at iTunes are already looking ahead as one commenter wrote, "Can't wait for Charlene III (Did You Get My Last Record?)!"
Arguably one of music's biggest cult documentaries, Heavy Metal Parking Lot is celebrating its silver anniversary in 2011. Clocking in at just 17 minutes, it's a must-see for aspiring metal heads, and has received accolades from the likes of Oscar-winning writer/director Cameron Crowe, actor Ed Norton and Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl. The film captures the shirtless, beer-guzzling debauchery in the parking lot of the Capitol Centre in Landover, Md., leading up to a 1986 Judas Priest gig. It's lack of cinematography or tangible plot aside, part of the film's charm is its spontaneity. "We certainly didn't go in with an agenda or plan, and 25 years later we are still trying to make sense of Heavy Metal Parking Lot," filmmaker Jeff Krulik told NPR, and said the production cost for the film was a mere $5 for a parking fee. Have any of these headbangers cut their mullets? Find out with a look at what the alumni from Heavy Metal Parking Lot are up to in 2011. And you can relive the film in all its devil-horn glory here.
Politics and music, as they say, make strange bedfellows. They also create a lot of licensing problems. The latest rocker to issue a take-down request is Tom Petty, who will ask the Michele Bachmann presidential campaign to refrain from using his "American Girl" in any campaign-related endeavors, according to an NBC report. Musicians issuing cease-and-desists to politicians trying to co-opt popular songs or musicians into their campaigns has a long contemporary tradition. In 1984 presidential candidate Ronald Reagan invoked Bruce Springsteen during a stump speech, trying to hitch his star to Springsteen's working class fans. In 2008 John McCain apologized to Jackson Browne for using "Running On Empty." That same year California state senatorial candidate Chuck Devore had to make a similar mea culpa to Don Henley for appropriating "The Boys Of Summer" and "All She Wants To Do Is Dance." The grandfather of all political apologies to musicians came in 2010 when U.S. Senate candidate Charlie Crist took to YouTube to issue an official apology to David Byrne for his unauthorized use of "Road To Nowhere." As for Bachmann, maybe this would have been a better choice for her campaign stop.
After she wore a dress made completely out of raw meat to the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, and arrived encased in an egg shell to the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards in February, Lady Gaga has certainly made a name for herself as a raw (no pun intended) and edgy fashionista. With the help of social media network Tumblr, Gaga has created a home for all of her fashion forays in the form of a photo blog titled Amen Fashion. So far, the Fame Monster has posted several entries that picture her showcasing a wide array of styles, from the self-dubbed "Tokyo Unicorn" to her "Born To Kill Look." And, not for the faint of heart, there's also an image of the organ featured in her "Alejandro" video with a post that reads, "He ate my heart, so I put his in the Alejandro video." Moral of the story? Don't eat Gaga's heart, but feel free to get a taste of her fashion sense.
White House party crasher Michaele Salahi made her recording debut back in March and made her live-singing debut (or at least live lip-syncing debut) last week on an NBC affiliate in Miami. Neither events made the splash she and husband Tareq made in 2009 when they crashed an official White House dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as part of a reality TV stunt. The song, "Bump It," a club-flavored dance track, is available at iTunes, where customer reviewer Klaus Von Bong commented: "Dump it."
Pitbull's "Give Me Everything" featuring Afrojack, Ne-Yo and Nayer is No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" featuring Lauren Bennett and GoonRock is tops on iTunes singles chart.
Any news we've missed? Comment below.
Black Sounds Beautiful: Five Years After His Death, Prince’s Genius Remains Uncontainable
In the latest episode of Black Sounds Beautiful, explore Prince Rogers Nelson’s GRAMMYs legacy and consider how—five years after his passing—we’ve only scratched the surface of his bottomless talent.
Some artists celebrate Black genius pointedly through their lyrics and public statements. Others like Prince, simply live it by being exceptional.
Not that the Purple One, who passed away in 2016, didn’t acknowledge race. In the midst of acrimony with a major record label, he scrawled “SLAVE” on his face. He called his name change to the infamous “Love Symbol” “the first step I have taken towards the ultimate goal of emancipation.”
In the end, though, he knew his inimitable writing, production work and guitar playing would be his true statement to the world. attacking others for their immutable characteristics wasn’t the answer.
“Nothing more ugly in the whole wide world than INTOLERANCE (between) Black, white, red, yellow, boy or girl,” he wrote in his personal archives. (He punctuated it with an extra “INTOLERANCE” at the end.)
In the latest episode of Black Sounds Beautiful, take a brief tour through Prince’s astonishing history as a GRAMMY winner and nominee. Without cheating, try to guess how many wins and nominations he earned before pressing play.
Then, when you’re done, chase it with one of those recent boxed sets of 1999 or Sign o’ the Times. Or, if you’re pressed for time, peep his outrageous, spotlight-stealing guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” (Seriously, you’ll be glad you did.)
Gary Clark Jr.
Photo: Recording Academy
Gary Clark Jr. On His Admiration For Prince: "He's The Best Guitar Player In The World"
The GRAMMY-winning "This Land" singer honors his hero at The GRAMMY Salute To Prince, which airs on CBS on April 21
"He's the best, the pinnacle. When I think about true artists and expression, unapologetic and free, Prince is that to me," the GRAMMY winner told us backstage at "Let's Go Crazy: The GRAMMY Salute To Prince."
"As a guitar player, I think he's the best guitar player in the world. I don't think anybody could touch him, and I'll fight you on that. It's just what I want to be, really," the "This Land" singer adds with a smile.
During the special tribute concert, which airs on CBS next Tues., April 21 (the fourth anniversary of Prince's death), Clark performs "Let's Go Crazy" with H.E.R. and Sign O' the Times deep cut "The Cross."
Tune in to CBS (or stream on CBS All Access) on April 21 from 9-11 p.m. ET/PT to watch Clark pay tribute to his hero, as well as many more powerhouse covers from Prince's musical treasure chest, brought to life by Sheila E., The Revolution, John Legend, Common, Dave Grohl with the Foo Fighters, Earth, Wind & Fire, Juanes and other greats.