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Old 03-24-2021, 08:20 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Chapter I: Something in the Air

Timeline: 1958 - 1977

Born into a musical family, Prince Rogers Nelson arrived in this world June 7 1958 to a mother who could sing like Billie Holiday and a father who played piano and wanted to be a music star. The arrival of their new son - and later, a daughter - would however ensure the plans of both for fame and fortune would never materialise, though in a very real way they would be bettered by the efforts of the tiny little infant now squealing and crying at his mother’s breast.

At age five, Prince attended a concert by his father, a local jazz musician. John Nelson wasn’t doing so well, being described as a “jazz musician in the whitest metropolitan district” but Prince was enthralled by the experience, and says he made his mind up then and there to be a musician. He and his younger sister Tyka would play around with their father’s piano, Prince banging out notes on it while Tyka sang, like her mother. But eventually John’s dream of being a musician outweighed his love for Mattie, and he and his wife separated, a huge blow to Prince, especially when his mother remarried. Neither she nor her new husband, Heyward, supported Prince’s desire to play music, as Mattie feared he would end up like his father. This, of course, only made the young Prince more determined to pursue his dream.

In 1970 Mattie gave birth to Heyward’s child, Prince’s half-brother Omarr, and Prince decided he had had enough. He left home, moving in with his father. The relationship was not always good. John was a moody man, and no doubt would have preferred his ex-wife to have been the one to take on the burden of bringing up an opinionated, starry-eyed young kid. Plus he had his career, which he had not yet given up on, to think about. After some time, inevitably, tensions flared and Prince was kicked out of his father’s house. With nowhere else to go, he stood on the street outside the local McDonald’s, smelling the cheeseburgers and wishing he could afford one. Eventually his Aunt Olivia took him in.

During that time he had taken up guitar, and was asked by his friends Andre Simon Anderson and cousin Charles to help form a band, and so they did, calling themselves Phoenix, but later changing this to Soul Explosion. Prince began to be influenced by the vocal stylings of Sly Stone and the musical versatility of Stevie Wonder, and already was plotting his world takeover. He didn’t just want to be a musician like his father, but a rock star. He listened to acts perhaps other black kids might not - Fleetwood Mac, Grand Funk Railroad, Bob Dylan, as well as Santana and of course Jimi Hendrix, who he had always said was one of his heroes - and honed his playing style. By now he was proficient on piano, saxophone and guitar, could drum and was looking into music production.

He was now sixteen years old.

Morris Day joined the band as a drummer, displacing his cousin Charles in a move that would be repeated throughout Prince’s long and successful career, as people were fired, shifted around and left due to pressures put on them by the man who would end up being one of the world’s greatest rock stars. Prince was writing his own songs, too, and they weren’t short pop or funk ditties. He went in for longer, more involved compositions, usually over the seven-minute mark, another thing that would remain constant throughout his career.

Still broke, Prince would return to standing outside the McDonald’s and sniffing the air, longing for a cheeseburger but unable to afford one. It made him bitter and angry, and he fought with everyone. In addition, having to play the top forty hits of the day irked him, and he longed to stretch his musical muscles with his band, but was restricted as club owners only wanted stuff people knew and could dance to. He continued to write music, and in 1976 he met Chris Moon, who had booked his latest band, Shampagne, to record some songs, but it was Prince himself with whom Moon was most impressed. When creating a track, Prince asked Moon if he wanted bass on it. Moon did, but couldn’t afford to engage a bass player. No problem: Prince laid down the bass line, then added guitar, drums and backing vocals. Dumbstruck at the kid’s talents, Moon offered him the keys of his studio, Moon-Sound, and showed him how to work the equipment. Prince would work there in the day and sleep on the floor.

But when Prince realised his talent and his ambitions could not be contained in the small Minneapolis town, and wanted to go to New York, none of his bandmates agreed, and so they parted company.

Now on his own, Prince worked with Moon but the two had different ideas about certain things. Moon wanted to bring in a drummer, but Prince insisted on taking on the job himself. His expertise began to breed arrogance, and he once reportedly told Moon he couldn’t tell him what to do, as he, Moon, didn’t even play anything. Kind of can’t argue with logic like that, even if it is a little rude. Oddly enough, for a man who became so almost pathologically narcissistic in his career, Prince admitted that he had never wanted to be a front man, and that originally it felt “spooky” to be at the mike alone. His confidence, however, grew, along with the evidence of his already-burgeoning talent, and in perhaps preparation for stardom he began to experiment with a signature, putting a small heart over the “i” in his name, and dropping his last name.

One lesson that did sink in from Moon was that he should actively try to crossover, get the white people listening to him. Black music was great, but it was very limited by its nature, and you could only get so far by playing to an exclusively black audience. If he wanted real fame, real stardom, sooner or later Prince was going to have to court white audiences, and he may as well make it sooner, and get used to it. Looking at the lyric for a song which would become “Soft and Wet”, Chris Moon laughed and declared Prince had his hook, and that hook would reel in thirteen and fourteen-year old girls and bring him fame.

But that would never happen in the backwaters of Minneapolis. So, at an invitation from his half-sister Sharon, Prince and Moon headed off to New York, where Moon finally got his artist a meeting with Atlantic Records. They, however, rejected his music as being not commercial enough, and too “midwestern”. Moon returned home, but Prince remained in New York. An associate of Moon’s, Owen Husney, was so taken by the tape his friend played for him, and more by the fact that it was one guy playing everything, that he arranged a meeting with Prince, who immediately signed him. Prince was finally on a label, if a small one, and a short time later was in the studio cutting a proper demo for his first album.

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