Inside the Purple Vault of Prince

“I think over 70% of the music we’ve worked on for Prince is yet to be released.”

-Brent Fischer, Grammy winning composer and collaborator with Prince

And that’s a LOT, seeing how Prince put out nearly 40 studio albums released during his career of as many years.

Now, I’m not going to eulogize him – others more capable have done it already since his death last week. I prefer to focus on the music, and the hope that there still may be more to come.

Recording engineer Susan Rogers was hired Prince in 1983 to work in Paisley Park, his personal recording studio in Minneapolis, MN. She explained “I want us to have everything he’s ever recorded right here,” for convenience as well as for the sake of preservation. “When I left in ’87 it was nearly full…it was just row after row after row after row of everything we did.” And that was nearly three decades ago. By her estimate, of Prince’s best “30% (of recorded music), I’ll bet the public has heard about 20% of it.”

prince
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Hans Martin-Buff, another studio engineer, helped Prince record in the 90’s and confirms the prodigious output of the man: “In the same way that most people have a conversation about their day, Prince creates music. It’s effortless for him.”

Evidence of Prince’s willingness to shelve quality material is found in the story of his legendary Black Album, his 16th studio record. Officially it has no title and is credited to no artist, as the LP and CD covers were simply black with no text. He decided it should be pulled prior to the scheduled release date in 1987. The story goes that he felt it was too dark and negative, and out of step with his spiritual feelings at the time. (Note: The Black Album was eventually released in 1994 in limited numbers and without a single or a marketing push from the label. Due to these circumstances, it is regarded as one of the most heavily bootlegged albums of all time, only adding to the artist’s aura of intrigue.)

Not to be excluded from the discussion are Princes electrifying live performances, which were also heavily documented. Alan Leeds, former head of Paisley Park Records says “[Prince] recorded every concert he ever did…so the wealth of material goes way beyond just studio recordings.” If you just know the studio hits, please try and check out some videos of Prince to see what an amazing performer he was, ripping out Hendrix-like guitar runs in between soulful vocals and tightly choreographed dance breaks, and making it look as easy as getting out of bed.

Michael Bland, who was a drummer for Prince goes on to say “There’s all sorts of music in the vault, there’s two other movies that nobody ever saw….I can’t even tell you how many songs were recorded because it happened so frequently.”

Though we can all keep our fingers crossed on the release of some amazing new music, Bland points out that there may be a benefit to keeping it under wraps: “It keeps the mystique only because the door is shut.”

Listening Party

I think most people have pretty eclectic taste in music. I rarely come across somebody these days who only align themselves with one or two genres. That’s a good thing. It’s funny because we tend to lump other people into categories like “hip hop fan” or “country fan,” which might not be fair after all.

To my ear, Ween and John Coltrane are both fantastic. I think there’s room for Sonic Youth as well as Eddie Van Halen in the rock guitar pantheon. An aside, if Sonic Youth didn’t have the noise-rock/art school image they could have been one of the biggest psychedelic bands. I recall friend of mine once pointed out a similar thing about the German group Can.

But having a broad taste comes at a price. When my iWhatever shuffle went from Jay-Z to Yes I must have passed out from the shock. Because when I woke up, there was 11:37 left on the Yes song, so I calculate that there was over eight minutes of unaccounted for time. I don’t think I was abducted by aliens, but you never really know.

All Today’s Parties

“Winning…” he said in a hushed sing-song voice as he stubbed out the roach and knocked back the watery dregs of a rye on the rocks.  No need for the hushed tones, after all he was home alone on this wintery Tuesday at 1:26PM.  His wife, along with most responsible adults, was at work.  A hot, protracted, shower was next up on the docket – alongside binge-watching a cable TV show on Netflix, a romp involving himself and an adult website, and several actual important items which would get bumped yet again to tomorrow’s schedule.

His daily foray into the fleshy underbelly of the world wide web yielded an amusing thought: “That site described them as mature women, but the things they’re doing…I don’t think so!”  But there was nobody around to share this quip with.  It would be lost on the cat.  And maybe a retraction is in order: porn is hardly the “underbelly” of the web.  It’s one of the main limbs, a fully-articulated prime mover.

As his buzz was cresting (always a bittersweet thing since it’s all downhill from there), he tuned in and began nodding to the droning toms-and-tambourine beat of “Venus in Furs” and cranked the volume on his tiny kitchen stereo.  Waves of psychedelic guitar and woozy strings washed over him, as Lou Reed croaked about tasting whips and bleeding and mistresses.

Through the window, in the woods beyond the perimeter of his yard, he became vaguely aware of dark shapes moving about.  Vultures?  Perhaps not. Large wild turkeys, cloaked in deep brown-black plumage in stark contrast to the fresh white powder smothering the land, were present. Several skulked about and would disappear behind the bare trees now and again, possibly to resurface later, feverishly, in his anxious, fearful dreams.