(photo: AP/Andres Kudacki)
Prince left an indelible impression on everyone he met, whether it was a random encounter at a club, party, or recording studio, or a friendship that spanned decades. Here, Yahoo Music offers some tributes from his friends, colleagues, and distant admirers, ranging from genuinely touching to downright hilarious.
Sujata Murthy, Prince’s longtime friend and music industry executive:
Many Prince stories are circulating of those who had various brief encounters. He had a one-of-a-kind magnetism that immediately captured you. When I worked with him, it was easy. He knew exactly what he wanted. But very few saw the other side, as that was not shared with the public or many in his circle. Most of these stories will remain private. I am sharing to balance some of “don’t look at him in the eyes” myths.
Over the years – dinners, movies, parties, events, conversations – I was fortunate enough to get to know him. I don’t play a musical instrument or sing, so our relationship was based on old-fashioned conversation. The way someone treats me and those most important to me, sets the tone of my relationships. He welcomed not only me, but my whole family into his fold. When I mentioned my mom was in town, he immediately asked, “Does she want to see Barbra Streisand with us?” My mom ended up sitting next to him all night and chatting. From that point on, my mom was a regular guest at his house. He would also invite my husband, Tom, to join for us for dinner. At Tom’s first “dinner,” he and Prince were so engrossed in talking about intellectual property and ownership (Tom is an attorney) that they forgot to order and the restaurant closed. A few years later, I was lamenting about how I needed a big backyard for my daughter’s birthday bouncer. He graciously offered his house in Los Angeles. My daughter, Natasha, was always welcome at all his events and shows. When I told Natasha that Prince had passed away, she reflected for a moment and said, “Mama, I think he was one of your nicest artists. He let me eat all of his Oreos from the dressing room.”
That is the Prince we knew.
Jim Fraenkel, television producer (formerly of MTV News):
My boss and mentor knew what a big fan I was. I had camped out for tickets when I was 14 years old and snagged second row center to the Purple Rain tour. I painted the image from the sleeve to that album on the folding closet doors in my bedroom. (You know, the one with the falling teardrop). So when Prince invited a number of MTV executives up to his house in the Hollywood Hills to discuss potential programming ideas in advance of the release of a new album, I got a last-minute invitation. There was the President of MTV Networks. The President of MTV, itself. The head of the music department. The head of programming. And then there was me… one of the guys that ran the MTV News department at the time. But, really, I was still that kid who used to come home from school every day in 1984, hole up in the guest room on the second floor, the room where my family kept the stereo system (don’t ask me why), and just crank Prince for hours. On vinyl. Everything from Dirty Mind and Controversy to 1999 and, of course, the album that changed everything. I don’t even need to name it.
I was the first one out of the vehicle and the first to approach the house. The front door was open. And there, standing in the frame, he was. In a purple pinstriped suit. Should I really have expected anything less? Soft-spoken and demure, Prince extended his hand. “Hi, I’m Jim,” I said. “Prince,” he said. “Nice to meet you.” We gathered in the foyer as all us execs made our way in. There was a large, marble round table in the center of the room. Prince asked that we all please leave our phones there before inviting us to join him in the dining room.
We took our seats around a glass-top table with that symbol, yes, the symbol, frosted into it. Prince took his place at the head and I kid you not – yes, this was really happening – I ended up in the seat right next to him. Prince didn’t sit in his chair. He sat on the arm instead.
Prince lamented the state of the music industry and was particularly troubled by what he believed was the younger generation’s lack of knowledge when it came to music history, something he, of course, revered. At the same time, Prince wasn’t eager to teach any lessons for free. The fierce protection of his intellectual property, the same fierceness that led him to forfeit his legendary moniker for so many years, was on full display as well. If he was going to do anything with MTV to promote the new album, it was clear that he expected to get paid.
Eminem was still a big deal back in ’06. And the provocative nature of Em’s music was troubling to Prince, who despite his own risqué past had by now had become a Jehovah’s Witness. But what about that old stuff of yours, we asked. Prince drew distinctions. Unlike Eminem, Prince was still an underground artist when he released Dirty Mind, an album that he said Warner Bros. initially rejected because of the subject matter. Songs like “Head” and “Sister,” certainly the tracks at the heart of Warner Bros’ consternation, were deep cuts, not singles. He felt that even Eminem’s most commercial product was full of vulgarity.
I sheepishly spoke up at the end of this conversation to ask what I thought was an obvious and astute question, and one that my 14-year-old self was interested in hearing the answer to: So how did you ultimately get Warner Bros. to release Dirty Mind? His kind of brushed the question off with a forgettable reply. Something to the effect of “we worked it out.” Bummer. I wanted to hear a great story!
After an hour or so of banter, during which Prince was for the most part a normal guy, chatty, personable, he suggested that we “retire to the disco.” It was time to hear the new album.
Cue the Saturday Night Live sketch.
We walked through the house – which, by the way, he was renting if I’m not mistaken from an NBA player. There were lots of personal framed photos along the way, Prince with James Brown, Prince with (insert another famous name here). I recall passing an elevator (sad face). And then, around a bend, the disco. It was a large, dark room with vaulted ceilings (vaulted would be putting it mildly). The walls were lined with flowy, white fabric, from floor to ceiling. Purple couches and chairs were scattered about, in a seemingly random assortment of seating. At the front of the room, a DJ console with a hot chick behind it. On either side of her were tall, narrow, brightly-lit water tubes, bubbles rising. You could probably buy them at Spencer’s. At the front of the console, like on the table-top in the dining room, the symbol.
The music started. It was loud. I didn’t particularly love the album. But watching Prince roam about the room, singing along, clearly jazzed by his own art, was a priceless experience.
When it was over, we got to see a little more of the house. He wanted us to the see the party room where he would host his legendary late-night jam sessions. It was there that Prince asked if we’d seen The Stones’ Super Bowl halftime performance, which had just occurred a few nights earlier. I hadn’t been impressed and told him so. He asked why. I don’t remember what I said. But it was clear that Prince already had designs on that stage, which he would grace the following year, and deliver what many consider to be the greatest halftime show ever.
We made our way back to the foyer where we’d left our phones. Prince thanked us for coming and then turned his back to us, kind of abruptly, and walked away, climbing a set of stairs that led to a lofted living room. His hands were clasped behind his back. In the same way he must have known when he killed a performance and left the crowd wanting more, Prince knew that he had just blown our minds. And into the distance of his rented mansion, his frame grew smaller and smaller… until it disappeared.
Brandon Ball, Starch Creative partner:
Prior to co-founding my current company Starch Creative, I worked for Vans for 13 years. During that time we participated with Coachella on brand/artist activations each year. In 2008 we (Vans) had set up an area backstage where we had an artist hand painting customs white Vans slip-ons for artists that were performing. We had brought a purple velour couch, formerly from one of our retail stores, to the event for seating.
Saturday morning two very, very large men walked up to our tent, picked up the purple couch and started to walk away. Stunned, we yelled “Hey, what the f— are you doing?!” They stopped, turned to look at us and one man said, “PRINCE WANTS THE COUCH!” And continued to walk away. We immediately erupted into laughter. “If Prince wants the couch, Prince gets the couch!” We said out loud. That evening we partied till 2 a.m. watching Prince destroy the main stage at with 95,000 other people.
Sara Melson, singer-songwriter:
At Coachella 2008, I had the great fortune to be at a small gathering after the night had ended at a private home with Prince and eight other people. When I got there, I saw everyone huddled in a corner, while Prince and his bodyguard sat on the other side of the room, in complete silence. No one had the courage to go up and start a conversation with him. I found this weird, so I went up to him, and we started talking. He was extremely warm, and seemed happy I had approached him. We talked about music, surviving as an artist, songwriting, and life. He hugged me for a long time. Then I asked him how he had seemingly frozen time, looking, singing, and dancing exactly the same, without aging a bit. He smiled and said, "I’ll tell you my secret: I stopped counting.” I’ve always remembered that as a sage piece of advice from someone to whom age was just a random number. How ironic and tragic that he died so young. But – he wasn’t counting. He lived a life full of many more lifetimes than the average person will ever live, and obviously, will live on forever.
Jon Peter Lewis, musician and American Idol alumnus:
I met Prince once. I’ll never forget it mostly because I was a colossal idiot. My cousin (Blake Mills) and I were at the Malibu Inn watching Morris Day and the Time. Blake’s dad was friends with one of the band members and got us backstage passes. This was back in 2004, before Blake had become a known guitar player, and we were being introduced to folks before the show. It was pretty cool for me, since Purple Rain was one of the first albums I owned as a kid and a lot of the people in the room were faces from my childhood, pop-culture daydreams.
Just around the time I thought it would be perfect if Prince were there, he showed up. It was as if I had summoned him like a genie and poof – he appeared. Or like a funky Gandalf who was there when I least expected it and needed him the most. Even now when I think back on it, his arrival was like a slow-motion walk from a movie scene, complete with smoke and stage lights. It’s a memory of which I’m sure Prince would approve.
Before I could come back to Earth, introductions were made and he had already moved deeper into the small crowd competing for his attention. I’m not sure what I would have said even if I hadn’t been a mute fanboy, but I still look back wondering why I couldn’t have displayed at least a little social skill.
If the story ended there, I would have been happy. But it doesn’t. The show was beginning to start and the band was ushered onstage. We took our seats off to the side and sitting right in front of me was Prince. I tried to act cool and pretend like it was perfectly normal for him to be there. I failed horribly at first, but when the music started, I was in it and I totally forgot where I was. Morris was singing “Jungle Love” and Jerome Benton was dancing around the stage, and that sent me spinning into a trance.
I was dancing as best I could in my chair and I began to sing along. In falsetto. Behind Prince. I wish I could say this was the first time that absent-minded singing has landed me in embarrassing situations, but it’s a regular thing. Most of the time I’m not aware that I’m doing it. Maybe it was the volume in the room and the high frequency was the only thing I could hear in my head, or maybe a Prince-like “woo woo” was what the music was calling for in my mind. Whatever the reason, I was mindlessly regurgitating my best Prince impression while he sat in front of me.
And I hadn’t gone unnoticed. Every few minutes the incredibly beautiful girl sitting next Prince would look back at me. At first it was a curious look, but as time passed she began to cast exponentially growing amounts of shade. I was oblivious… at first. I think I gave her a hokey smile and thumbs up the first few times. Like she and I were sharing in this really cool moment together. But as she started to get visibly angrier, I started thinking, “What’s her deal?” Finally, when Prince turned to send some daggers with his eyes, I realized what I had been doing. I let out an audible “OOPS!” and covered my mouth. He turned back to the show and I shrank where I sat.
I think the embarrassment lasted till sometime on the car ride home. And, as time went on I started to think it was kind of a perfect the perfect run-in with Prince. I learned to embrace the forward and bold and often strange things about myself while following his life and career. This encounter was all of those things – and something to laugh and smile about when I think back on him. God bless you, Prince and rest in peace. Thanks for the music.
Louise Goffin, singer-songwriter (via Facebook):
One of my finest moments ever was getting to dance with Prince at a rooftop party in Kensington. It was a party for Warner Bros. Records, whom I was then signed to. I was on the stairs near the ladies’ room, and out of nowhere I see Prince standing around, and shy as can be. All of a sudden “Sex Machine” by James Brown comes on and I look over at him and he looks at me and says, “You know this?” I say, “Of course I know this, I wasn’t born yesterday!“ And he looks up devilishly and says… "Wanna dance?” and reaches out to grab my hand. I’m losing my mind, not believing what’s happening, and he leads me down the stairs to the dance floor (disco lights, the whole bit), and we’re bumping into people who at first act annoyed and then turn around and see it’s him. I’m hearing some people I know say, “Look, it’s Prince! And then a second later, saying, “Oh my God, it’s Louise!” It’s the truth. I danced with Prince to James Brown’s “Sex Machine.”
Melissa Dragich-Cordero, publicist:
I fell in love with Prince as a teenager. Purple Rain was my first concert, and I was hooked! Fast-forward to April 2011, working with Jeff Beck, who was to play a song with LeAnn Rimes at the Barbra Streisand Music Cares Dinner. When I arrived and found Jeff’s table, I noticed we were sharing with Stevie Wonder and Prince! Sujata Murthy was handling Prince then, and when they arrived, I pulled her to the side and asked if she could intro Prince to Jeff. My secret dream was for them to become friends and collaborate on a song together.
As I sat across from Prince, I was so hoping for him to interact with Jeff. Prince was so shy, so is Jeff – alas, Prince spent the evening whispering in Misty Copeland’s ear, his date for the night. But when Jeff went up to play “Come Rain or Come Shine,” Prince was silent with his eyes on Jeff. That made me smile. I still wish Jeff and Prince had done a song together. That would have been magic.
Janiss Garza, music journalist:
My one encounter with Prince happened in 1992 during the unlikeliest of circumstances: while interviewing Voivod, a heavy metal band that blended elements of thrash and prog-rock, tempered with doses of sci-fi storytelling. They were mixing their latest album at the Record Plant in Hollywood, and the band’s producer let me know there was another artist also using the studio: Prince.
“He pays 75 grand a month for the rooms and shows up about one week out of the month,” he told me. “There are two engineers sitting in there, just hanging out, waiting for Prince to come by. He doesn’t talk to anyone. It’s bizarre.”
Of course, things were much different for Voivod, a little-known cult band on a strict schedule and budget. So I chatted briefly with the guys – I already knew them and we were pals – and once the interview was over, we hung out in their lounge for a few minutes longer, discussing the band’s favorite childhood TV show, The Outer Limits (which was also what they named their record). That’s when the door opened and we came to face with The Purple One. Only he was wearing all gold. His black helmet of hair was piled high, and he was surrounded by several, much larger minions who were wearing pale imitations of his outfit. Realizing he had barged into the wrong room, Prince apologized quickly and exited.
You might say we had an alien visit.
Lee Chesnutt, A&R consultant for The Voice/Republic Records (formerly VP of programming for VH1):
The memory is now sort of like a dream, but I was actually fortunate enough to have met Prince back in 1996. I was among a group of radio and music video programmers that were flown to Minneapolis for a listening party at his Paisley Park Studios (where he also lived) for his not-yet-released album Emancipation. We were greeted at the door by his handlers, who explained that Prince wanted to play the album for us himself and would take questions afterwards. At this time he was not calling himself Prince, but had changed his name to that unpronounceable symbol. Someone asked, "What do we call him?” The handler answered, “You don’t address him; he will address you.” Some people were whispering that we weren’t even supposed to make eye contact with him, and I was starting to feel very turned off by the whole thing. But then Prince showed up, played the record for everyone, and then answered everyone’s questions openly and warmly. Someone in our group even slipped up and accidentally called him “Prince,” but he just smiled and didn’t seem to mind at all. He made eye contact with all of us and couldn’t have been a more gracious host. Sadly, no pictures were taken that day – but it really did happen, I swear!
Mona Nash Boelter, film & TV location scout:
My favorite Prince experience happened when I was 18, a freshmen in college back home in Minnesota on holiday break. I worked at a local record store (remember those?) and everyone, including customers, knew I was a big Prince fan. A customer told me about these small concerts/events he would have at Paisley Park and you had to be in-the-know to attend. He told me about one and I went. Walking into the building in the hallway you could see his Oscar for Purple Rain. I was stunned.
The party was in one of the large studio spaces where a stage was set up. The deal was sometimes he would play live, sometimes he wouldn’t. Sometimes he’d play at 9 p.m. for 10 minutes, sometimes at 2 a.m. for five hours, and sometimes not at all. There was no food or alcohol, and probably only a few hundred people there. I was standing there with my friend and got that tingly feeling like someone was behind me. Turning around, it was him, alone. He wore a high collar, floor-length sheepskin coat (it was December in Minnesota), sunglasses, and platform shoes. He was small, of course, but oozing, I mean ooooooozzzzzing, in stature and coolness. Call it pheromones or some kind of voodoo, but it was magical. He was magical.
He stood there for a while, next to us watching the crowd that was dancing and having fun. He enjoyed the vibe. I decided not to talk to him because I was nervous, but also because I could just tell he was enjoying the positivity that was radiating from the room. He ended up not playing that night, but it was a spectacular, sensory experience. Much like his music and artistry.
Growing up around Minneapolis, we all had such pride in Prince as our native son. We were famous for our cold weather and for Prince. Somehow we all took credit for him. I grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s with rock’n’ roll parents in the very Caucasian suburbs of Minneapolis. My father played his entire adult life in local rock bands. I was extremely familiar with all the rock greats, but Prince changed it all for me. I’d never really been exposed to jazz, dance, soul, funk, R&B, and even rap until Prince introduced me. Call it rebellion or a natural curiosity for the provocative lyrics and images his music represented, but I loved everything about him. He was naughty – really naughty. He was feminine, but so utterly masculine. He was outrageously cool and so instinctually sexual, it was like having access to a whole new sex education class. All of this intrigued me and confused the older folks. Perfect.
Jeff Miller, music journalist:
I’d heard a rumor that Prince was playing a show at the Roxy in Los Angeles – a tiny, 500-person-capacity club – and I couldn’t believe it. I had a date that night, and thought that this was going to be a no-question slam-dunk: What twentysomething girl wouldn’t want to spend the night with the Purple One, and, hopefully, then spend the night with me?
We lined up for tickets and got in; Prince came on around midnight, and spent the night as a bandleader, backing one of his protégés. He. Was. Amazing. Every song found him effortlessly playing the baddest, most insane guitar licks I’ve ever heard, bringing his band to the brink of ecstasy and back down. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.
As we were leaving, I looked at my date and said, “Wow, that was incredible.” “I don’t know,’ she responded. ‘He didn’t play any songs I knew.”
Obviously, the date didn’t end well. I never saw that girl again.