What a month it’s been for music! I’m still riding the high from listening to the jam-packed Prince Sign ‘O’ The Times box set, and now I have just finished listening to Bruce Springsteen’s new album Letter To You. I’m going to keep this brief because I don’t want to spoil anything by analyzing the lyrics or telling you my thoughts about each song. What I will tell you is this: Do you know how sometimes when a movie, television show or album is hyped up so much that when you finally get ready to experience it, you go in with lowered expectations so that won’t come away disappointed? You won’t need to do that with this album. In fact, I’m here to tell you that this album is so fantastic that I encourage you to envision your wildest dreams of what a 2020 album from Bruce and the E Street Band could sound like. I dare you to approach Letter To You with those high expectations. Now, get ready, because I’m thrilled to inform you that even going in with those top-shelf expectations, I truly believe that you will be blown away by what you hear on this album.
The songs, performances, mixes, and sound quality are all superb. Even if you saw the track list ahead of time and noticed that Bruce resurrected the old songs “Janey Needs A Shooter,” “If I Was The Priest,” and “Song For Orphans,” and thought to yourself, “I’ve already heard those songs,” no, you truly haven’t. Not like this. I don’t care what versions you heard. These are now the definitive takes of those three songs, captured on record with the full band in their greatest arrangements and firing on all cylinders.
What I love most about this album is that the recording, more than any other studio album in recent memory, genuinely captures the energy and feel of the E Street Band performing together live.
You might have seen some of the glowing reviews for this album, but no written words can accurately convey what a thrill it is. I’ll be playing this one over and over again. I highly recommend that you don’t skip tracks. Listen to it in its entirety from front to back and enjoy the ride.
The latest release in Bruce Springsteen’s Live Archive series is now available from his official site and Nugs.net. Details from BruceSpringsteen.net follow:
Originally broadcast live on radio stations across the Southeast, Atlanta 9/30/78 is the fifth and final Darkness tour transmission released in the Live Archive series. While not as familiar to fans as other ’78 broadcasts, the blistering Atlanta performance more than holds its own and is newly mixed from Plangent Processed, multi-track analog master tapes. The 23-song show presents a potent core Darkness tour setlist augmented by the yet to be released “Independence Day” and “Point Blank,” plus special additions “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” “Raise Your Hand” and the only performance ever of James Brown’s “Night Train.”
Bruce Springsteen – Lead vocals, guitar, harmonica; Roy Bittan – Piano, backing vocal; Clarence Clemons – Tenor and baritone saxophones, percussion, backing vocal; Danny Federici – Organ, glockenspiel; Garry Tallent – Bass, backing vocal; Stevie Van Zandt – Guitar, backing vocal; Max Weinberg – Drums
Recorded live with the Record Plant Remote Truck by David Hewitt and DB Brown. Original broadcast mixed by Jimmy Iovine
Two-inch, 24-track analog master reels transferred by Jamie Howarth, Plangent Processes via Sonicraft, Freehold, NJ
Mixed by Jon Altschiller; Additional engineering by Danielle Warman
Mastered to DSD and PCM by Adam Ayan at Gateway Mastering, Portland, ME
Post Production by Brad Serling and Micah Gordon
Art Design by Michelle Holme
Cover Photo by PJ Plutzer
Tour Director: George Travis
Jon Landau Management: Jon Landau, Barbara Carr, Jan Stabile, Alison Oscar
HD files are 24 bit/192kHz; Audiophile DSD files are DSD128 (“Double DSD”)
Prince Sign ‘O’ The Times Super Deluxe Edition (8 CD + 1 DVD)
If you’re waiting for your copy of Prince’s Sign ‘O’ The Times Super Deluxe Edition box set to arrive, I am happy to tell you that you are truly in for a treat. You’re going to be tempted to listen to it on the day that you receive it, but unless you have that entire day off from work, I strongly suggest that you wait until the weekend or take the day off. You’re going to need at least 10 hours to marathon your way through this massive collection of music and video.
The first two CDs consist of the remastered Sign ‘O’ The Times album. I’ll leave it up to the audiophiles to explain specifically how this remaster sounds compared to the original CD, but to my ears, this remaster by Bernie Grundman sounds significantly better than the original 1987 CD. I am pretty confident that no matter what device you listen on, you’ll prefer this new remaster.
The third disc contains single edits, B-sides, and extended versions of the songs that were released as singles from Sign ‘O’ The Times. For me, this disc is all about the B-sides and extended versions. I’m not a fan of the single edits, but if you want them, you’ll have them.
The real treasure here is found on discs 4-8. There are three entire discs (Discs 4-6) packed with previously unreleased tracks from the vault. The majority of these are from 1986 with a few exceptions. Quite a few of these tracks have circulated among fans in lesser sound quality for many years, but the sound quality in this set is far superior to any of the bootlegs that I have heard. In addition, there are still a significant number of tracks that I have never heard at all. Even some of the tracks that I had heard previously are significantly different versions than those that have circulated. In many cases, just as I thought, “Oh, I know this song,” I was stunned to hear additional music, additional instrumentation, or even different arrangements.
Disc 7 and 8 comprise a complete concert from Utrecht on the Sign ‘O’ The Times tour. The sound quality far surpasses all of the live bootlegs that I have heard from that tour, so you’ll be thrilled with the performance and the sound.
The DVD features the complete December 31, 1987 New Year’s Eve show shot live at Paisley Park and includes a guest appearance by Miles Davis. The audio and video quality is fantastic for a video from 1987 and the quality is consistent throughout. For much of the show, the camera mix is focused on Prince, which I love because I get to see close up what he’s playing on guitar. This show in my personal opinion is even more enjoyable than the theatrically released Sign ‘O’ The Times movie (which by the way, is not included in this set due to legal reasons).
I strongly recommend that you listen to all 8 CDs and watch the DVD on the same day, as I did on Saturday. Binge it like you would a great Netflix series. I feel that binging it in one sitting will give you a deep understanding of just how hard Prince worked in the studio. After listening to and watching all of the material in this set, I felt exhausted in an exhilarating way, and fully satisfied. I think you will too.
On a rainy night in early 2020, right before the Covid-19 pandemic reached the United States, I was improvising on my guitar and came up with a chord progression that I really liked. It felt soulful, a little dark, introspective, and just a bit hopeful. I decided right then and there that I was onto something, and that I needed to finish this song. I then stepped into the shoes of a fictional character that I had in mind and I wrote down some lyrics about what this character was feeling looking out their window watching the rain. In less than a half hour, I had most of the lyrics completed. I then recorded a couple of takes in GarageBand and before the night was through I had a completed demo. I was happy with the instrumental parts, but the lyrics weren’t completely finished and I had only recorded a scratch vocal. I’m happy with my own vocals when used in the background behind a good lead vocalist, but I’m rarely happy with my own lead vocals on their own, and so I thought the song might never see the light of day. Besides, as it stood, the lyrics captured the feeling of isolation and sadness that I was going for, but I wanted the song to build as it progressed, eventually bringing forth a feeling of hopefulness and optimism about the future. I wasn’t happy with my vocal track. The lyrics weren’t finished. The sense of hope was missing. The song might just stay tucked away on my hard drive forever.
Fast forward to July. With the country battling the pandemic, my family and I had been avoiding public places as often as possible and spending a lot more time at home, which gave me more time to be creative in my home studio. Scrolling through Facebook, I noticed that my cousin had shared a post about the debut album that his friend, Megan Kleven, had just released titled “I Am”. (For more information about “I Am” please visit www.meganklevenmusic.com). I previewed her songs, liked what I heard, and bought her CD. I was really impressed with Megan’s voice. On her album she effortlessly glided between soft, lower registers and powerful, soulful higher notes. Her songwriting also impressed me. The idea hit me immediately: This was the voice that could turn my demo into a finished song that I could be proud of. I reached out to Megan via Facebook Messenger to see if she had any interest in collaborating, and luckily she was ready for a new project and was up to the challenge. I sent her my GarageBand file of the song and she soon sent the file back to me with her lead vocal track added in place of my scratch vocal. I was absolutely blown away. When I sent the song to her, my vocals were just the skeleton of a melody. What she sent back to me was a breathtaking vocal performance filled with melody, nuances, and most importantly, the sense of hope that had eluded me when writing the song. She re-wrote some of the lyrics and added some new ones, and that, combined with her amazing vocal performance, elevated the song to a level that I had not dreamed possible when I started it.
Now that you know the story behind the song, I would be honored if you would take the time to listen to our debut song “Rain”. If we accomplish our goal and the song moves you, we would greatly appreciate it if you could take a minute to share the song with your friends on social media. The link below will take you to a page where you can listen to “Rain” on your favorite streaming service. Thanks for listening!
BrownMark, bass player from The Revolution, will discuss his upcoming book My Life in the Purple Kingdom September 28, 2020 at 6:00 pm Central time at a virtual online launch event. Journalist Touré will moderate a Q&A with BrownMark. You can register for this free online event here: z.umn.edu/pkregister
The Prince estate has released another track from the upcoming Sign ‘O’ The Times Super Deluxe Edition box set. The estate refers to this version as an “Early Vocal Studio Run-Through” but that description is wildly inaccurate. You would think that with a title like that, it would simply be a rough take of Prince’s vocal guide over a background of the beat that we’re familiar with from the original version from the Sign ‘O’ The Times album, but this version is in reality exponentially more than that. This version not only features a fully developed vocal, but a funky acoustic guitar, bass, and beautiful background vocals by Prince. You’ll of course decide for yourself which version you like better, but in my opinion this newly released version blows away the original album version. I find it more soulful, funky and uplifting than the version we’ve all heard before. You can hear the newly released version below.
If you’re a Billy Joel fan like me, you’re already familiar with the drum grooves of Liberty DeVitto. Liberty played drums with Billy on 13 platinum albums and recorded and toured the world with Billy for more than 30 years. He wrote and recorded the drum parts for 22 Top 40 hits and six Grammy-winning recordings.
Billy Joel’s music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I knew the name Liberty DeVitto because I had seen him credited as the drummer in the liner notes for all of my favorite Billy Joel albums, but it wasn’t until my first Billy Joel concert, October 8, 1986 at The Philadelphia Spectrum, that Liberty officially became one of my all-time favorite drummers. I was blown away by the energy of Billy’s band that night, but especially by Liberty’s drumming. In the same way that Max Weinberg, another of my favorite drummers, powers the engine of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Liberty powered Billy’s band. I would go on to see Billy in concert more than 15 times after that magical concert in Philly. At every show, I watched Liberty’s drumming as much as I watched Billy playing piano. Liberty brought exactly the right energy to the right songs at the right moments, and for me, was an integral part of Billy’s music. But I never really knew much about Liberty as a person until now.
Too often when I pick up a an autobiography by one of my musical heroes, I always tell myself that I’m going to quickly speed read through the beginning, the part that is almost always a family history, and get right to the part where the author starts talking shop about the music. Fortunately I stopped doing that because I realized that where that person came from, along with their journey, adds an emotional impact that you really need to fully appreciate how the events in their lives led them to create the music that we love. I’m so glad that I didn’t skip any sections in Liberty’s book, because the heart and soul of this book is about family and friendship. It’s equally about Liberty’s love of music and drumming, and the many sacrifices that he made in his life to achieve his dream of drumming for a living. Much like the masterful lyrics in Billy’s songs, Liberty’s story is a “series of hellos and goodbyes” and often “either sadness or euphoria.” This is a tremendously emotional book. It’s a seesaw of highs and lows. One minute you’re sharing the thrill of Liberty’s accomplishments; the next minute you are emotionally gutted by a tragic loss, and then back to hope and happiness.
The story of how Liberty became “Billy Joel’s drummer” is intertwined with the story of family, friends, heartbreak, loss, substance abuse, success, fame, and of course plenty of fascinating and fun anecdotes about all of the songs that he recorded with Billy. It’s also a story about rebirth and redemption. I highly recommend this book. You can order it direct from the publisher or from Amazon in the links below.
Ever since Prince’s passing, there have been numerous books written about him by some of those who worked closely with him. There have been books written by musicians, photographers, record executives, and others. Often when someone of Prince’s stature passes away, the knee-jerk reaction by many is to think that posthumous books are simply written to cash in, but in my opinion, whether or not that is true, most of the new books about Prince have given us fascinating new insights into his creative process, his work ethic, his philanthropic endeavors, and a closer look at the human being behind the music.
As each new book is released, I enjoy hearing from every one of the people he worked with, as each of their stories are like puzzle pieces, and the more stories you read, the closer you get to seeing the completed picture of the Prince puzzle. I don’t think that we’ll ever have a truly complete picture of the Prince puzzle, but I don’t think we need to. Prince often said that everything you need to know about him was right there in his music. I agree, but it’s still fun to hear the fascinating accounts of those who worked with him and knew him best, or at least came as close as anyone realistically could to truly “knowing” Prince.
The books that I look forward to the most are those written by the musicians who worked side-by-side with Prince in the studio and on stage. Although I love every era of Prince’s music, I am especially obsessed with the era of 1984-1986, which included the release of his albums Purple Rain, Around The World in a Day, and Parade, all recorded with my favorite lineup of his band, The Revolution. BrownMark was The Revolution’s bass player from 1981-1986, so I was thrilled to hear the news that he is releasing a book in September titled My Life in the Purple Kingdom about his time spent working with Prince.
I obtained and advance copy of the book and devoured it in just two nights. Right after a heartfelt forward by Questlove of The Roots, BrownMark kicks off the book with the moment that he was about to walk on stage with Prince and The Revolution and open for The Rolling Stones. Never mind the fact that Prince and the band would be famously booed off the stage by the die-hard Rolling Stones fans, as the focus in this brief introduction is on the fact that BrownMark, at just 19 years old, had already fulfilled his dream to be a rock star, and was about to play for more than 90,000 people.
In the next sections of the book, BrownMark discusses his childhood and how he grew up listening to music on a transistor radio. We learn about the musical awakening that he felt when he watched Three Dog Night and The Jackson 5 perform on television. He shares a heartwarming tale about delivering newspapers and saving enough money to buy his first guitar from a Sears catalog. He waited for the mail carrier every day until the guitar finally arrived, but when cutting into the shipping box BrownMark accidentally cut two of the strings, so he wound up playing just four strings. He probably didn’t know it at the time, but his destiny would be playing with four strings anyway, as he discovered the bass guitar as a sophomore in high school and fell in love with it. He played in a few bands, first Private Stock, then Phantasy. He shares stories about struggles with his grades in school, falling in with some bad crowds, and encountering violence and racism, but through it all, he kept his eyes on what he truly wanted to do, which of course was to make a living playing music.
While working as a cook at a local restaurant, BrownMark cooked pancakes for Prince, who had come in for a meal with a friend. He knew that Prince was well-known in the local music scene, as Prince had recently released his first album. What BrownMark had know idea of at the time was that he had just served pancakes to his future boss and collaborator. Later, while BrownMark was playing in a band and working at a 7-11, he received a call that would change his life forever. Prince called and asked him to audition for his band. Throughout the rest of the book, which is divided into short, chronological chapters, we share BrownMark’s whirlwind journey as he joins Prince’s band in 1981 and continues as a member of The Revolution until 1986 when Prince and The Revolution would eventually part ways. During the journey, we share all of the highs and lows that BrownMark experiences along the way. He shares open, candid stories about his working relationship with Prince, and the stories are not always flattering, but that should not come as a surprise to anyone who followed Prince’s career closely. However, it is clear that even after the conflict, BrownMark still feels thankful and blessed to have worked with such a musical genius, and he carries a great deal of respect for Prince to this day. Working with Prince helped BrownMark become the musician and producer that he is today, and his love for Prince is still clear. This is not a tell-all book. It is simply a candid, honest, heartfelt story about a young kid who goes on to achieve his dream of making it in the music industry, and the price that he pays along the way. It’s an uplifting tale about working with Prince, and it is an enjoyable read that serves as another piece of the puzzle that is Prince. I highly recommend the book. It is available for preorder via the links below:
Eighteen years ago during Prince’s 2001 Celebration in Chanhassen, MN, I sat on the floor of a very comfortably carpeted upstairs room in Paisley Park along with a group of 15-20 other fans and we were treated to our first listen to what was at the time his brand new, yet-to-be-released album, The Rainbow Children. A Prince fan since 1982, I could barely believe that I was in Prince’s legendary workplace/home listening to his latest album, which the general public had not even heard yet. Staffers handed each of us a photocopied lyric booklet and proceeded to play the album for us in its entirety, followed by a discussion session with the fans giving opinions about what we had experienced. Prince himself joined the discussions in some of these listening sessions held that week in June 2001, but alas, he did not attend my group’s session. However, at this celebration — and the previous inaugural celebration held in June 2000 — we all knew that at any given moment, we might see Prince walking down the hall, turning a corner, or even popping up behind us without warning. During both of those visits to Paisley Park, the excitement of knowing that Prince was in the building added a thrilling layer of electricity in the air along with the hopes of a chance encounter with the man himself. While fans had plenty to say about the lyrics from The Rainbow Children album, with Prince having recently converted to become a Jehovah’s Witness, the album’s lyrics provided plenty of fuel for lively discussion. But two things were clear to me while listening to this new music: It was in my opinion the most interesting, creative music that Prince had created in quite a while, and it was clear that he was overjoyed with the record and couldn’t wait for us to hear it. The album’s closing track, “The Last December,” absolutely blew me away. It remains to this day one of my favorite Prince songs. I’ll never forget the feelings of joy, inspiration, and reflection that I felt listening to that song inside the walls of Paisley Park. When I hear it today, since his passing, the song carries even more emotional weight than when I first heard it that day. But every time I start to choke up listening to the lyrics, the tears don’t come because I think about the beautiful fact that Prince did indeed stand tall and gave his all, and his music brought people from around the world to come together as one. His music still continues to bring people together today.
As much of a thrill as that June 2001 listening session was for me, not even that could top what happened at the previous year’s inaugural celebration. On the evening of June 7, 2000, which happened to be Prince’s birthday, I actually met Prince in the room that today is called the NPG Music Club room. I believe it might have been called the Love For One Another room back then, but I can’t say for sure. There was a dance party going on in this smaller room next to the larger soundstage room, and I was extremely tired after a long day on my feet. I’m not much of a dancer, so I was hanging out in the back of the room like a wallflower just taking in the vibe and watching everyone having the time of their lives. All of a sudden I noticed Prince standing about 10 feet away from me on my right. I thought for sure that if I tried to approach him, one of his bodyguards would steer me away quickly, but I figured, what the hell, when in my life will I ever have this chance again? I very casually walked over to him and to my surprise made it all the way to Prince unobstructed. I caught his attention, said “Thanks for having us,” and slowly extended my hand. He reached out, shook my hand (which I had heard he didn’t often like to do) and replied, “Thank you for coming.” He sounded genuinely grateful, humble, and kind. The old expression “never meet your heroes” is repeated often, but I’m glad I took my shot that night because I’ll remember that moment forever. I could have tried to tell him what his music meant to me, the story of my first-ever concert being the Purple Rain tour in Philly on November 24, 1984, and other things I would have loved to discuss with him, but I wasn’t about to get greedy. I was grateful for that moment, and so I turned and went back to my spot against the wall. Still riding that high, I turned around and he was gone. Poof! As if Batman himself had just dropped a smoke bomb and flew off into the night, Prince had disappeared. It remains today one of the most surreal moments of my life.
I have shared the two stories above to set the tone for my recent return to Paisley Park. Eighteen years have passed since my last visit. In September 2016 I traveled to Minneapolis for The Revolution’s three-night stand at First Avenue, but I didn’t go back to Paisley Park during that trip. The wounds from Prince’s passing were still profound, and I wanted to keep my memories of Paisley Park just the way they were during those amazing 2000 and 2001 visits. But this summer, I felt the need to go back. I had heard from fellow fans that the new “Ultimate Experience” three-hour tour was essential for any Prince fan, and that the majority of the kinks that were present in the tours when the building first reopened had since been ironed out. All summer I kept an eye on airfare and in July I finally found a great deal. I departed Philadelphia the evening of September 6, 2019 and arrived at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport a few hours later. I picked up my rental car and soon checked into the Chanhassen Country Inn & Suites (the same place I had stayed during my previous trips to Paisley Park) around midnight. Just minutes from Paisley Park, this still seems to be “the” place to stay when visiting. Somehow, I wasn’t tired, so I took a quick drive to Paisley Park to see it illuminated in purple and grabbed a few selfies.
On September 7 I woke up before my alarm was even set to go off. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. Full of adrenaline, I quickly showered and went downstairs for breakfast. On my way back upstairs to grab a few things from my room and check out, looking out the hotel window I noticed a Prince mural on the wall of a building across the parking lot. I checked out around 8:15 a.m. and stopped at the mural for a few photos on my way to Paisley Park.
I then drove to Paisley Park to check in for my tour. I arrived promptly at 8:40 a.m., as the ticket states that you should arrive no earlier than 20 minutes before your scheduled tour time. I drove through the open security gate to the small building that served as the check-in station. After showing my ticket, the guard advised me to proceed to the main parking lot and head into the main entrance to wait for my tour to begin. I parked, took a few photos of the building, and headed into the main entrance.
Knowing that when I walked through those doors, Prince would no longer be there and would no longer surprise any of us by popping up unexpectedly during the tour, I was afraid that some of the thrill would be gone, but I had already had plenty of time to deal with those feelings before my arrival. I had made up my mind that this return was going to be another celebration and a time for reflection, healing, and new insights, not a time to mourn. I also wanted to see for myself that everything was being preserved with dignity and respect, and that Paisley Park was in good hands so that new generations of fans could learn about what Prince did at Paisley Park and why creative freedom is so important.
The first thing I noticed after entering was that the couches and the display case that had been in the lobby had been removed. A security guard told me that this was because they needed to free up some space for people to check in for their tour. Upon picking up my lanyard and flash drive at the front desk, and also having to secure my cell phone in a special case that could not be opened until the end of the tour, I was escorted to the line in the hallway where framed record awards hung on the wall to the right. Hanging on the wall to the left was a letter from President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama expressing their sympathy to the family and fans of Prince. It was of course appropriately signed in purple ink. Also on the wall to the right with the record awards hung a gigantic frame that featured concert tickets from Prince’s 2004 Musicology Tour. One ticket from every show of the tour was included in a giant circle inside the frame.
Shortly after 9 a.m., our tour guide, Tomi, introduced himself and gave us a brief history of Paisley Park and invited each member our group of about 15 people to tell us where they were visiting from. Fans from Philadelphia, Dallas, Boston, Washington, D.C., The United Kingdom, The Netherlands, and Scotland, among others, introduced themselves. Tomi then briefly shared his story. He has a day job during the week, but works at Paisley Park as a tour guide on the weekends. He had attended numerous Paisley Park events as a fan, including the Rave New Year’s Eve concert, and wanted to give back in some way and ensure that Prince’s legacy was being preserved and shared with new generations of fans. His enthusiasm was genuine and I could tell that we were going to have a great tour.
Tomi lifted the velvet rope and escorted us into the atrium. The first thing I noticed about the atrium is the abundance of light. Even on the somewhat overcast day, light reached every corner of the room. Tomi explained that this was by design, and that Prince wanted Paisley Park to give the feeling that there was no ceiling and therefore symbolically no limits to the creative freedom that artists would have at Paisley Park. Still in the atrium area, we next saw the kitchen. The doors were closed, but we were permitted to look through the glass-door windows to see the diner-style booth seating as well as a couch placed just feet away from a television. Across from the kitchen were two displays that seemed like closets, now enclosed by glass. The first contained Prince’s own Sony Walkman cassette player/recorder, a few cassettes with his handwriting on them, and a spiral-bound notebook with the front page showing Prince’s handwritten lyrics to “Soft and Wet.” The second window featured Prince’s legendary Hohner Mad Cat guitar.
We then moved on to Prince’s office, a room that I had not seen on my prior visits. His desk is still there, equipped with blank CDs and a purple phone. Records, CDs and books were visible throughout the room, as well as some family photos and a television. There is also a private bathroom behind his desk.
The Sign ‘O’ The Times room featured Sheila’s drums from the Sign ‘O’ The Times concert film, some of Prince’s outfits, and his acoustic guitar (the one with the heart on it). A television on the wall played scenes from Sign ‘O’ The Times on a loop.
The nearby Lovesexy room included Prince’s outfits from the Lovesexy tour along with a television playing clips from the Livesexy 88 broadcast on a loop.
Farther down the hallway near the restrooms, a display case featured three of Prince’s guitars including his 3rdeyegirl guitar along with the very last guitar that was made for him. He received it shortly before he passed, showing it off to fans at Paisley Park during one of his last concerts there, but did not play it. He opted to play piano instead.
The next room, located close to Prince’s office, was the Video Editing Suite. It looks very much like a high-end home theater. Director’s chairs for fans to sit in are placed behind a purple couch (which — for preservation reasons — fans cannot sit on) in front of a computer and video monitor that looks like a large television. A Metropolis movie poster hung on the wall to the left, and a Bird (Charlie Parker) movie poster hung on the wall to the right. Tomi played some fantastic footage for us. We watched some Musicology tour footage showing Prince absolutely killing it on the bass, then playing “Cream” acoustically, followed by footage showing band members underneath the stage. The highlight was a full-length clip of “Something in the Water” recorded live in Manchester with 3rdeyegirl. Prince sings throughout leading the audience in an exhilarating call and response, and then finally picks up his guitar and plays a wicked guitar solo. The sound quality is superb and the editing suite’s acoustics and sound system are top notch. All of this left me longing for all of the official releases of the massive archive of material from Prince’s vault yet to come.
We were then lead into The Galaxy Room, which is the break room for Studio B. When the black lights are turned on, a galaxy of stars appears on the walls. Prince’s symbol is hidden among the stars in multiple locations. A television played a clip from Oprah’s interview with Prince recorded at Paisley Park. In the footage, Prince joyously spoke about the fact the he was now free from his Warner Brothers contract, and therefore recording every instrument as a free man. It’s classic footage that most of us have seen, but as part of the interview was filmed in The Galaxy Room, it’s the perfect clip to play there.
The Galaxy room leads to Studio B’s control room, where we went next, and spent a significant amount of time there. Tomi gave some satisfyingly in-depth information about the 48-track mixing board and some insight into mixing and editing. He also discussed Prince’s fondness for analog recording and pointed out the two analog tape machines in the back of the room. He also gave a brief visual demonstration showing how when working with analog tape, you sometimes had to literally cut and paste the tape as opposed to the virtual cut-and-paste function available with today’s digital equipment. The highlight here was listening to a very stripped-down recording of “Rock & Roll Love Affair” that featured only Prince’s vocals and guitar, followed by the completed full track. We also heard a vocal-only version of “The Breakdown” followed by the final completed version. The sound of Studio B’s monitors is stellar with excellent bass response. Tomi told a funny story about the day that Prince upgraded the bass cabinets. The legend says that Prince played so loud that the new cabinets were literally loosening of the tiles from the walls in the men’s room. He explained that it was important to Prince to not just hear the music, but to literally feel the music while he was creating it. These monitors definitely achieved that.
From the Studio B control room, we then moved on to Studio B itself. This studio contained a purple piano, a blue cloud guitar, Prince’s ping pong table (which you actually get to play ping pong on) and a vocal microphone. Under the window that looks into the Studio B control room, you can see 48 inputs on the wall so that 48 instruments or mics can be plugged in to send to the control room’s 48-track mixing board. Large photos of Prince and 3rdeyegirl are prominent in this studio, and Tomi informed us that these photos were present at the time of Prince’s passing, so they were left intact. This is the location where guests get to have their picture taken by the tour guide. After Tomi took our pictures, he gave us the files on a Paisley Park flash drive.
Next we moved on to Studio A, which includes a granite/stone isolation room with a piano. The granite/stone room is specially designed for digital recording. The isolation room to its right is a wood room that includes drums and a microphone stand that includes unreleased lyrics to a song that was most likely being worked on for a jazz album that Prince was recording. The third isolation room was smaller than the other two, and is located to the left of the control room window. This smaller isolation room included a purple Rickenbacker guitar, pedal boards, and a lot of guitar cables hanging on the wall. Through the control room window, you could see the original Linn LM-1 drum machine. The Oberheim keyboard that was used to record “When Doves Cry” is also visible through the window. Footage of Prince recording a song from the Batman soundtrack is available online showing Prince recording in Control Room A, so we know that he worked on that album here. This room also now features a display case that includes Prince’s driver’s license along with various Paisley Park postcards and letterhead from various years. Tomi then played a song for us from the sessions that Prince was working on with Mono Neon called “Ruff Enuff” with Adrian Crutchfield on vocals. It was a thrill to hear this funky song in the actual room where it was recorded.
After Studio A, we visited a room that I had not seen during my 2000 and 2001 tours: Prince’s writing/inspriration/reflection room. It was a very small, dark room with one of the only decorations being a small illuminated object that I can best describe as a pom-pom or jellyfish-like object that had air flowing through it to create a soothing glow. Besides a chair, that’s about all there was to see here, but the thought that Prince came to this very room to escape the insanity of the world brought a great sense of inner peace. It was also a thrill to think about the fact that some of the songs that we know and love might have had their beginnings in this room. The only window in this room looks into what was Studio C, but is now the Purple Rain room.
The Purple Rain room (previously Studio C) features a great collection of items from the film including the coat and shirt he wore while singing “Purple Rain,” one of his motorcycles, a hardbound script of the film, one of his white cloud guitars, and a small purple piano from the Purple Rain tour. The piano has scuff marks on its top from Prince standing on it and jumping off of it. A multi-platinum award for the Purple Rain album was also on display. This room was especially fun for me because as is the case with many fans my age, the Purple Rain era is when I went from simply being fan to being a die-hard fan. His music has played a huge role in my life ever since.
We then moved on to a room that previously housed production offices, but is now divided into two sections: The Under The Cherry Moon room and The Graffiti Bridge room. The Under The Cherry Moon room featured paisley amplifier cabinets from the Under The Cherry Moon / Parade era, along with one of his outfits from the film, a movie poster, and a television playing clips from movie. In addition, the walls feature murals showing images of The Revolution that originally appeared in the inner sleeve of the Parade album. The hardbound script for Under The Cherry Moon was in a display case on the other side of the room. The Graffiti Bridge room included Prince’s motorcycle from the movie along with a black leather jacket and a bass guitar. A television hung on the other side of the room and played clips from Graffiti Bridge.
This next section might not be in the correct chronological order for the tour, but we also walked through the History Hallway, which included photos from numerous eras of Prince’s career, many of which were taken by Jeff Katz, and an Influencers Hallway that featured the Influence Wall mural by Sam Jennings, featuring his collage of some of the artists who influenced Prince.
The next stop was what used to be called The Arcade Room, as Prince used to play games there. This room featured Prince’s breathtaking Schimmel Pegasus piano. This glossy black piano includes the Prince symbol on top and the cover is motorized to open and close. It can be seen in the Rave New Year’s Eve concert from 1999. At the entrance to the room, a television shows some of the footage of Prince at the piano during the Rave concert, as well as some interview clips with Prince. Inside the room, in addition to the piano, to the left you can see an outside porch area with tables and chairs, and on that particular day, Tomi pointed out that you could see the Purple Rain tour bus parked outside in the distance. That was a thrill for me, having first seen that bus outside of the Philadelphia Spectrum at my first concert in November 1984. A couch and a very uniquely structured, low-lying chair made of wood sat on the floor to the right. I have seen photos of Prince sitting in that chair. We then proceeded through a door and into the main soundstage room where scenes from Graffiti Bridge as well as many of Prince’s music videos were filmed. This room now displays many Prince’s guitars and outfits. Just a few that stood out to me were the guitar that he played during his American Bandstand appearance, his Controversy jacket, his original hand-drawn image for the 1999 album cover, the outfit that he wore in the “Raspberry Beret” video, his Gold Experience bass, and the purple piano that he played at his final Paisley Park concert. Footage from that concert played on the big screen in the room, specifically, the song “Free Urself.” The sound quality was fantastic and made me yearn for an official release of that final Paisley Park concert. The most thrilling experience I had in this room was actually getting to hold an actual cloud guitar that Prince had played. It was colored peach, but we were told that it had originally been a light blue. You must wear white gloves in order to hold the guitar to prevent damage to it, and a staffer stays right there with you to make sure you don’t drop it, but it was an absolutely amazing moment to hold a guitar all the while thinking about the fact that Prince had actually played it. I should note that this opportunity is currently only available as part of the $160 “Ultimate Experience” tour, but this moment — combined with the fact that the tour is the longest and most in-depth tour available — make the price well beyond worth it.
Next to the soundstage room, we then entered the NPG Music Club room. Although the entire tour was emotional for me and simply being in this fantastic building again was a deeply emotional experience, it was in this room that I felt my composure slipping away and I shed a few tears. I’ll preface this with the fact that I am a visual thinker, and sometimes can’t remember what I had for breakfast, but I can enter a restaurant with my wife 10 years after being there last and instantly remember the specific table that we sat at the last time we were there. The same thing happened to me as soon as I entered the NPG Music Club room. The room had been rearranged quite a bit since I was last there in 2001, but I instantly recognized the black staircases that rose to the ceiling, the bay door that was used to bring equipment into and out of the room, and the two doors near the back of the room. My eyes were instantly drawn to the back door on the right, next to a staircase. It was just inside that door in that very spot on June 7, 2000 that I met Prince, briefly spoke with him and shook his hand. It was the exact spot where I had met my musical hero. This was the room where the dance party had been on that amazing evening in June 2000 and I recognized it instantly. Right in that same spot stood a Paisley Park staffer behind a cart, and she was giving out chocolate chip cookies made with Prince’s favorite recipe. I stood there just staring at that spot in awe, remembering that magical night.
On a large video screen we watched a clip of Prince and 3rdeyegirl in a concert that was filmed in this very room, but I don’t even remember what song it was. My mind was still fixated on the moment that I had met Prince in this room, and the fact that he was no longer with us. He wouldn’t be dropping in on the tour or playing a practical joke by calling the tour guide on the phone from the room right next door while fans watched the speaker phone, not realizing Prince had been just a few feet away, a story that Tomi told us during the tour. Our group sat on the couches in the NPG Music Club for a little while listening to stories about shows that had taken place in this room through the years. At the end of the tour, we were then invited to hang out at the tables in the back of the room and enjoy the previously mentioned chocolate chip cookies. When I picked up my cookies in the exact spot that I had met my hero 19 years earlier, my eyes were definitely a little wet. The woman giving out cookies was either used to seeing a few tears from fans at the conclusion of the tour, or she must have thought that I really, really loved chocolate chip cookies.
After eating my cookies and drinking a much-needed bottle of water, our tour had concluded and we were steered toward the gift shop. I would usually laugh at the fact that tours always ended in gift shops, but I actually planned to buy a few things here, and so exiting into the gift shop seemed like a natural progression. In the gift shop, Prince’s Super Bowl performance played on a loop. A wall also displayed a selection of the items that fans had left on the Paisley Park fence after his passing. We were told that all of those items were saved, and that the estate is trying to figure out what to do with them. In the meantime, it was inspiring to see some of the amazing tributes that were left by fans in Prince’s honor.
I bought a few things and made my way out of Paisley Park. Outside, I grabbed a few more selfies outside the studio entrance, and then found a few fellow fans who took some fantastic photos of me outside of the main entrance to remember the occasion. I did the same for them and then we posed together for a group photo that yet another fan was kind enough to take for us. As I got into my rental car and exited the gates, it occurred to me that even though Prince is no longer with us physically, he’s still with us, and his music and Paisley Park continue to serve as inspiration for us to “come together as one,” just like in his song, “Last December,” which I had first heard so many years ago for the first time within the walls of Paisley Park. The lyrics to the song “Paisley Park” claim that Paisley Park is in your heart, and I agree, but it’s also in Chanhassen, and I can’t wait to go back again.
Every year near the end of summer I start to dread the imminent arrival of fall and cooler weather. The weather forecast is unacceptable to me unless it’s warm enough to leave for work in the morning without a coat and still warm enough to come home at the end of the day without a coat. The minute the temperature starts to require me to add layers to my clothing, I’m pissed and depressed. Not enough to make me want to move to Florida, but enough to make me wish it could be summer all year long. As the summer of 2019 nears its end, I decided to send it out with a bang.
My 13-year-old daughter recently expressed interest in going to her first concert. She’s currently listening to Shawn Mendes nonstop, so on August 28 I took her to Shawn’s concert at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia for a late birthday present. I’m not a fan of much of today’s pop music, but I’m happy to say that Shawn’s show was full of energy and he really knows how to work the crowd. In a pop music climate filled with electronic loops and Auto-Tune vocals, I was thrilled to see that Shawn doesn’t just use the guitar as a prop, he actually plays it. Vocal effects were used sparingly, as a supplement rather than a necessity. He can sing his ass off, so he doesn’t need the gimmicks. It was also a thrill to watch thousands of young fans singing along to his songs with the same fervor as if they were on stage with him. After fearing for the future of good, catchy pop songs, I am quite relieved to see that at least one member of the next generation of musicians is making sure that catchy hooks won’t go away any time soon. The expression on my daughter’s face during the show was well beyond worth the price of the tickets. I’m pretty sure she’ll remember that night forever.
Now back to the subject of the end of summer depressing me. I decided that I really needed a one-two punch to end the summer on a high note. After taking my daughter to her first concert to see her current musical hero, I decided I would take her to see a concert with two of my all-time greatest musical heroes, Daryl Hall & John Oates. She’s seen the new kid in town, so I thought I would expose her to the greatest musical duo of all time (in my opinion at least). She knows many of their hits by heart simply via osmosis because I listen to them so much. So off we went to Hall & Oates’ August 30 show in Atlantic City at The Hard Rock’s Etess Arena. I’ve seen Hall & Oates many times since I first saw them in the eighties. I’m elated to report that instead of just phoning it in as many veteran acts seem to do, Daryl & John are at the top of their musical game. Sure, it’s still a greatest hits show for the most part (with the exception of the rarely played “Is It A Star,”) because let’s face it, when you have as many hits as these guys do, that’s what most of the crowd wants to hear. It’s been a few years since I’ve been to a Hall & Oates show, but I’m elated to report that their performance is still superb. The hits often featured fresh arrangements while still staying true to the core essence of each song. The fresh arrangements don’t distract the listener, they simply breathe new life into the classic songs. I wanted to show my daughter what the masters of pop music can do, and Daryl & John did not disappoint.
And so our boys of summer cheered us up in only the way that music can. Shawn Mendes showed me why my daughter loves his music, and Hall & Oates showed my daughter why they mean so much to me, and that — in her words said with genuine enthusiasm– “those old guys can really still rock.” I’m pretty sure that’s high praise from a 13-year-old.
It was a magical night in Asbury Park, NJ. After scoring tickets with the help of Backstreets.com and 1iota.com, my aunt and I made the trip to Asbury Park for the Blinded By The Light red carpet premiere and party. Thunderstorms were in the forecast, but the rock & roll gods kept the rain away until after the fans waiting outside made their way into Convention Hall.
It was a thrill experiencing the movie in a theatre packed with Springsteen fans who cheered at all the right moments. Watching the film in the same room as Bruce and those who made the film was a once-in-a-lifetime joy that I’ll never forget. The movie isn’t just about a young man who discovers Bruce’s music, it’s about finding a sense of belonging in the world and pushing forward to live your own best life while still trying to hold onto your family and those you love despite all of the obstacles in your way. Most timely of all, it’s about rising above hatred, and how music can bring people together and change the world.
In addition to the film’s director, the author whose book the film is based on, and many of the actors, Bruce himself walked the red carpet with his wife, Patti, and later played four songs with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes at the after party at Convention Hall. Just like Southside’s song says, at the end of the night I found myself saying “I Don’t Want To Go Home.”
Bruce Springsteen’s official series of live concert downloads continues with today’s release of the first of two shows that were performed at The Roxy October 18, 1975 during a four-night stand at the venue. This release documents the entire performance of the first show from night three. Jon Altschiller mixed the show from a restored transfer of the 16-track, 2-inch master reels. The sound quality is fantastic and captures the thrill of experiencing Bruce and The E Street Band in a small, intimate venue.
Author Duane Tudahl’s updated and expanded edition of his 2017 book Prince And The Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions 1983 And 1984 was released today. An authoritative, exhaustively researched volume about what is arguably one of Prince’s most prolific periods of recording, this new paperback edition adds new interviews with Bobby Z, Wally Safford, Taja Sevelle, “Cubby” Colby, and others. In addition, some of the recording session dates have been updated or confirmed, and there are new sections about previously unknown songs that have never before been discussed.
You can purchase this new Expanded Edition paperback here:
For my review of the original hardcover edition, please visit the link below.
Columbia Records will release Springsteen on Broadway, the official soundtrack from his 236-show run at Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre, December 14. It will be released as a 2-CD set, a 4-LP vinyl record set, and also available to purchase via digital download. In addition, it will be available via digital streaming services. The album will include all of the audio from the upcoming Springsteen on Broadway Netflix special, which will debut at 12:01 am Eastern Time December 16, just hours after Bruce performs the last show of his historic Broadway run.
The CD track list:
1. Growin’ Up (Introduction)
2. Growin’ Up
3. My Hometown (Introduction)
4. My Hometown
5. My Father’s House (Introduction)
6. My Father’s House
7. The Wish (Introduction)
8. The Wish
9. Thunder Road (Introduction)
10. Thunder Road
11. The Promised Land (Introduction)
12. The Promised Land
1. Born in the U.S.A. (Introduction)
2. Born in the U.S.A.
3. Tenth Avenue Freeze-out (Introduction)
4. Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
5. Tougher Than the Rest (Introduction)
6. Tougher Than the Rest
7. Brilliant Disguise (Introduction)
8. Brilliant Disguise
9. Long Time Comin’ (Introduction)
10. Long Time Comin’
11. The Ghost of Tom Joad (Introduction)
12. The Ghost of Tom Joad
13. The Rising
14. Dancing in the Dark (Introduction)
15. Dancing in the Dark
16. Land of Hope and Dreams
17. Born to Run (Introduction)
18. Born to Run
Prince: Before The Rain is a new book of photographs by Allen Beaulieu with a forward by Revolution guitarist Dez Dickerson. Beaulieu captured some of the most iconic images of Prince’s career, shot mostly between 1979 and 1983, including the photos that would become the album covers for Dirty Mind and Controversy, along with the photos that would be used as the inner sleeves of the 1999 album and various singles and EPs issued to promote the 1999 album.
The title Before The Rain perfectly describes this collection of photos, as we’re seeing the visual progression of Prince’s image leading up to the period just before he exploded with his biggest commercial success, Purple Rain.
This stunning collection of photos includes some amazing images that I’ve never seen before including outtakes from the Dirty Mind album cover photo session (including one photo in color), outtakes from the Controversy album cover session, outtakes from the neon bedroom shot that was used as an inner sleeve for the 1999 album, and live concert shots from 1979-83. There are also plenty of backstage and behind-the-scenes photos along with images that Beaulieu took of The Time, Vanity 6 and Jesse Johnson. There’s even a selection of photos from the October 9, 1981 concert performance in which Prince opened for the Rolling Stones and was booed off the stage. Obviously not a high point, but still part of Prince history, and a motivating fuel for the fire that would push Prince to work even harder to become one of the greatest performers of all time.
Jim Walsh’s written narrative describing Beaulieu’s collaboration with Prince provides fascinating insight into the working relationship between the photographer and the musician. Written contributions from Eloy Lasanta provide context surrounding the albums for which Beaulieu captured the now iconic album cover images.
When an artist like Prince passes away, there will always be critics that say these types of books are just cashing in, but in my opinion, when lovingly curated like this collection, these types of books are treasures. The images help illustrate visual chapters of Prince’s career and capture every dimension of his personality and persona, giving us additional insight into not just the artist, but the human being that he was. Similar pictorials from photographers Steve Parke (Picturing Prince: An Intimate Portrait) and Afshin Shahidi (Prince: A Private View) provide equally fascinating insight. I hope that we’ll see more collections like these, and when all of these pieces of the puzzle are assembled, we will see the most complete picture possible of the fascinating artist and human being that Prince was.
You can order Prince: Before The Rain from Amazon.com here:
The Revolution returned to New York last night for the first of two shows at the recently renovated venue now called Sony Hall, which is owned and operated by Blue Note Entertainment Group and sponsored by Sony Corporation in the heart of New York’s Theatre District at the Paramount Hotel. It was raining outside and there might have been some thunder too, but the main thunder was inside the venue, coming from BrownMark’s bass. The band was on fire and their playing is even tighter than when I last saw them in March in Philadelphia. If you have a chance to catch the second show today, do yourself a favor and go. Here’s a taste of the energy from last night’s show:
Philadelphia musician Katie Barbato released her brand new EP The Art of Falling September 21. I’ve been following Katie’s work for the last few years, but because I’m an extremely finicky music fan and am very narrowly limited in the different genres that I enjoy, I didn’t pay enough attention to Katie’s previous music because I had often seen it classified as folk, a genre that I quite honestly rarely enjoy. The folk genre is usually too dark for my personal listening tastes. I’m a pop/rock child of the seventies and eighties who loves a good hook and even a bubblegum hit now and then. Even if she might personally consider her style as folk, in my personal opinion it is a tremendous injustice to try to categorize Katie’s beautiful music into one singular genre. There are certainly hints of folk on a few tracks on this EP, but most of these tracks have a lighter sound and plenty of hooks that will leave you humming melodies in your head long after the music has stopped, an occurrence that rarely happens to me after hearing folk records. I don’t mean to criticize the genre. Folk is simply not a genre that I typically enjoy.
I am happy to report that on The Art of Falling, Katie has found what I truly believe to be her sweet spot. She has written a beautiful collection of songs with inspiring lyrics full of imagery and introspection woven together with gorgeous instrumentation, clever and unexpected chord changes in exactly the right places, and first-class engineering and production. It’s a lovely musical landscape painted prominently with acoustic guitar and Katies’s powerful, yet refined voice, accompanied by electric guitars and keyboards strategically placed to take each song to new heights right around the time that you thought you knew where the music was going. Every slight detour in musical direction within the songs is a delight, and every song is better because of this.
Katie’s voice seems to get better with every release. She has a powerful voice but uses that power to accentuate just the right moments of a song and exercises a perfect amount of restraint when a song calls for a tender or reflective mood. I have heard her use her voice live to carry driving rock songs, and I’ve also heard her use it to get mellow for the quietest of folk songs. The versatility of her voice is rare, as she can sound like any given genre is the genre that she specializes in. Her voice feels right at home within any style. This is part of what makes The Art of Falling such a great collection of songs. Katie’s voice can take her anywhere she wants to go, and anywhere that she wants to take the listener. That versatility gives her an unlimited musical canvas to paint upon.
Every song on this EP is superb. Clocking in at just under 30 minutes, it’s a rare collection of fantastic songs that live nicely with each other in one place. That’s a feat that not even some of the most legendary artists achieve in today’s musical climate.
For you audiophiles and vinyl aficionados, I’m thrilled to inform you that The Art of Falling is available on vinyl in an extremely limited run of only 300 copies. You can order via the link below:
Have you ever waited a long time for one of your favorite recording artists to release new music? What’s the longest you’ve ever had to wait between album releases? Two years? Five years? For me and my fellow Steve Perry fans, the wait has been 24 years. That is not a typo! Steve Perry’s last album was released in 1994. Traces, which will officially be released Friday, is indeed his first new album in 24 years.
The day that the new album was announced and made available for preorder, I immediately placed my order for an autographed copy via his official online store. Today, two days earlier than the official release date, I received it in the mail and felt like a kid on Christmas when I opened the mailbox. I am thrilled to inform you that the album does not disappoint.
I could barely contain my excitement when Steve Perry showed up at last year’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. I cried just to see him standing on the same stage as the rest of his former Journey bandmates. Then he delivered an impassioned speech, but alas did not sing with the band. Was it because he couldn’t sing anymore? That was the fear of some fans, but I am thrilled to tell you that Steve’s voice is just fine. In fact, it’s way better than fine. It is still quite amazing.
When one of my favorite artists releases a new album, I always listen to the album uninterrupted from front to back, in its entirety. That’s exactly what I did this afternoon when Traces arrived. Steve’s voice is still powerful and soulful, capable of delivering highs and lows that even younger singers would struggle to hit. More importantly, you can still feel the emotion in his voice on every single track.
This album is primarily about love and loss, and the eternal struggle to move on and attempt to heal after losing someone you love. In the many interviews promoting Traces, Steve talked about the inspiration for this album, the love of his life, Dr. Kellie Nash. He lost her to breast cancer in 2012. He also explained why we had to wait 24 years for new music. The simple reason was that he was burned out and his heart was no longer in it. After Kellie’s passing, he felt the calling to make music again. The result is a beautiful, emotional collection of songs.
Rather than present a song-by-song examination or do an injustice to his work by trying to paraphrase Steve’s beautiful, heartfelt lyrics, I’d like to simply tell you that this album is great from start to finish and let you experience the magic on your own. It’s a beautiful, soulful journey that explores love and loss in a majestic way that only Steve Perry and his unique voice can. I’m sad that it took such heartbreak to bring Steve Perry back to music, but I’m also happy that he truly found the love of his life and that she was able to — in Steve’s own words — enable him to “have a complete heart.” Speaking further about the album he said, “Kellie taught me many things in our time together, but one of them was that it really is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” That, more than anything else, is the theme of Traces.
Above: The tracklist for the deluxe version of the Traces CD, which contains five bonus tracks not included on the standard version.
Today’s the day! I have been eagerly anticipating this release since it was announced back in June. You might ask, “So is this that new unreleased Prince album I keep hearing about?” Well, yes and no. This is indeed a physical release presented on a CD and an LP, but it’s not really an “album,” in that this is not a series of professionally recorded studio songs sequenced together with the idea of them being released to the public for sale. This 35-minute recording from 1983 is quite simply Prince messing around playing his piano and singing in what was his home at the time, his house on Kiowa Trail in Chanhassen, Minnesota. The source of the recording was a TDK C60 audio cassette that was found in Prince’s vault after his passing. The tape features Prince playing and singing for no other reason than for the love of playing and theoretically to capture some musical ideas onto tape for future reference. The Revolution member Lisa Coleman says in the liner notes, “This is definitely a work piece. It’s Prince exploring ideas, having some fun, and opening himself up to whatever might happen.”
The TDK C60 cassette is a consumer-grade blank tape that anyone could have bought in a retail store at the time, as opposed to a studio-grade reel-to-reel tape that musicians would record on when planning to professionally release a studio album. The fact that Prince recorded this private home performance on a simple consumer-grade cassette is evidence enough that he never had plans to release it to the public. However, it is very fortunate for his fans that this recording is still intact. It gives us a fascinating insight into what it might have been like to be sitting in the same room as Prince (as vocalist Jill Jones did according to her comments in the liner notes) and listen to him in his most relaxed, unguarded moments, when the sheer brilliance of his musicianship truly shined. We’re all aware of what a fantastic musician Prince was whether he was playing guitar, piano, bass, or countless other instruments, but it is in these rare intimate moments, when Prince is just messing around, that we truly realize what a masterful musician he was. For aspiring musicians, it’s scary to think that someone could be this good — never hitting a wrong note — when just messing around. That was part of Prince’s genius.
It was inevitable that I would use the phrase “intimate moments” above, because it brings up another interesting story about this recording. Some fans like myself have had copies of this cassette for many years, obtained from either a network of Prince fans who trade tapes (and later CDs, then digital files) or from various record conventions through the years. It was most famously bootlegged on a CD called “Intimate Moments,” so that phrase was on my mind constantly while listening to the new Piano & A Microphone 1983 release. The great news is that unlike that bootleg recording which suffered from barely listenable sound quality, this new release features much-improved sound quality, direct from the source tape. There is still a prominent tape hiss heard throughout the recording, but it does not hinder the enjoyment of the listening experience. I am grateful that Warner Brothers did not try to use noise reduction or any other editing effects on this release. The bootleggers seemed to use noise reduction techniques on their CD, and it damaged the sound quality terribly. This new release, although not up to typical recording studio standards, preserves the performance intact without altering it. The tape hiss and infrequent incidents of tape flutter are probably in the master recording itself.
Piano & A Microphone 1983 is simply a medley of songs and musical fragments, and could almost be viewed as one track, as opposed to the nine tracks listed on the CD and LP. With the first seven songs, each song runs into the next, as one continuous performance (but are indexed on the CD as separate tracks), without any breaks in between the songs, which is exactly what Prince performed. At the end of “Wednesday,” you can hear Prince ask someone, “Wanna flip it over?” This clearly indicates that they were flipping the tape, so it appears that “Cold Coffee & Cocaine” and “Why The Butterflies?” were on side two of the source tape, although we don’t know if those two songs are presented in the order in which they were performed.
Here is the track listing as shown in the booklet that comes with the deluxe LP/CD set:
This is the kind of recording that you’ll want to listen to privately in a silent room with no background noise, at a loud enough volume to hear all of the nuances of Prince’s performance. Listening with headphones (but again, in a silent room with no background noise) would be another ideal way to listen. You can hear Prince stomping his feet. You can even hear him sniffling a few times during “Mary Don’t You Weep” and “Strange Relationship,” something you would never hear on one of his officially released studio songs. It’s a rare opportunity to sit back, close your eyes, and imagine what it would be like to be in the same room as Prince with only his piano and a microphone. It’s every fan’s fantasy, and thanks to this tape, a fantasy we can relive over and over again.
It’s hard to believe that I took the photo above 33 years ago today with my Kodak Disc Camera, but indeed that’s how long it’s been since that long, hot summer night in 1985. My first concert was Prince & The Revolution at The Philadelphia Spectrum on November 24, 1984. I’ll remember that night forever, as it ignited the spark for what became my voracious appetite for concerts. It was also what I consider to be my funk& roll baptism. But my second concert, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia on August 15, 1985 holds an equally special place in my heart. It was my rock& roll baptism.
Prince and Bruce Springsteen remain my all-time favorite musical heroes. It’s quite fitting that they wound up being my first and second concerts, respectively, as they are the two artists that I have seen in concert more times than any other musicians. On that “Hot August Night” (I feel obligated to credit Neil Diamond any time I borrow that phrase) in 1985, Bruce and the band made my 14-year-old self a true believer in the life-affirming power of rock & roll. For me, it was a game-changing moment, a musical and spiritual awakening, proof that there was a magic in this world the likes of which I had never experienced before. I’m sure that I felt the same way watching Bruce that he felt when he witnessed his hero, Elvis Presley, perform on The Sullivan Show. Thanks to my Uncle Joe and Aunt Kathy, who took me to the concert, I witnessed many firsts that night: My first Bruce Springsteen guitar solo, my first Clarence Clemons sax solo, my first Roy Bittan piano solo, my first Danny Federici organ solo, my first time feeling the rumble of Max Weinberg’s drums and Garry Tallent’s bass in my chest, my first “Thunder Road,” my first “Born To Run,” and many other moments that I would go on to relive many more times at Bruce shows through the years. But most importantly, this night is eternally engraved in my memory as simply my very first Bruce show. You never forget your first.
Back in October, I was extremely fortunate to experience what could have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Springsteen On Broadway. My post about that show appears further down in this blog. I won’t rehash all of the details about how fantastic the show is. Feel free to read that post for a spoiler-free review of my first Springsteen On Broadway experience. Because the October 2017 show was such a magical night, when the third round of ticket sales took place, I decided that I would do everything in my power to try to get tickets to the show again. I could not afford StubHub prices, so my best shot was using the Ticketmaster Verified Fan process. While that didn’t work for me, I always have multiple backup plans. My good friend, Joe, had received a code to buy tickets and I asked him to try for May 16, my birthday, and see if we got lucky. Not only did we get lucky, but the most affordable seats in the house ($75 balcony seats) came up. Thanks to Joe, my wife and I spent my birthday seeing Bruce.
Having sat in the last row (Row H) of the Right Mezzanine back in October, Row A of the Right Balcony seemed significantly higher to me than the Mezzanine. I’m nervous about heights, but adjusted pretty quickly, especially once the show began. If you’re considering Mezzanine seats over Balcony seats and you can afford the price difference, I would highly recommend the Mezzanine seats. If you can afford the floor level, even better. Having seen the Ghost of Tom Joad Tour from the second row in Philly at the Tower Theater, I can imagine how fantastic the floor of The Walter Kerr Theatre must be, but that’s a dream for another day.
I enjoyed the show just as much as the first time and was fascinated to see that although the show is essentially the same every night, Bruce continues to add improvised extra details to the stories and has even sharpened his delivery in some sections. There were also additional nuances in his musical performances. Having seen him many times, I am still in complete awe of his masterful command of the stage, the audience, and his craft. Just when I think I’ve seen it all, he keeps pulling new magic tricks out of his hat. With the show extended through December, I truly hope that everyone who wants to go gets to experience this show somehow.
Above: The view from Balcony Right, Row A, Seats 18-20.
Above: My wife and I on the Floor Level after the show.
For a fan like me who loves Prince’s entire career but is especially fascinated with the Purple Rain era with The Revolution, this book is the holy grail of Prince books. Instead of simply giving us a list of studio sessions as a simple reference book, Duane Tudahl presents a compelling narrative (with quotes from Prince as well as those who worked closely with him) to give us a month-by-month — often day-by-day — account of Prince’s work schedule, discussing what was going on in Prince’s career and life during these sessions. The author draws upon previous interviews but also conducted many new interviews for this book, and the result gives the reader a unique new perspective never before captured in a book about Prince. There is no gossip or dirt here. The focus is on the music, as it should be. You still get glimpses into Prince’s personal life through the eyes and ears of those who worked closest with him, but respectfully so, and only in relation to how it influenced his music. In interviews and podcasts promoting the book, Tudahl talked about the years of his life that he spent devotedly and meticulously working on it, and his devotion is evident. It is clearly a labor of love. It was a huge thrill for me to read about what was going on in the studio during the Purple Rain era and thinking about what was happening in my life at that time, a time when I was a young teen and Prince’s music consumed me completely. For someone like me who discovered Prince in 1983 and has been obsessed with his music ever since, getting an insight into how this music was conceived and created is a gift that I never dreamed would be possible. During the time period covered in the book, Prince was working on his own music as well as music for The Time, Vanity 6, Appolonia 6, Sheila E., and others. The book covers what is arguably Prince’s most prolific time period and documents it in extreme detail while never sounding boring or too scholarly. It’s written in simple language that allows you to focus on the story and the songs and not get bogged down in an elaborate writing style or editorializing. The focus is on Prince’s music, which is why this book is such a joy to read. I sincerely hope that this book sells well because I would love to see additional volumes covering other eras in Prince’s career. Thanks Duane for a fascinating book!
I also highly recommend that you check out the two podcasts below, both of which feature interviews with the author. Michael Dean and Dr. Funkenberry are two of my favorite podcasters who cover Prince. Forgive me for not name dropping the other great Prince podcasters, but these are the two that I listen to most often and immediately come to mind as those who have interviewed the author. Here are the links to their interviews with Duane:
I wanted to write a blog post about last night’s show, but to try to use words to describe the energy and joy of this show would be an injustice. Instead, I’d like to share the video below with you so that you can see, hear, and feel the energy yourself. Enjoy!
Max Weinberg’s Jukebox, a great band featuring E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg and members of The Weeklings, brought their show to The Landis Theater in Vineland, New Jersey tonight. The show featured a scrolling video screen listing various rock classics to choose from. The audience chose songs from the list and the band played them. Some of my favorite performances of the evening included Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes”, The Band’s “The Weight”, Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up”, and The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated”. It was amazing to watch Max switch gears from one song style to the next. His versatility as a drummer never ceases to amaze me.
Max has been offering a Meet & Greet package that includes an autographed drum head and the opportunity to have your picture taken with him. During the Meet & Greet, he was extremely generous with his time, spending at least half an hour talking with a small group of fans, signing autographs, taking pictures, and sharing stories from throughout his career. He went above and beyond making it an experience I’ll never forget. It was an amazing night and I crossed one more item off my bucket list. I have finally met Mighty Max!
Some fans had the opportunity to join Max on stage for the closing number, “Glory Days”. Here’s a brief clip: