PRINCE: PIANO & A MICROPHONE 1983 Limited Edition Deluxe Set (Includes CD, 180G Audiophile Vinyl LP, Exclusive Print, and 12-page booklet)

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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:

Tracks

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.

Here’s a short video that shows you what the packaging looks like:

 

 

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My First Springsteen Concert: Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia, August 15, 1985

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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.

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Springsteen On Broadway, May 16, 2018

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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.

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Above: The view from Balcony Right, Row A, Seats 18-20.

 

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Above: My wife and I on the Floor Level after the show.

 

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Above: Bruce during his curtain call.

PRINCE AND THE PURPLE RAIN ERA STUDIO SESSIONS 1983 AND 1984

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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:

http://podcastjuice.net/duane-tudahl/

https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/the-dr-funk-podcast/e/52229132

You can purchase the book on Amazon here:

Max Weinberg’s Jukebox at The Landis Theater, Vineland, NJ, 11/18/17

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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!

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Some fans had the opportunity to join Max on stage for the closing number, “Glory Days”. Here’s a brief clip: