Within the music business, for years now people have often talked about ‘the 27 club’, as there had been so many music related deaths of people at the age of 27, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Kurt Cobain and, more recently, Amy Winehouse, to name just a few. Now people are beginning to talk about ‘The 2016 club.’
So, what a terrible year 2016 is turning out to be; Keith Emerson, Glenn Frey, George Martin, Ed Stewart, Terry Wogan, Maurice White, Emile Ford, Colin Vearncombe (Black), David Bowie and now Prince.
The same website that broke the news of Michael Jackson’s death in 2009 informed us of Prince. America’s TMZ is a bit like The Sun newspaper, full of inane gossip, but usually there with the hot news as it happens.
Prince was born Prince Rogers Nelson on 7th June 1958 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His parents, Mattie and John Lewis, were African-American and both musical, his dad was a pianist and songwriter and his mother, a jazz singer, so his grounding was perfect. His father used the pseudonym Prince Rogers and had his own group, the Prince Rogers Trio. He obviously wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and maybe naming his after his own pseudonym helped. In an interview on the American TV news programme A Current Affair in 1991 Prince’s father said, “I named my son Prince because I wanted him to do everything I wanted to do.”
In the late sixties, Prince and a neighbour, Andre Anderson, joined Prince’s cousin’s band called Grand Central. In 1975 one of Prince’s uncle’s formed a band called 94 East and Prince was invited to play guitar and ended up writing the occasional song. The following year Prince and the producer, Chris Moon, got a demo tape together of Prince’s material. It didn’t result in him getting a recording contract, but he did gain a manager by the name of Owen Husney who signed him up and got him into a better studio to create a better demo which eventually resulted in numerous record companies showing interest and subsequently was signed by Warner Brothers on the proviso Prince was given creative control for the first three albums.
He released his debut album, Dirty Mind, in 1980 and the American Music critic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine, described it as, a ‘stunning, audacious amalgam of funk, new wave, R&B, and pop, fuelled by grinningly salacious sex and the desire to shock. It’s a breath-taking, visionary album, and its fusion of synthesizers, rock rhythms, and funk set the style for much of the urban soul and funk of the early ’80s.’ His debut single and the suggestively titled, Soft and Wet only reached number 92 on the Billboard chart, then came I Wanna Be Your Lover which peaked at number 11 over there and, as his first UK hit, peaked at number 41.
His big break came in 1982 when 1999 started receiving stacks of airplay, it only reached number 25 first time round on these shores, but number two when re-issued and coupled with the follow-up, Little Red Corvette a couple of years later. Over the next 24 years he racked up a further 48 hits including the anthemic Purple Rain and When Doves Cry. His tracks were radio friendly and songs like Raspberry Beret, Let’s Go Crazy, U Got the Look and Gett Off were rarely off the radio. In 1989 he scored a number two with Batdance from the Batman movie and it became his biggest hit to date. He had to wait until 1994 before scoring his only UK chart-topper with The Most Beautiful Girl in the World with his 39th hit and thus breaking Stevie Wonder’s record who had his first number one with his 35th hit. His then-wife, Mayte, recorded an answer version with a slight change to the title calling it The Most Beautiful Boy in the World and appeared on her 1995 album Child of the Sun.
Prince had several moniker’s over the years and included Jamie Starr, The Purple One, Christopher Alexander Nevermind and more successfully as T.A.F.K.A.P. – The Artist Formerly Known as Prince or as we saw it.
He has written many songs for other artists including Chaka Khan’s 1984 international number one I Feel For You, a couple of years later Manic Monday, under the pseudonym Christopher which the Bangles took to number two and in 1990 his song Nothing Compares 2 U which he wrote for his protégé group The Family was covered and a number one for Sinead O’Connor. Kid Creole charted with Prince’s The Sex of It and Martika scored a top 20 hit with Martika’s Kitchen. Other artists who have successfully covered his songs are The Art of Noise and Tom Jones who took Kiss high into the chart, Simple Minds tackled Sign O the Times – all about a friend who died of A.I.D.S – on the Amsterdam EP and in 1997 Ginuwine made number 10 with a cover of When Doves Cry.
Over his 35-plus-year career, he released 39 solo studio albums and continually released new material. In September 2014, he put out four new full-length records with his latest band, 3rd Eye Girl.
The official press release stated: Prince was found dead at age 57 on Thursday morning, slumped unconscious in an elevator in his Paisley Park complex in Chanhassen, Minnesota. He was pronounced dead at 10:07 a.m. (11:07 EST), about 15 minutes after emergency personnel responded to a call for help. Medical personnel performed CPR on him, but could not revive the singer, who performed his final show at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta on April 14. In a tweet to a fan after leaving the hospital, Prince said he was “still floating on a cloud of purple intoxication” after the previous night’s show.
In 1980, Prince met Denise Matthews-Smith and chose her to be the lead singer of his first protege group, a trio he named Vanity 6. In February this year Denise passed away from kidney failure also aged 57.
Like Terry Wogan and David Bowie, it may have come as a huge shock to us because they, like Prince, had kept their illnesses quiet, but Prince learned relatively recently of his condition in as much as sources close to Prince stated that he’d recently started writing his memoirs having been putting it off for years. Last Saturday he was rushed to hospital after a concert in what his reps called the flu. When he returned to his home he addressed a waiting crowd with, “Wait a few days before you waste any prayers.”
He was upset that the news of his hospitalisation got out because he feared that people would think he’s already dead.
So on Thursday 21st April 2016, the day the Queen celebrated her 90th birthday, Prince’s purple reign was over.