New York and California
Luckily for Prince, his older stepsister Sharon, a stepsister on his fathers side, was already living in Manhattan. Not only did she take him in when he showed up on her doorstep, she promised to help him get a record deal.
Sharon had a friend who managed a group and was planning to meet with a record producer about a deal. Sharon got herself invited alongand brought her little brother with her. The record producer was a French woman named Danielle Mauroy. She did not think much of Sharons friends tape. It was then that Sharon decided to make her move. She told Danielle that her brother was a wonderful singersongwriter, so Danielle asked Prince if he would sing for her. What an opportunitybut he was too scared. He hadnt realized things would happen quite like this. After some gentle persuasion Prince agreed to sing. The lights were turned down, and he belted out a song he had just written, singing a capella. The song was called Baby and it eventually appeared on his first album.
Baby what are we gonna do, wailed Prince in his beautiful high falsetto. He sounded good, even to himself. The song was not even finished when Prince sang it that day, and he had to hum and make up lyrics on the spot to fill it out.
Danielle Mauroy was impressed and eager to work with this new young artist, and invited him over to her apartment to hear more of his material. Prince was ecstatic; he thought he was really on his way at last. But things just dont happen that quickly.
Danielle did not like any of the songs Prince played for her except Baby. Still, Prince was eager to make a record and Danielle told him that he would, but he could only sing on the record; he couldnt play. For a multi-instrumentalist like Prince this did not sit well at all.
Furthermore, Danielle wanted to buy the publishing rights to Princes songs for a small amount of money. Knowing that she didnt like most of his material, it seemed like a bad idea to Prince. But Sharon was all for selling the rights. Prince might have gone along with it if he hadnt gotten an urgent phone call from Minneapolis. His friend Chris Moon had played the Prince demos for a manager in Minneapolis named Owen Husney. Husney, like Danielle, was not all that impressed by the songs, but when Chris Moon told him that Prince had played all the instruments on the demo, Husney realized he could have a real star in the making. Husney and Moon tracked Prince down in New York. When I finally reached him on the phone, he was thinking of signing all his music publishing away to this lady from Paris, Husney told Steven Ivory. Just in time, he convinced Prince to come back to Minneapolis. Prince told Danielle and other New York record companies which were showing interest in the young artist that he had decided to go back to school.
Perhaps what convinced Prince to return to Minneapolis more than anything else was Husneys insistence that no one but Prince himself should produce his work. Prince also sensed that he needed strong management in order to get a good record deal. Husneys encouragement sealed the deal.
I went back to Minneapolis and back to Andrs basementI could deal with the centipedes and poverty better because I knew that I could make it, I’d proven it to myself and thats what really mattered.
Andr Anderson, who would soon be going by the name Andr Cymone, was surprised but glad to see his old friend. Prince was welcomed back to the Anderson home. Champagne had fizzled out as a group since Prince had left town; without his leadership and songwriting power the band had not been able to carry on. Though Andr had the confidence to work on his own projects, he was more than happy to work with Prince again.
Even more exciting for Prince was the news that Owen Husney was willing to bankroll him in return for the right to manage the boy. Husney put Prince on a $50-a-week salary and got him his own apartment. This was the best yetfinally Prince didnt have to worry about getting kicked out of a place, because this place was his own. The only thing he had to watch out for were the numerous complaints from his neighbors for playing his guitar loud!
Prince began working in Chris Moons studio again, re-recording his demo, making it better. When he was done he had improved versions of Soft and Wet,Baby, and a third song, Make It Through the Storm. Husney also bought Prince a synthesizer, an instrument he quickly mastered. It would become an important part of his sound.
With the finished demo tape, Husney planned a strategy to put the artist across to the record labels. He put together expensive press kits, featuring a long series of photographs of the young artist. Each photo had a different pose of him holding a different instmment. On the last page was a picture of Prince with all the instruments around him. The idea was to make an impression of Prince as a budding young genius much like Stevie Wonder. The press kit also said Prince was two years younger than he really was. That way he would seem like a real child prodigy.
With the tape and the impressive press package under his arm and Prince by his side, Owen Husney went to California to pitch Prince to the record labels. First he would show record executives the press kit. Then he would play them the tape of Soft and Wet and Baby. If they wanted to hear more, he had Make It Through the Storm waiting in his pocket. If, after the showing, the executive was interested, Husney would bring in Prince himself.
Prince lacked confidence talking to businessmen and preferred to have his manager speak for him. Warner Brothers was the first company to show some interest, but before too long other labels were jumping on the bandwagon. A & M and CBS also wanted the young artist. The problem was that the labels did not think such a young man could produce himself. But Husney was adamant. The label that would get Prince would let him produce.
Chris Butler, the songwriter of the Waitresses hit I Know What Boys Like, remembers meeting Prince around that time in Warner Brothers recording studio. I was in Studio B with my band Tin Huey, remembers Chris. Then one day this guy named Prince was in Studio A recording something. It was all very secretive. I met Prince out by the coffee machine. All the heavies from the label were there and they introduced me to him. . . . We were both from the Midwest so I made some small talk about that but Prince didnt react at all. I remember him being a little guy with a huge afro. It wasnt like he was acting cool. He just seemed scared.
Husney suggested to Warner Brothers that they devise a test for Prince: put Prince in the studio and let the top executives at the company watch. Husney figured once they saw bow well Prince knew his way around the studio they would agree to let him produce himself. He didnt tell Prince who the guys standing around the studio were the day of the test: he did not want to make Prince unduly nervous. Husneys strategy worked. Once the label people saw Prince work, they were convinced; Prince would be allowed to produce himself.
Prince returned to Minneapolis a happy man. Originally he had planned to record the album there at Chris Moons studio, but the engineer on the session insisted that they needed the modern equipment found only in the West Coast studios. It was decided that they would record at the Record Plant in Sausalito where two of Princes heroes, Carlos Santana and Sly Stone, had worked. Prince also convinced Andr to come with him. Andr remembers telling Prince, Look.. . Ill play with you until you get your thing established to where you want it. But then Im going to split and go back to what I was doing before.
So Andr went along with Prince to California to make Princes first album. They set up in an apartment in the San Francisco area with Owen and his wife Britt.
I was a physical wreck when I finished the record, Prince told Barbara Graustark. It took me five months to do the first one. Im proud of it, in the sense that its mistake-free, and its perfect.
Princes first record went way over budget. It cost more than $170,000 to make. Artists making their first record often try to make everything too perfect: they think every note has to be right in place, and they lose spontaneity and spirit in the process. Prince was so concerned with making a great record that he went overboard. Because he did almost everything himself, the process was slow and time consuming.
That first album, For You (1978), was not a bad record, but compared to records he would later make it sounds slick and unadventurous. The album included Baby and Soft and Wet. Other stand-out songs were the title cut and the slow jazzy ballad, Crazy You. The most interesting song on the record was Im Yours. It broke the mold a little with Prince playing some wild lead guitar.
For You sold pretty well for a first release, around 100,000 copies, but Prince would have to do a lot better than that if Warner Brothers were going to make any moneyand retain him.
Warners designed a campaign to promote the record and the artist as a young genius a la Stevie Wonder. Who is Prince? said the full-page ads in Billboard. The cover of the album was blurry and out of focus. You could barely make out what Prince looked like, just those big watery eyes and the shining edge of an afro. The back cover had just a list of the songs and in big letters Produced, Arranged, Composed, and Performed by Prince. Chris Moon received credit for co-writing Soft and Wet.
Prince played his first official date as a solo artist in January of 1978 at the Capri Lounge in Minneapolis. The place held about 500, and 300 people showed up to check out the local boy with the record contract. It was an odd show because Prince did not use a full band. Instead of a drummer he used a rhythm machine. Keyboard and bass parts were on tape. Prince took the stage with two other men playing guitar.
Eventually Prince did put a band together: Andr Cymone played bass, Dez Dickerson played guitar, Bobby Z. was the new drummer, and a girl named Gale Chapman would play keyboards. Prince did some dates as the opening band for Rick James, but being an opening act was not to his liking. It has been said that Prince refused to talk to James on the tour and did everything he could to upstage the headliner.
Not only did Prince not like opening for other performers, he didnt like all the politics that went along with promoting a record. Doing interviews was very difficult for him. Sometimes he would just sit there muttering one-word responses. He didnt like all the people patting him on the back telling him how great he was when he felt they had never even heard his record.
He knew the only way to get beyond all that was to make a hit record, and when he went back into the studio thats just what he did.
His next album, called simply Prince, showed that he had learned a lot in the last year. The record was far more relaxed and in the groove. Some of the songs were more experimental like When Were Dancing Close and Slow.Bambi was the closest thing Prince had done to hard rock. But most important were the hits, the long funk groove number Sexy Dancer, and the biggest hit of all, I Wanna Be Your Lover, a slice of modern dance pop that raced up the charts. It helped the second album reach gold status (sales of over 500,000 copies).
Prince was on his way, but he was still not satisfied with the records he was making. The second album was pretty contrived, he told Robert Hillburn. I had put myself in the hole with the first record because I spent a lot of money to make it. I wanted to remedy that with the second album. I wanted a hit album. It was for radio rather than for me, and it got a lot of people interested in my music. But it wasnt the kind of audience I really want. They only came around to check you out when you had another hit. They wont come to see you when you change directions and try something new. Thats the kind of audience I wanted.
Indeed, many people who saw Prince because they bought his second album came away confused. Prince was different than what they expected, to say the least. Princes outlandish stage garb surprised and shocked some people. Trench coats and bikini briefs on a guy were just too weird.
Kelly Tucker, a reporter for the TimesPicayune in New Orleans, described the audience response to a Prince show in December of 1979: Throughout the show Prince did not receive nearly as much response as he deserved. When he walked off stage at the end of the set, the audience hardly made a sound. It was only after his embarrassed manager walked to the microphone and asked the crowd if they wanted more that sparse applause and shouts began.
When the reporter asked members of the audience why they didnt like the show they gave responses like, He should have stayed in L.A. We dont like freaks in New Orleans, to We were expecting a guy who looked more like a man; he dressed too weird.
Prince explained to New York Rockers Andy Schwartz why he wore so little clothing on stage. Ive gotten a lot of criticism from outsiders, but once they see the show they understand why I wear what I wear. The shows real athletic and we run around a lot, and I have to be real comfortable. The decision was left up to me, and when I thought about what I was most comfortable in, its what I sleep in . . . I just cant stand clothes.
If you look at the cover of the second Prince album he certainly meant what he said. By 1979 Prince had straightened his hair and, with the exception of an earring, it appears that he is wearing nothing at allof course the cover shot is only from the chest up. On the back is a picture of Prince riding a horse with wings.
Prince wanted an image that was totally original, that would make people look up and say Wow Ive never seen anything like him before!
Prince returned to Minneapolis after the release of his second album for a home town show. Even though he had a hit record he was hard pressed to sell out the local concert theater. His concert at the Orpheum only drew about a thousand people, in a theatre that held 2,300. It must have bothered Prince and made him think harder about what he had to do to make it really big.
Prince began hanging out at a nightclub in Minneapolis called Sams, more recently named First Avenue. The club was a new wave club where patrons dressed up in the latest punk fashion styles, leather jackets, funny haircuts and make-up. The music they danced to was new and different and it made sense to Prince. Bands like the B52s, Devo, and Talking Heads had them shaking on the dance floor to a new and different sound. There was something fresh and urgent about the new music and it appealed to Prince.