Category Archives: Miko Weaver

Prince (Protégé) Summer: The Family

thefamily

Unlike Sheila E., the Time, or even Vanity/Apollonia 6, the Family aren’t exactly household names (unless, that is, your household still has a subscription to the NPG Music Club). Among those in the know, however, their self-titled 1985 album is a buried gem. It’s certainly of interest to fans of the group’s svengali, Prince: with its mix of post-psychedelic whimsy, sweeping Classical Hollywood glamour, and organic jazz-flavored funk, it’s effectively the missing link between His Purple Majesty’s 1985-1986 albums Around the World in a Day and Parade.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the Family were born out of the Time‘s acrimonious mid-1984 split: Andre has aptly described them as the Led Zeppelin to the Time’s Yardbirds. With the majority of the band now fired or resigned, Prince retained drummer Jellybean Johnson and dancer/comedic foil Jerome Benton, promoting “St. Paul” Peterson, who had joined the group less than a year earlier on keyboards, to the role of co-lead singer. The other frontperson was none other than the twin sister of Revolution guitarist Wendy (and Prince’s then-fiancée), Susannah Melvoin. Finally, the lineup was rounded out with saxophonist Eric Leeds, with additional support by Sheila E.’s guitarist Miko Weaver.

Arguably the real star of the Family, however, was never actually part of the group–and, in fact, never even shared the same room with them. Prince had long been a fan of jazz keyboardist, composer, and arranger Clare Fischer: specifically, his more pop-oriented work with Chaka Khan and Rufus from the mid-to-late 1970s. And though they would share a fruitful partnership of their own throughout the rest of the ’80s and into the ’90s, it was The Family that marked their first-ever collaboration. Fischer’s orchestrations add a layer of musical sophistication to the album, particularly on slower, dreamier tracks like first single “The Screams of Passion” and the Bobby Z.-penned “River Run Dry.”

Elsewhere, more conventional funk tracks like “High Fashion” and “Mutiny” betray the Family’s origins in the Time; while two instrumentals co-written by Eric Leeds, “Yes” and “Susannah’s Pajamas,” prefigure Prince’s growing interest in jazz fusion, to be explored more thoroughly in side projects the Flesh and Madhouse. Today, probably the best-remembered track on the album is “Nothing Compares 2 U“: the original recording of the classic Prince ballad later made famous by Sinead O’Connor. I go back and forth on which version I prefer, but I can definitely say that the Family’s is the more “Prince-like”–and Fischer’s arrangement, of course, is gorgeous.

Even in the volatile world that was Paisley Park in the mid-’80s, the Family were especially short-lived. Sales for the album were weak compared to Prince’s other projects at the time–it reached only number 14 on the Billboard R&B chart, missing the “mainstream” charts entirely–and St. Paul chafed under Prince’s micro-management, opting to ditch the group for a solo career in late 1985. In the end, the original incarnation of the Family played only one live show, at Minneapolis‘ First Avenue in August of 1985. Perhaps that’s why, more than any of the other “spinoff” acts, the Family tends to be thought of more as an extension of Prince’s solo work than as a separate entity. Certainly, that’s a point of view Prince encouraged when he absorbed Susannah, Jerome, Eric, and Miko into an expanded version of the Revolution in 1986, even performing his own version of “Mutiny” onstage–not to mention reappropriating the group’s whole velvet-jacketed aesthetic for his film Under the Cherry Moon.

Still, like their evolutionary ancestors the Time, the Family would later return for a second act without Prince’s involvement. A one-off charity gig in late 2003 eventually blossomed into a full-blown reunion, as “fDeluxe,” in 2009; since then, they’ve released two studio albums, a disc of remixes, and a live recording from Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. The fDeluxe records obviously aren’t up to quite the same standard as The Family, but still well worth listening to for anyone who wants to hear more of their uniquely baroque take on the Minneapolis Sound. Most recently, like Sheila E., the Family/fDeluxe have found new vitality in the wake of their onetime mentor’s death: on May 4, 2016–exactly seven hours and thirteen days after Prince passed away–they reunited once again to record a new version of “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

Next week…well, to be honest I haven’t 100% made up my mind about what to tackle next week. It’s between Mazarati–more of a “Prince protégé protégé,” I suppose, but one with an interesting history–and Jill Jones. Any preferences out there? Let me know. And as always, you can see more of my writing on Prince at dance / music / sex / romance, and more of my writing in general at Dystopian Dance Party.

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Filed under 1980's, 1985, 1986, 2010's, 2016, Eric Leeds, Jerome Benton, Miko Weaver, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Paisley Park, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Susannah Melvoin, The Time, Time, Uncategorized, Wendy Melvoin

Grooves on Wax, Prince Summer Edition-Zach & Andre’s 12″ inch Prince Singles Collection

Normally I guest post on Saturdays, but Andre wanted to do a Grooves on Wax of all Prince 12-inches and I was only too happy to participate. So below are some highlights from both of our collections. I’ll be back tomorrow, as previously promised, with a post on Vanity/Apollonia 6!

Zach’s Wax

letspretendweremarried

The last single released from the 1999 album in November 1983, “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” isn’t actually a “maxi cut” in the traditional sense; just a repackaging of the seven-and-a-half-minute album version, in all its filthy electro-funk glory. But the real reason to own this is the B-side, “Irresistable Bitch”: an amazing (if just a tad misogynist) quasi-rap with a cavernous drum sound that clearly inspired the likes of the Egyptian Lover. Plus, it marks the earliest recorded appearance on a Prince track of Wendy Melvoin, who had replaced Dez Dickerson as the Revolution‘s second guitarist just a few months earlier.

iwoulddie4u

Now this one is all about the A-side. “I Would Die 4 U” has always been my choice for the funkiest song ever written about Jesus, but the 12″ version’s extended rehearsal jam (featuring percussion by Sheila E., with her band members Eddie M on sax and Miko Weaver on guitar) takes you straight to church. At ten minutes and 15 seconds, it’s actually edited down by about two-thirds (!) from the uncut version circulating on bootlegs; that one’s for devotees only, but in the right frame of mind, it’s an appropriately religious experience.

mountains

1986’s Parade is one of my favorite Prince albums and eras, and part of the reason for that is the amazing run of 12″ singles it produced. The best of the bunch, in my opinion, is “Mountains,” which gives the funkiest song on the album ample room to breathe. Once you hear it, there’s no going back. This is also the only place to hear the extended version of “Alexa de Paris,” a grandiose instrumental from the Under the Cherry Moon soundtrack that stands as one of Prince’s most successful experiments with jazz fusion.

anotherloverholenyohead

Another Parade cut, “Anotherloverholenyohead” is actually one of the few Prince singles where I prefer the regular version to the extended (another one, actually, is “Kiss”). I just think the tighter construction of the album version works better for the song’s wiry funk-rock, and the closing jam (“there’s gonna be a riot if you don’t clap yo’ hands…”) doesn’t really take off on the 12″ like I wanted it to. Still, it’s worth picking up if you can–if only for this dope picture of Brown Mark on the flip side, which I actually had hanging on my living room wall for a while (yes, I know, I’m a weirdo).

anotherloverbrownmark

Andre’s Wax

Let's Go Crazy 12'

In the film Purple Rain the song “Let’s Go Crazy” had an extended drum sequence and a chromatic piano walk bridge. It was played in the continuity scenes that introduced Morris Day and Jerome Benton, as well as Apollonia arriving at First Avenue and stiffing the cab. And that version is what the extended mix of this song is-my favorite version of it actually. On “Erotic City”,the song is extended by showcasing the instrumental synth exchanges to an even greater degree. That makes this a definitive Prince 12″ inch single.

Prince+Kiss+-+1st+Issue+3336

“Kiss” was a 45 that I remember being one of only two Prince songs my parents had in their record collection when I was growing up. On this extended 12″ version,the middle of the song is extended into a drum and synth brass heavy funk breakdown-very James Brown style. “Love Or Money” is one of my favorite Prince B-sides next to “Erotic City” and “17 Days“. It’s got a great gated drum machine line, rhythm guitar and Prince’s Chipmunk’d Camille voice. On this extended version,it all gets even better when the horn solos really interact on the extended instrumental bridge.

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Filed under 12 inch singles, 1980's, 1986, Brown Mark, James Brown, Jerome Benton, Miko Weaver, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Morris Day, Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain, Sheila E., Uncategorized, Under The Cherry Moon, Wendy Melvoin

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Mountains” by Prince & The Revolution

Prince & The Revolution were a band that truly evolved into their own name. With the announcement. With the announcement that surviving members Lisa Coleman,Brown Mark,Wendy Melvoin,Bobby Z and Matt Fink are planning on a reunion tour in tribute to their fallen bandleader,it reminded me of just how much these musicians expanded Prince’s grooves as it progressed. That progression went from the stripped down new wave of the Dirty Mind/Controversy  era to the brittle electronic Minneapolis sound of 1999 and Purple Rain. Shortly thereafter,their sound made an even broader change.

During the summer of 1985,Prince and his band mates expanded. He added saxophonist,brother of his manager Alan Leeds and trumpeter Matt “Atlanta Bliss” Bliston along with guitarist Miko Weaver. The band also eschewed their flamboyantly dandy style clothing in favor of dressy,tailored clothing and slicker haircuts. This also effected their sound as they recorded for Prince’s next film project Under The Cherry Moon and it’s accompanying soundtrack album Parade. The song from the album that might best project Prince & The Revolutions evolved sound is “Mountains”.

The song starts with two by two snare drum heavy beat with right on the rhythm hand claps. A pounding drum machine introduces the up-scaling piano melody that carries the musical refrain of the entire song. It’s that same rhythm filled out with chiming guitar,percussion and high pitched,otherworldly synthesizer. On the choruses of the song,Prince plays call and response with his new horn section. The bass line of the song is equally fluid. It moves throughout under the drum as both a thoroughly percussive element while basically playing the melody of the piano.

The instrumental bridge of the song strips the music down to the rhythm that opens it. This time the rhythm guitar is playing a bluesy chicken scratch riff that Prince segues by shouting out “MOMMY I’M CLEVER!”. The following vocal shriek leads directly into the final repeat of the chorus. The harmonic horns scale down at the end of that chorus when Prince’s falsetto shouts find those horns playing a swelling evolving fanfare. An electric sitar inaugurates the refrain-a somewhat East Indian classical melody with the sitar wash holding up the James Brown style horn charts as the song fades out.

“Mountains” is a Prince song that really fascinated me from the moment I heard it. It mixed in the spiritually ethereal quality of gospel with a psychedelic airiness to the production. As my friend Henrique points out,on the other hand, the rhythmic nucleus of this song is strong galloping funk. The drums,the hand claps,the bass,the horns and rhythm guitar clop along like instrumentals hooves working their way down a heavily funky road. It’s mixture of cinematic drama with a strong ear for a phat groove showcase just how vital Prince’s musical progression was to the 1980’s.

 

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Filed under 1980's, Atlanta Bliss, Bobby Z, Brown Mark, cinematic soul, drums, Eric Leeds, Funk Bass, hand claps, horns, Lisa Coleman, Matt Fink, Miko Weaver, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Psychedelia, Saxophone, trumpet, Uncategorized, Under The Cherry Moon, Wendy Melvoin