Category Archives: Time

Prince (Protégé) Summer: The Family

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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

Prince (Protegé) Summer: Vanity/Apollonia 6

VANITY-6

Toward the end of last week‘s post, I called the Time “arguably the most highly-regarded of Prince’s various side projects.” So allow me to start this post with another superlative: if the Time was the most highly-regarded of the purple protegés, then their “girl group” sister project, Vanity 6, was perhaps the most underrated and misunderstood.

To be fair, though, the very concept behind the group encouraged such misreadings. Originally conceived shortly after the Time as “the Hookers”–because the Time were pimps, geddit?–Vanity 6 appeared at first and maybe even second glance to be little more than a cynical play on pornographic tropes. Every member was an obvious “type”: Vanity, born Denise Matthews (and almost, disastrously, rechristened “Vagina”), was the vampish seductress; Brenda (Bennett) was the saucy, chain-smoking “bad girl”; and Susan (Moonsie) was, most problematically, the thumb-sucking, teddy bear-toting jailbait. The “6” in their name, if you haven’t already guessed, was a sophomoric reference to their total number of breasts.

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If the lowest-common-denominator pandering wasn’t enough, there was also a severely diminished emphasis on musical talent. Prince, while stingy about allowing the Time to play on their own albums, had nevertheless stocked the group with the hottest musicians in the Twin Cities. Vanity, on the other hand, was a Canadian B-movie actress, and Susan was Prince’s on-and-off girlfriend; only Brenda was a professional musician, having performed as a backing vocalist with the blues-rock group Tombstone in the mid-1970s. By many accounts, this led to dissension even within Prince’s camp: there was a prevailing sense that he was wasting time on a glorified burlesque act, when he could have been spending it with a more conventionally qualified group.

These criticisms would have held more water, however, if the trio (/sextet’s) self-titled 1982 debut wasn’t legitimately great. Vanity 6 is not only a stronger debut than the Time’s (yeah, I said it), but also one of the quirkiest and most interesting records in the whole extended Prince canon. In an earlier post, Andre already mentioned the funk workout “If a Girl Answers (Don’t Hang Up)“–featuring a campy vocal cameo by Mr. Jamie Starr himself–as well as the immortal “Nasty Girl,” which prefigured the sounds of everyone from the Neptunes to Peaches to Beyoncé (who, incidentally, has recently taken to covering the song in concert). But there’s also “Make Up” and “Drive Me Wild,” two of the most futuristic-sounding cuts from the Purple One’s electro period; the Dez Dickerson-penned “He’s So Dull,” a.k.a. the best song the Go-Gos never recorded; and the New Wave-flavored “Bite the Beat,” which was co-written by Jesse Johnson of the Time.

Vanity 6 joined Prince and the Time on the Triple Threat tour in 1982 and 1983, and were meant to appear in Purple Rain; as with the other group, however, relations with Prince hit the skids soon before shooting was to commence. There are a variety of possible reasons for Vanity’s falling out with Prince, including disputes over royalties and romantic turmoil; her growing dependency on cocaine was also a likely factor. Whatever the specific reason, however, she left the group for a solo career with Motown in late 1983, leaving Prince in the peculiar situation of having to recast both the female lead for his film and the frontwoman for his group. Her replacement, another unknown actress named Patricia Kotero, was hired after responding to a casting call. But “Patrica 6” would have been an even dumber name than “the Hookers,” and so Kotero adopted the nom de Prince Apollonia.

Due in large part to these inauspicious beginnings, Apollonia has gotten a bit of a raw deal from the Prince fanbase; I’ll be the first to admit that I was overly dismissive of her when I recorded my podcast on Prince’s side projects last month. If fronting Vanity 6 was already a thankless job, then filling in for Vanity–who Prince remembered as “the finest woman in the world” after her passing early this year–was even more so. Nor did it help that Prince seemed to be losing interest in the Apollonia 6 project by mid-1984, stripping the proposed album of many of its most promising songs: he gave “The Glamorous Life” to Sheila E., “Manic Monday” to the Bangles, and even his own “17 Days” still has Brenda’s original backing vocals clearly audible on the chorus. I guess what I’m trying to say is, yes, the Apollonia 6 record is an inarguably inferior clone of its predecessor; but the group’s signature song, “Sex Shooter,” remains a Minneapolis Sound classic in its own right, and Apollonia’s Purple Rain performance will forever be iconic (ask any person who came of age in the 1980s and has a sexual interest in women about the “Lake Minnetonka” scene, and watch them get misty-eyed with nostalgia).

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Like the Time, Apollonia 6 dissolved quickly after the release of Purple Rain; unlike the Time, however, there was no triumphant aftermath, no series of high-profile reunions–though three of the groups’ former members, at least, seem to be leading happy and fulfilling lives. Brenda Bennett took time off from the music industry, returning only fairly recently as an independent artist. Susan Moonsie quit the entertainment business entirely. Apollonia went back primarily to minor film and television roles–though she did release one, forgettable solo album in 1988.

And then, of course, there was Vanity. Hers is one of the saddest stories in popular music: though she went on to some measure of success as a solo recording artist and (especially) an actress in the latter half of the 1980s, she also developed a crippling addiction to crack cocaine. Finally, after suffering a near-fatal renal failure in 1994, she experienced a conversion as a born-again Christian and dedicated the rest of her life to evangelism, renouncing her stage name and her past as a secular entertainer. It’s a strange feeling, to be a fan of Denise Matthews’ work as Vanity with the knowledge of the pain she was in at the time. It seems, however, that she was able to find peace later in her life; I only hope that she realized how much authentic joy she brought to the world, even in her darker moments.

So what else is there to say about Vanity and Apollonia 6? If the Time was the Prince spinoff act that threatened to upstage the headliner, then the “6” represented Prince in full puppetmaster mode: putting together a singing group comprised of two-thirds non-singers, then underlining just how disposable they were by seamlessly slotting a different frontwoman in the lead. And yet, the group had undeniable personality: one listen to Vanity and Brenda tearing “Jamie Starr” a new one in “If a Girl Answers” is more than enough to demonstrate that. And the original incarnation in particular gave Prince and his collaborators a framework in which to create some of their most unique genre experiments of the early 1980s; making them, in their own way, a precursor to more “respectable” side projects like the Family. Finally, if nothing else, the ladies could definitely fill out a camisole.

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Next Saturday, Prince (Protegé) Summer continues with an artist who stretches the definition of “protegé”: Ms. Sheila E. In the meantime, you can read more of my writing about Prince on my chronological Prince blog, dance / music / sex / romance; and more about whatever else crosses my mind on Dystopian Dance Party. See you soon!

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Filed under 1980's, Apollonia, Denise Matthews, Dez Dickerson, Jesse Johnson, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Purple Rain, Sheila E., Time, Vanity

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 12/13/2014: ‘What Time Is It’ by The Time

What Time Is It

 

There was a lot of question marks as to weather The Time was a bona fide act all their own or just Prince puppets after their debut album as it was obviously a product of Prince’s musical vision. The band did in fact have their own identity but it didn’t really come to the surface full force until this album dropped the following year. Prince still had some role in this album but the band themselves,especially the flowering writing/producing talents of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis make themselves more than a little known on this album. Musically it’s very much rooted in the stripped down LINN drum machine/rhythm section based funk of the Minneapolis sound of the early 80’s but is a lot more live sounding,slick and clean. The album begins with “Wild And Loose”,a song whose strident sound,based in hefty textured rhythm guitars with synthesized accents and a tough bass line mark it as part of that direct link between the Minneapolis Sound and James Brown.

The albums breakthrough hit was…you got it: a classic 80’s phone number song in “777-9311”,a tune whose LINN based stop-start polyrhythms and wildly pitched synthesizers epitomize some of the most intricate and driving “naked funk” of that era. They even pull out the rockabilly style “OnedayI’mgonnabesomebody”,whose rhythm was somewhat similar to Prince’s at that time with their own message in this case revolving around a very self driven attitude towards achievement again a very JB influenced message. “The Walk” really gives a strong hint at the Jam/Lewis sound,an arrangement that doesn’t sound anything like Prince production wise in as much as it was produced in a much more slick and polished manner than he would’ve produced at that point even though it still has that stripped down sound.

“Gigolos Get Lonely Too” is the slowest tune on the album and is actually a mid tempo song again with a very slickly produced sound. It also raises a question as to the lyrical preoccupation of most of this album. Morris Day and the bands persona as something of loudly dressed gigolos with a groove usually took the form of comically egotistic satire as it’s base and on this song it makes it clear that such people do in fact look to genuine companionship often enough in reality-giving a lot more depth to their whole personality. The album ends with the thickly layered rhythms of “I Don’t Wanna Loose You”. These longish extended tunes all possess within them carefully crafted melodies and harmonic ideas and while firmly rooted in it’s home grown sound has an altogether different flavor from much of what else was going on in twin city funk at that time.

Original Review from August 18th,2010

Link to original review here!*

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Filed under 1980's, Amazon.com, Funk, Funk Bass, James Brown, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Morris Day, Music Reviewing, Prince, Time

Welcome To A New Year And A New Blog!

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    I would like to welcome everyone to Andresmusictalk,my newest blog here on WordPress. This blog is going to serve as a collaborative effort between myself and Henrique Hopkins-a main inspiration for creating my first blog here The Rhythmic Nucleus. For those of you who familiar with that blog,it was primarily focused on funk music and its many tributaries. Since of course my own personal musical pallet of interests is very eclectic,the topics on that blog began to drift into different musical territories.

          The purpose of this blog is to expand the level of dialog regarding the full spectrum of music. Regarding its history,creation,generational potency and anything else of interest in that regard. Just about every musical form on Earth bleeds into each other over time. The “rhythmic nucleus” of it all likely began in Africa. But it has spread across the world over millennium after millennium in a symphonic gumbo-with each subculture of humanity making wonderful new contributions as it goes. If that sounds like a big deal,it is. And music grows into even more of a big deal as time progresses.

           The levels of experience and perceptions of music between Henrique and myself have many similarities. Yet our environments have shaped them in very different ways between us. This will be an important element in our two literary styles that will be presented here. And to paraphrase one of Henrique’s own quotations,this will also serve as a possible springboard for broader articles that might one day find they’re way into the realm of professional publication. So as the two of us continue to grow as human beings,so will go the breadth and scope of our writing here.

               On some occasions,I would like to see the two of us engage in call and response type writing-wherein myself or Henrique create a blog post here in direct response to the others. Not only would that reflect the spirit of the soul/funk music we love,but help us grow as writers and continue that educational experience. In this age where the “less is more” adage has perhaps been too readily applied to human conversation,it is actually in our dialog that we learn most from. And the best forum to give and receive our knowledge. So enjoy what is to come! Many exciting things to read,see and hear await you!

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Filed under Africa, Blogging, Dialog, Earth, Funk, Humanity, Literacy, Music, Rhythm, Soul, Time