Though Prince was one of pop music’s very brightest stars, he knew that he could shine even brighter surrounded by a great band. And none of his backing bands were greater than the Revolution, who supported his Purpleness from 1979 to 1986, a period which includes the commercial peak of Purple Rain and during which Prince made the bulk of his most important music.
On the one-year anniversary of their former bandleader’s death, the core members of the Revolution — guitarist Wendy Melvoin, keyboardists Lisa Coleman and Matt Fink, drummer Bobby Z., and bassist Brown Mark — will reunite for a tour beginning April 21 in Minneapolis. In advance of those concerts, the musicians shared their favorite Prince stories, which feature a cameo from Prince’s heroine Joni Mitchell and one very annoyed flight attendant.
“For my 20th birthday, Prince decided to throw a surprise party for me at a club called Tramps in Minneapolis. He even flew in my twin sister Susannah. At one point during the party, he said, ‘Do me a favor and sit down at this table and wait.’ So I waited, and then in comes Prince and Joni Mitchell to sit with me, and she gave me three of her lithographs as a present. It was one of my most profound moments. Prince was a fan of Joni’s, just like Lisa [Coleman] and I were, so to get to know her was incredible. I remember a time when we were in California, and Prince called me and said, ‘Let’s go out and have dinner at Joni’s place in Malibu.’ I just thought Oh my god! The three of us get in the car and we played Blue on the drive to her place. We got there and opened the door and Joni was calling for her cat Puss-Puss in that beautiful voice of hers. The walls of her house were covered with her portraits of people like Miles Davis — it was amazing. So we’re on the couch, having these incredibly deep conversations with Joni Mitchell, and Prince walks over to the piano and starts playing “A Case of You.” Then Joni says, ‘Oh wow! That’s really pretty. What song are you playing?’ We all yelled, ‘It’s your song!’ Prince got such a kick out of that.”
“Prince’s sense of humor was legendary. He was funny, but he also loved for other people to make him laugh. I used to do this thing — it was on one of the first tours we ever did, warming up for Rick James in 1979 and 1980 —where I would fake throwing up. I’d pretend to be really, really ill and blow lunch. Prince thought that was hilarious. We were on a flight one day, and Prince leaned over and said, ‘Hey Matt, when the stewardess walks by, take the barf bag from your seat pretend to throw up in it.’ I said, ‘Well, why would I do that?’ And he goes, ‘It’ll be hilarious. Please do it! Please!’ He was begging me. So sure enough, when the stewardess comes over to ask if we’d like anything to drink, I started pretending to throw up. She believed it was real, panics, and runs away to get another barf bag for me. Meanwhile, Prince is cracking up. When the stewardess realized I was faking … she was not amused.
“The fake throw-up became a running joke for a while. Prince just loved to have us as his court jesters: ‘Matt, do the throw up!” And you’d do it. It was so much fun. Actually, this reminds me: Prince did a thing once where he got into a wheelchair at an airport and André Cymone, who was our bass player at the time, was rolling him around while Prince pretended to be disabled. It was in poor taste, of course, and you wouldn’t do anything like that now — but he was just an extremely funny person.”
“Mine’s not a funny story, but it’s important to me: my very first encounter with Prince. I was a cook at the Pancake House when I was 14 years old. At that time, in 1976 or so, Prince was dating a waitress there named Kim Upsher. And one day, I’m flipping pancakes in the kitchen, and I see a little guy with a big Afro walk into the restaurant. I was young, but I was already playing in bands, and I’d heard about Prince and looked up to him. So when this little guy with the big Afro walked in, I was sure it was him — I was freaking out. So Kim comes running into the kitchen and says, ‘I need you to cook the best doggone pancakes you ever made!’ And I was like, ‘Is it for Prince?!’ Let me tell you, I cooked some absolutely delicious pancakes for that man. Much later on, at a rehearsal after I’d been in the band for a while, I told him about the pancakes. Then he said, ‘You made those pancakes?’ and just started laughing so hard.”
“This is something that happened in, I imagine, 1982 or so: We always used to rehearse in these suburban Minneapolis warehouses that Prince would transform into Princedoms, with carpeting and decorations. At one of these rehearsals, Prince showed up with a handheld VHS video camera. It was the first time any of us had ever seen one of these things. Instead of rehearsing, he put a tape in the machine and we spent the whole day shooting skits — it turned into Prince’s version of Saturday Night Live. It was crazy. He had us chanting ‘Testify!’ and dancing around with brooms and buckets on our end. I’m sure the tape is in the vault somewhere. I’ll never forget that day. It changed Prince’s life, because now he had easy access to creating for a visual medium. But it turned into a nightmare because he was watching every rehearsal. The video camera was our mirror; it became everything to him.”
“It was 1981, and the band had gone out on tour, and when we came back I was homeless, so I went to live with Prince at his purple house in Chanhassen, Minnesota. One day he started talking to me about getting my own place and having my own life in Minneapolis. Like, Now you’re here, Lisa, so what are you gonna do? He was giving me a talking to about moving out, but I didn’t quite understand that was what the conversation was about. It just felt tense.
“So after our talk, I went for a walk to think about what had happened. I walked to the center of the town to get a beer — there was only one bar. A few minutes latter, Don Batts, Prince’s musical tech guy, came into the bar. He came over to me and said, ‘Prince wants to talk to you. He feels bad.’ So I went back to the house. Prince was down in the basement in the studio. He came came out, gestured to me to come into the studio, and said, ‘I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings. I wrote you a song.’ In that short time — I’d only been gone an hour or two — Prince had written and recorded a song as an apology to me. It was called ‘A Strange Way of Saying I Love You.’ I was stunned. Music was always how he communicated best.”
These interviews have been edited and condensed.