Our ingenious Director of Entertainment, Blake Smith shared with us the first time he ever met Prince.
It was 1998 and I was on tour with my band at the time opening for Veruca Salt. We were onstage at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C when these two guys in seersucker suits straw boater hats walked in. We couldn’t really tell what was happening but they had an imperious attitude and the crowd parted before them. They walked up to the side of the stage and started talking to the monitor guy. Both were holding somewhat menacing canes. The monitor guy became agitated and kept giving us worried looks. Eventually he motioned me over. I walked up to him with my guitar, this is all happening while we are in the middle of a song, loud as hell, and mouthed “what?” He yelled “wrap it up!” I walked away and kept playing. Soon there were four guys with canes and then 6, all staring at us and slowly shaking their heads. We finally got the hint.
Veruca Salt played a truncated set and the second the lights came on an entire battalion of seersucker suits and boater hats and canes flooded in and started herding people to the door. A totally different crowd filtered in. The owner of the club came over to us and thanked us for cooperating and said we could stay and watch “a very special performance,” from the owner’s box in the balcony. The only caveat was that no one in the building was allowed to have any alcohol by special request of the artist. At that point we figured out that we were about to see Prince play a club show.
The band was generic, but obviously could all play, at least to my ears. They were doing covers, the kind that you would hear a wedding DJ play, which was disappointing. We love Prince and wanted him to do his own material. They were doing a really long, dull version of The Staple Singer’s I’ll Take You There when Prince picked up a guitar and played a Hendrixian solo so molten and raw that we all started laughing in disbelief. There was no other response. He then put the guitar down and danced over to the saxophone player, took the sax off of him and played some insane John Coltrane blur of notes. Just as we were beginning to process that solo, there was a momentary squeal of feedback from one of the monitors. He executed another amazingly fluid series of dance moves and ended up at the monitor board. He reached over and tweaked a single knob of EQ and the sound was suddenly perfect.
We could not believe what we were seeing. The club owner came up to us and put a bucket of champagne and some plastic cups on the floor and said “thanks for cutting it short, enjoy this, but do not let Prince see the bottle.” Since you could not see us from the waist down (the balcony was lined with a cement wall) we poured the champagne at ankle level, just to be safe. We waited until Prince was on the other side of the stage to drink. The moment we lifted the cups he turned towards us, gave us a baleful stare that still keeps me up at night, and pointed. Seconds later we were escorted out to the alley by a swarm of seersucker. His command of the room, technical ability on any instrument, and his total awareness of everything happening around him was supernatural. I still do not know if he ever played one of his own songs that night.
We’ll be showing Purple Rain during our Acquired Taste Movie Night on Wednesday, April 26 @6pm