When Sheila E. picked up the phone Friday evening, she didn’t need to be asked how it felt to lose her friend, Prince. The breathy, reassuring voice of this singer and percussionist — a familiar presence in the mid-1980s thanks to tunes like “The Glamorous Life” and “Erotic City” — had grown small and measured, a clear indication that the news of Prince’s death Thursday at age 57 had taken a toll.
Yet Sheila E. — who first made a name for herself in the Bay Area playing with her father, percussionist Pete Escovedo, and other jazz musicians — seemed to brighten as she began telling me about her experiences with the legendary musician. After meeting in 1978, the two started working together around the time of “Purple Rain,” then spent much of the next half-decade side by side, both on the road and in the studio; they remained close, she said, even after they drifted apart musically. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
So, let’s just get this out of the way: My favorite Prince album is the “Batman” soundtrack.
It’s criminally underrated. It’s dark, it’s frantic and it’s headlined by “Batdance,” a wild track that flips Bruce Wayne, Vicki Vale and Joker samples into a sexually charged future funk opera.
I just wish the world could’ve heard the remix of “Batdance,” which features a guest rap verse from Big Daddy Kane. It’s wildly different -- stripped-down percussion, vocals from Prince that weren’t in the original, riffs on the old “Batman” TV theme, and a furious, wailing synth solo.
Prince apparently loved it, but Warner Brothers wouldn’t release it. But why?
Students participating in the 27th annual High School Choir Festival at Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles honored Prince with a rendition of “Purple Rain.”
During Prince’s second-to-last concert, the early show in Atlanta on April 14, “his voice was perfection” -- said a photographer who was seeing him for the seventh time and found herself in the right place at the right time to snap a photo she knew she shouldn’t be taking.
“I wasn’t going to share it,” said Nashville photographer Amiee Stubbs, 42, who had a third-row seat but found herself standing pressed up against center stage as the show was coming to a close. “Then this happened. He was so perfect that night.”
He played “Linus and Lucy” from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and David Bowie’s “Heroes,” she said by phone from Nashville on Friday, “and he took his songs and made them like I’ve never heard them.”
As for his health, “there were no indications that he wasn’t feeling well,” said Stubbs, who made the drive to Atlanta twice after Prince got sick and at the last minute pushed his Feb. 7 shows to the next Thursday. “He had the flu before ... but I was thinking he couldn’t be here if he couldn’t give his all.”
I’m just so glad I took that photo I shouldn’t have taken.
Amiee Stubbs, photographer and Prince fan
Because he was performing sans guitar, with only a piano and a microphone, he didn’t move around as much, she said, but looked as sexy as ever strutting out to the keyboard.
“Everything we love about him, it was there, even though the style was so different,” she said.
With no-photography rules strictly enforced at Prince shows -- she said she’s seen three people get booted just for pulling out their phones -- Stubbs wasn’t about to broadcast what she was doing. But with the best seat in the house, after the musician high-fived her and others up against the stage, she decided she had to get the shot.
“I was thinking, ‘I may never get this chance again,’” to be so close to Prince, she said. “I assumed there would be another time I saw him, though. I didn’t think I would be putting an iPhone photo in my portfolio.”
But, she said, “now I have that moment,” and maybe it could transport some people there.
“I’m just so glad I took that photo I shouldn’t have taken.”
Prince’s 1984 movie, “Purple Rain,” is coming back to the big screen in the L.A. area and elsewhere for a limited run starting this weekend. The film will screen Saturday through Thursday in select AMC theaters.
The screenings are designed to “pay tribute” to the musician, the theater chain said.
“Purple Rain” will be shown at the AMC Atlantic Times Square 14 in Monterey Park, AMC Broadway 4 in Santa Monica, AMC Covina 17 in Covina, AMC Norwalk 20 in Norwalk, AMC Ontario Mills 30 in Ontario, AMC Orange 30 with IMAX in Orange, AMC Promenade 16 in Woodland Hills and the AMC Rolling Hills 20 in Rolling Hills.
Carmike Theaters also will show the film in about 80 theaters in 28 states during the same period. None of those theaters is in California.
Much has already been written about Prince the composer, Prince the performer and band leader, Prince the musical pioneer. His skills at crafting a pop song and making it just weird enough to jump out amid lesser specimens was unparalleled.
Criminally less celebrated are his lyrics. Where aged, respected songwriters like Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello are praised for their language, few Prince appreciations have focused on his skills as a wordsmith. But Prince was as eloquent with the pen as those bards. Could it be that by wrapping his talent beneath spangled pantsuits and a high-heeled facade rather than in blue jeans or well-tailored suits, Prince has been given short shrift as a lyricist?
Prince’s primo opening lines, for example, are some of the best scene-setters in pop: “I guess I should have known by the way you parked your car sideways that it wouldn’t last,” from “Little Red Corvette,” contains a novel’s worth of information about a relationship, a rendezvous and its futility.
Often regarded as Prince’s crowning achievement, his album and film “Purple Rain” is -- through the hazy lens of 2016 -- ridiculous, overwrought and full of enough leaden dialogue to sink the film into the waters of Lake Minnetonka.
But taken as a document of the artist at the peak of his powers, it’s essential, even astonishing in moments, most visibly in its performances from Prince and his band. Whether you were there in the ‘80s as the movie captivated pop culture or somehow missed seeing the movie the first time around, L.A.'s Cinefamily has you covered with a series of screenings going into this weekend that serve as a fitting tribute.
And if you don’t get chills leading into Prince performing the film’s title track, check to make sure you’re still with us too.
We’re still processing that we’re now living in a world without Prince.
With a loss of this magnitude comes the inevitable, well-meaning tributes (keep your eye on the next Grammys, Oscars, the AMAs -- basically anywhere there’s more than five musicians in the same room). Included in that is this weekend’s Coachella, which just went from absorbing idle speculation about which famous guest will turn up to which of the acts will pay tribute to one of music’s true indelible icons.
In a sense, the Empire Polo Club remains Prince’s house since his unforgettable Coachella set in 2008. Following is a list of a few acts that could deliver fitting and goose-bump-raising Prince covers this weekend if they desired, along with a few other artists who, while their hearts may be in the right place, may want to think twice.
President Obama started his day of diplomacy in London on Friday with an important moment of meditation — with the U.S. ambassador, listening to Prince hits “Purple Rain” and “Delirious” on vinyl.
It was a fitting start for Obama and Ambassador Matthew Barzun as their generation mourned the death of the multi-genre superstar whose work was often political. Prince’s 1980s-era music mourned nuclear proliferation and exhorted President Reagan to talk to Russia before it was too late.
But Obama cited simpler reasons for his kinship with the performer, who last summer put on a show at the White House for the Obamas and a few of their closest friends.
“I love Prince because he put out great music,” Obama said.
He didn’t know the artist well, he said, but was struck by his power as a performer.
“He was extraordinary and creative and original and full of energy,” Obama said.
The ambassador has a turntable at Winfield House, his residence in London, Obama said, and put on the two songs from two different albums, both vintage ’80s.
“Just to get warmed up before we left the house for important bilateral meetings like this,” Obama joked.
Prime Minister David Cameron took no offense.
“In the name of great music,” he said.
Sex is something we can all understand. It’s limitless. But I try to make the songs so they can be viewed in different ways, I know some people will go right through those [message] elements in a song, but there are some who won’t. If you make it too easy, you lose the point. Most music today is too easy. People just come out and do the same old same olds over and over. ... All people care about nowadays is getting paid so they try to do just what the audience wants them to do. I’d rather give people what they need rather than just what they want.
Read the full Los Angeles Times story from Robert Hilburn’s 1982 Prince profile here. It’s full of amazing Prince gems such as: “I always compare songwriting to a girl walking in the door. You don’t know what she’s going to look like, but all of a sudden she’s there.”
Dozens of fans gathered in South Los Angeles on Thursday to pay homage to pop icon Prince with a musical celebration that united generations of listeners.
Toddlers and seniors grooved to the tune of “The Purple One” and swapped stories about how his music had affected their lives.
The festive tone turned somber when the slow, melodic chords of Prince’s hit “Purple Rain” blared from the speakers.
Dancing ceased. Fans thrusted candles and cellphones into the darkening sky and swayed their arms to the beat. Tears rolled down the cheeks of some people’s faces.
Depress Bady’s voice choked with emotion as he recalled the lyrics to the first song on Prince’s debut album titled “For You.” The one-minute, eight-second song with one verse was an ode to his fans.
“Through his music, he touched my life,” said the 44-year-old Leimert Park resident. “He didn’t conform and always challenged himself. I try to do that in my daily life. . . .
“Hamilton” creator and lead actor Lin-Manuel Miranda shared how he and the cast of Broadway’s “Hamilton” paid their respects to the recently departed Prince, with a dance off.
“We lost a giant today,” Miranda said to the crowd before breaking into the introduction of Prince’s song “Let’s Go Crazy.” Moments later the cast would burst into dance.
Thankfully Miranda tweeted the whole moment so everyone could partake:
The cast of the Broadway version of “The Color Purple” took to song Thursday night to pay tribute to Prince.
Jennifer Hudson (who plays Shug Avery in the play) addressed the crowd, "Tonight, with you guys in mind, we would like you all to join us in honoring Prince. He said his music will live on and he will live through his music, and we want to keep him alive today with his song."
The impromptu performance was led by Hudson and Cynthia Erivo. Try not to lose it when Hudson asks to cut the music and the whole room sings a cappella.
The comedy team of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, best known from their sketch TV show “Key & Peele,” frequently explores ideas of identity, masculinity and race. Which are, of course, things that Prince frequently grappled with throughout his career as well.
The duo are busy promoting their upcoming film “Keanu,” directed by Peter Atencio, in which a pair of meek, nerdy cousins have to pretend to be drug-dealing gangster henchmen to retrieve a lost cat. The movie’s unexpected intersection of the hard attitudes of an action movie with the soft cuddliness of a kitten in itself is something of a product of a joyful, jaunty post-Prince worldview.
Key and Peele were previously scheduled to get on the phone for separate interviews well before the startling news of Prince’s death shocked the world on Thursday. Each of them had individual connections to and insights on the musician, but their shared language and perspective came shining through.
“The first time I ever head ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ and I heard the guitar solo, it just meant a lot to me. I was like, ‘Oh, that guy’s black and he’s playing guitar like that.’ And it was because of him that I really, really started getting into Jimi Hendrix. I was like, ‘Is there anybody else in the world, in this sphere of music, who is like this?’ And I had to go backwards in time to find it. It was Eddie Hazel from Funkadelic and Jimi Hendrix, and Prince was from that tradition.
“He was such a consummate, consummate professional. He was otherworldly in the best possible way. Absolutely one of the greatest. He defined so many different parts of my life, what I thought was cool, what I thought music should sound like. I’ve never seen anybody musically be so elegant and so raunchy and so adult and so playful all at the same time. He’s one of those guys. He’s like Bowie to me. Losing him is like losing Bowie.”
“It’s such a profound loss. Just really, really sad. He was really inspiring to artists everywhere, just because of his originality and his intense ability. I’m with everyone else processing this. And it does seem a linked tragedy that we lost Bowie and Prince in the same year. They had such an otherworldly spirit.”
Prince was much more than a prolific musician. Besides giving rise to the “Minneapolis Sound,” he also had an exceptional eye for spotting talent.