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PRINCE AND THE
PURPLE RAIN ERA
1983 and 1984
ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD
Lanham • Boulder • New York • London
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Published by Rowman & Littlefield
A wholly owned subsidiary of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.
4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706
Unit A, Whitacre Mews, 26-34 Stannary Street, London SE11 4AB
Copyright © 2018 by Duane Tudahl
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any
electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems,
without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote
passages in a review.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Tudahl, Duane.
Title: Prince and the Purple rain era studio sessions : 1983 and 1984 / Duane
Description: Lanham : Rowman & Littlefield,  | Includes bibliographical
references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2017015244 (print) | LCCN 2017016761 (ebook) | ISBN
9781538105504 (electronic) | ISBN 9781538105498 (hardback : alk. paper)
Subjects: LCSH: Prince—Criticism and interpretation. | Rock music—United
States—1981–1990—History and criticism. | Prince—Chronology. | Prince.
Classification: LCC ML420.P974 (ebook) | LCC ML420.P974 T83 2017 (print) |
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017015244
The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of
American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper
for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992.
Printed in the United States of America
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Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
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NOTE ON RES EARCH
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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The music I make a lot of the time is reflective of the life I
Some musicians are forever linked with a specific recording studio: The Beatles
at Abbey Road, Elvis at Sun Records, and Hendrix at New York City’s Record
Plant. Often the studio helped define and shape the musicians, exposing them
to a vibe that brought out something timeless. Fleetwood Mac could have
recorded Rumours anywhere, but the Record Plant in Sausalito, California,
provided the womblike atmosphere that helped nourish their album of self-reflection. Recording at Big Pink in Upstate New York literally changed the direction of Bob Dylan’s career, just as time at Los Angeles’s Sunset Sound changed
the career of another Minnesota son. To most people, Prince is forever bonded
with Paisley Park, but before Paisley Park, the biggest albums of his career were
recorded at Sunset Sound Studios. In fact, his success from those sessions gave
him the financial strength necessary to build Paisley Park just outside Minneapolis, a studio patterned after elements from Sunset Sound.
This is an unprecedented look into Prince’s time in the recording studio at
the peak of his career. These are the stories behind the songs he released and a
revealing look at what he kept hidden from the world. This is his trip from cult
artist to one of the biggest stars in the world, told through the music he created
along the way.
Tragically, with Prince’s passing in April 2016 the focus on his career has
shifted from the promise of what was to come to the story of what he accomplished. The objective of this book isn’t to simply list what, where, and when
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his music was recorded during 1983 and 1984. The bigger goal is to explain
why, and hopefully give his music from this era some much-needed perspective
by placing it into the context of his life. Any events that take place outside of the
studio help weave a larger tapestry of these two years, reflecting light back to
his songs, because at the end of the day the music will be what is remembered,
and, like all great art, it lasts longer than the artist. The music makes the musician immortal.
This book is based on the memories of those who were there with him on
I’ve personally conducted several hundred hours of interviews with the band
members, singers, and anyone else associated with these sessions, including the
studio engineers who spent weeks alone with him watching his creative process.
In addition to this, I’ve been given access to more than seventy-five hours of
interviews conducted by Alan Freed for Per Nilsen and Uptown magazine. I’ve
also gathered hundreds of published quotes by practically everyone around
Prince during this period; I’ve allowed their own words to tell the tale and
corroborated their stories with hundreds of documents, including daily studio
work orders from Sunset Sound Studios, information from the Warner Bros.
vault, and various other sources that verified the specific dates and times, to put
this epic puzzle together piece by piece. Any date marked with a * is confirmed
by the Sunset Sound documentation. This book is not flawless, but it is the
most detailed record available of what transpired in the studios.
“[The recording studio] is his space,” explains Susannah Melvoin, who was
one of the few people permitted behind the closed door. “He’s never going to go
into your space and he’d rarely invite you into his, but his space is the only thing
that matters when it comes to his prowess and his ego and his ability.” I hope
that telling the story through the words of those who were in the room with him
gives this a more panoramic perspective. Of course, since the events chronicled
occurred more than three decades ago, there will be a fair share of Rashomonlike recollections, but I’ve tried to place everyone’s memories in the proper
context, and when there were major discrepancies, I’ve presented both sides,
generally favoring those that occurred closest to the actual events. Even Prince
himself contradicted many of his own stories in his quest to keep the mystery
alive. His cat-and-mouse games with reporters were entertaining, but trying to
figure out what was truth and what was hype is difficult. My journey as a funk
archivist has been frustratingly fun, and the human rewards have been more
than I imagined. The people I’ve worked with on this book were all open, honest, and helpful and have unearthed information never before published. I’ve
detailed more about everyone involved in the acknowledgements of this book.
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There are no hidden agendas in this manuscript. My goal was to tell the story
of Prince’s incredible rise from critical darling to superstar, but I wanted to do it
in a way that hadn’t been attempted, so the story is told by documenting his time
in the studio as a fly on the wall whenever possible. The more than 220 studio
dates for this book include music that ended up on Purple Rain, Around the
World in a Day, and multiple B-sides, along with various albums he’d release in
the years that followed. These sessions from the two-year period of 1983–1984
would also yield music for Apollonia 6, the Time, the Family, Sheila E., the
Bangles, Sheena Easton, Jill Jones, and Stevie Nicks, as well as numerous unreleased tracks. Each of these songs has a story, and the people who were involved
deserve to be recognized. “I have seen Prince write songs right before my eyes.
Great songs,” remembered his drummer Bobby Z. “He just has the gift. He’s a
true visionary, and long after people forget about all the other stuff, they’ll come
back to the music and realize what a genius he is.”2
Unlike other behind-the-scenes books about studio sessions involving famous musicians, when it comes to Prince it is important to also include as many
details as possible about his more than one hundred live performances and
countless rehearsals and sound checks during this two-year period, which in
turn inspired what was being recorded in the studio. “Prince was always recording,” explains his bass player Mark Brown (aka Brown Mark). “Didn’t matter
where we were. Our performances, our rehearsals, everything was always being
recorded. This guy has archives of stuff.”
“An idea might jump into his head, and if it’s an idea that sticks, he might
throw it in the middle of a song onstage,” detailed sax player Eric Leeds. “The
rest of the band might go, ‘That’s something we never heard before!’ He wants a
document of it right there, so he can say, ‘Okay, I know it’s there, when I need to
refer to that, it’s there on that night and I’ll check it out later, and it will be the center frame to write a new song.’ Very much the way James Brown used to work.”3
This book has been more than twenty years in the making, and along the
way many of those being interviewed have asked me if Prince was involved in
the book or if I’d interviewed him. Obviously, any insights he’d have would be
helpful, so I’ve tried to include as many quotes by him as possible, but I avoided
seeking his thoughts on this project because I am not sure how he would have
felt about some of his secrets being revealed. I can imagine his voice saying, “Ignore that man behind the curtain,” so I never contacted Prince or Paisley Park
about an interview for this book. My suspicions were confirmed in November
of 2013, when Prince was asked the following on Twitter: “Ever thought about
showing your work process in the studio? Rehearsal is one thing, but how songs
were made would be amazing.”
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His response was enlightening: “No. It’s 2 sacred.”4
What is covered in this book isn’t sacred, but it is a glimpse behind the scenes
at how a genius created his art and how events and the people closest to him
shaped his music. I don’t want to pull the curtain back and completely expose
the wizard. Instead, I’d like to think of this as just looking over his shoulder,
marveling at his craft. The stories behind these songs overflow with struggles,
frustrations, fights, love and lust (they both have four letters, but they’re entirely
different words), and emotional breakups, but also the joys and optimism of the
times. In the end, the result is one of the most prolific periods for any artist and
a high-water mark for Prince when it comes to the public’s reaction to his music.
Obviously there is no way I can re-create the period exactly, but I can get rid of
some of the mystery behind the birth of many of his songs. I hope the trade-off
for shining light on some of the dark corners of this story is that this book brings
these studio sessions alive for you. Do yourself a favor: Turn down the lights
and play the vocal version of “God” (B-side of “Purple Rain”) and imagine
Prince recording the piano and vocal in one take, then closing the lid and walking out of the studio without saying a word. I hope reading this book makes you
go back and listen to the 12-inch of “America” and visualize the entire Revolution smiling at each other while stepping forward and adding their parts to the
twenty-minute jam. I hope it makes you seek out The Family album, which Eric
Leeds considered “as much a Prince album as anything else he’s done.”5 I hope
it inspires you to purchase these tracks or at least blow the dust off your Prince
collection and listen to lost classics like “She’s Always in My Hair,” knowing
that he recorded it alone in the studio during a single session.
Find the classic Warner Bros. records from this period and play them while
Because of Prince’s passing, it is practically impossible to listen to his music
without looking through the prism of his absence. Prince touched many of us individually and his music spoke to us in our core, so his loss is extremely intimate
and, unfortunately, we will rarely have the chance to share the excitement of
hearing it again with crowds of other fans. As personal as it is, his music should
be celebrated, and the joy it creates should be shared. Perhaps understanding
his passion, his urgency, and his reasons for recording his songs will help you
emotionally reconnect with the music and let you experience the goose bumps
of hearing it all for the first time once again.
I want this book to create images for each of these songs that are a part of the
soundtrack to your life, and hopefully open the eyes of young musicians who
want to understand how it was done by someone who’d mastered the studio. It
was achieved by his hard work and dedication, and by surrounding himself with
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people who inspired him and supported his dream. Prince has gone on record
many times about not being interested in reflecting on his past. In 2014 he told
Mojo magazine, “I don’t need to look back. I know what happened.”6
Hopefully after reading this, you’ll know a little bit more about what happened, and why it was important.
Dig if you will . . .
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