PRINCE ROGERS NELSON, 1958-2016

prince-planet-earth

^ the entire planet and all of its region were Prince’s musical playground

—- —- —-

It was in 1979 that I first saw Prince, at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. He was barely 21 years old but had already made a second album, epoynymously Prince, following a first LP named For You, whose sound I had already taken intensely to heart thanks to tracks like “Soft and Wet,” “Crazy for You,m” “Baby,” and “Just As Long As We’re Together.” The second LP was just as fierce — we all know its hits, “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” “Sexy Dancer,” “Why You Wanna Treat Me So bad” — and that night at the Paradise he performed them. And never again was music the same for me. He had footprint and a walk, as an R & B master must, and he had a voice all his own too : a high, febrile, feral falsetto half shriek, half tears, a high octave noise both sensuous and absolutely cold. It was a voice to break you,. or make you, or both, and in either order.

From there, Prince — he never used his full name, and often thereafter he cloaked his name in verbal denials and symbols, all in keeping with his break you or make you persona — –moved forward on his signature riff : clenched fist, squeezed guitar strings, skip steps and backfoot front walk, through song after song of loverboy ha ha’s and squeaky blah blah that somehow made you grin and giggle and imitate all of him, or as much of him as you could parse. “Dirty Mind,” “Controversy,” “Sexuality,” “Raspberry Beret,” “When Doves Cry,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” “1999,” “Little Red Corvette,” “I Would Die For U,” and, of course, “Purple Rain” — all of these spun Prince to the top of the love god mountain. And what a love god ! Majestic, never; wise cracking, always. Seducing you was, for Prince, an act of comedy and horsefeathers, slang and brag, tickle and guffaw.

Where soul men sounded righteous, Prince always sounded naughty: but despite the flutter and kerfuffle, Prince somehow sounded tender, too, and at the end of the day, sincere. Though you could never be sure, that soon, unexpectedly, he would rhythmically pull the verbal rug out from under.

Though every lick of his rhythms and each peep of is voice was his alone, his fiercely individual approach to both guitar and voice was as classic as the music of story-tel;ling itself. Those who have heard Blind Lemon Jefferson,. Blind Willie Johnson, Barbecue Bob, John Estes, John Lee Williamson, Jimmy Reed, Dr. Ross, Magic Sam, and R. L. Burnside will understand perfectly the solo showmanship tradition of inimitability of which Prince was as profound a master as any musician of our era.

Solo genius was not his only string. He was also the ultimate bandleader, as perfectionist and dazzling as his great predecessors in the big band swing to big band funk eras. Few of these, however, were led by guitarist-singers. Only Gatemouth Brown comes to mind. If you saw Brown perform, late in life, in his cowboy hat and flaunting his telecaster, you saw more than a little of what Prince was grounded in.

Since those first years, Prince’s music broadened and become unimaginably more ambitious : complex, extended, and visionary in the multiplexity manner of Funkadelic, Jimi Hendrix, and rock opera in general, from all of whom he borrowed concept without ever imitating their sound. Unlike these guitar-focused, psychedelic sources, Prince gave us an orchestral sound : perhaps a legacy from his Dad, a jazz band trumpet stalwart. His last album, Hit n Run Phase 2, shows off all of that, amidst his falsetto and his backfoot front step.

Prince died only yesterday, not yet reaching his 58th birthday. His death, from causes as yet unannounced, follows that of is protege Vanity, of the Vanity 6 girl group, whose blossomy sexuality epitomized his notion of story-tel;ling distortion. Vanity was also age 57 and had serious health issues, as Prince appears to have succumbed to as well.

There won’t be another Prince. The guitar-singer Black music icon seems lost to us amid the vocal croons and rapid mouths of hip hop, not to mention rendered obsolete by the digital stringwork of house music and techno.

His complete discography will keep your ears busy for a year at least. Find it at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_discography

— Deedee Freedberg / Feelin’ the Music

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