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Thursday, April 21, 2016

SPECIAL EDITION: Prince — an American original musical genius and more...

This is a special edition. Music news, FESTIVALS, and events are in the UPDATED edition originally published April 16 and available at a separate click.



★ Friday, April 22, NASA released an image of "The Purple Nebula," in memory of Prince.

★ Saturday morning, April 23, when the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery opened in Washington, D.C., visitors discovered a new addition to its collection -- a portrait of Prince. We do not know if the Gallery holds portraits of Johnny Cash, Bill Monroe, B.B. King, or Merle Haggard -- we intend to ask.


(Updated at 8:26 pm, 4-21-16)


by Larry Wines

We'll start in an esoteric place. Today's crop of innovative banjo players can trace their realization of the instrument's non-traditional potential to just two people: Bela Fleck and Prince.

Today, we lost one of them. And if you're thinking, "I won't take time to read this because it's not about a genre I care about," please don't be dismissive. Because this guy could play anything, every instrument you can think of, like David Lindley and a handful of people on this Earth.

And Prince absolutely knew and understood music and could very specifically envision the right person in the right place, like any classical conductor you could name.

Prince was found dead today at his estate and recording studio in Minnesota.

The President of the United States put-out a statement noting the shocking loss of "one of the most gifted and prolific musicians of our time."

Prince was full of surprises. No two of his albums were stylistically the same — and there were 39 of those albums over 37 years, his first at age 19. Sometimes he'd record with unconventional instrumentation, like horns and viola, sometimes things were all strings, but not what you'd expect. He has notable tracks with no bass, so the melody line can carry the day, or the artistry of the percussionist is clearly on display.

He really didn't like or respect rap or hip hop. His innovation often went in the direction of admiration for those who had come before him.

And really, the reason you don't know a lot of things about Prince is not because his genres were not folky, which they weren't, or because of the freaky gender-bending sex-imbued badaas character he sometimes enjoyed playing — as a game with the public and the media.

You don't know a lot of things about his musical genius because so much of him was unassuming and anything but grandstanding. Prince embodied the artist who pursues art for what it tells you about yourself. Not for what you can put up in lights and say "look at me."

Seven GRAMMYS, an OSCAR, a Golden Globe, inducted as a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 100 million records sold worldwide, number 27 on the all-time list of the top 100 recording artists, 39 albums over 37 years — plus a central role in calling-out exploitation, discrimination, and things that were just plain wrong. That includes fighting for artists rights and a lot more.

After-hours Eastern time, the New Yorker released next week's magazine cover: solid purple with big raindrops. Purple rain.

He was only 57 years old, still making music last month, after releasing his first recording in 1978. His passing is causing an all-day pre-emption of cable tv. In our time, when a new pop music phenom — mistakenly presumed to be "an artist" — is "a sensation" that's around and gone in three years, Prince is from another era, when there were stars who endured.

It's been a tough year for music icons. Before this, we lost Merle Haggard. Before that, David Bowie, and Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey, and the essential "fifth Beatle," George Martin.

What makes somebody influential? Artists of every genre owe a huge debt to Prince for taking-on the piratical business model of Big Music. It cost him plenty, including having to give-up using his name, so he could say "no" to the exploitation of big record labels — in his case, Warner Music. Changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol and writing "Slave" across his face were perceived and presented by corporate mainstream media as unbalanced or even insane. But it worked to bring public attention to the gross inequities of the music biz.

Only the comparatively obscure but landmark case that folk artist Michelle Shocked took to the Supreme Court had a greater impact on recording artists' rights; the Court agreed that her label was holding her in "involuntary servitude," banned as slavery by the 13th Amendment. But Prince's battle with Big Music showed how much more needed to be done.

"People want music when they want it, but who do they think it's going to come from if nobody is willing to pay the artist for creating it?" asked Brian Williams, in one of the most concise summations of the central, perhaps existential, problem of the music business.

Despite public misunderstanding in the pre-internet age about his "symbol guy" status, he remained innovative in and out of music. Before long, Prince was THE pioneer in digital online distribution of music, when hidebound execs simply cowered in fear. Yet, he was something of a control freak, so no one else was as perfectly positioned to achieve that technological breakthrough.

Who else could play Jimi Hendrix and James Brown while still being ideosyncratically a music master? He was enigmatic, and he embraced it, because that was Prince, being authentically himself.

All those and plenty more recognitions are part of the tributes coming out of the shock.

Guide contributor Michele Marotta worked with Prince when he first attained fame. She wrote this remembrance to share with readers:

"Prince's passing hit me like a thunderbolt this morning. I was on the freeway and had to pull over. Then spent the next ten minutes crying, and let the shock sink in.

"I first met Price in 1985. My sister, Karen, worked for his management company, Cavallo, Ruffalo and Fargnoli. Through this connection, I was fortunate enough to go on the controversial Purple Rain tour. Drugs and alcohol were not allowed. Anyone caught with or on either, was immediately dismissed.

"Prince was a unique individual. He was a perfectionist. He prayed before every show. And he wore purple lace. As a musician he was a professional in every sense of the word. He was also the only musician on his label given complete creative control.

"He and his ex-wife, Mayte, had a child that died shortly after birth. A tragedy for anyone, famous or not. I believe they divorced shortly thereafter.

"Like the creative person he was, he wrote music to get through the pain.

"He was eccentric, which was part of his charm. Prince was a kind, generous and giving person. He was a musical genius and he will be missed."

Michele is among the many musicians shedding tears today. News sources and social media are filled with proof of that.

Prince music videos were among the pioneers of that art form in the '80s. On MSNBC, they've been running all day between interviews with musicians.

As known as he is for his own distinctive performance art, he goes beyond it. There is so much there. He wrote "Manic Monday" for the Bangles, and "Nothing Compares to You" for Sinead O'Connor. He said he grew-up listening to the Bangles, though he was making his own mark when they became famous.

He was such a contradiction, an enigma, in so many ways. Puritanical about touring band members using drugs. Prayer and spirituality. And the most blatantly scandalous sexy lyrics of the time.

Rachel Maddow reminisced, "Years before the music industry came up with those little warning stickers, Prince's label decided they needed to affix something... just for his records. Now, as a kid growing-up in the '80s and going to record stores, those little stickers could not have been a more powerful attractant. I wanted those records sooo much. Scandalized parents had everything to do with it. Those little stickers could not have been a better marketing tool."

"He was unconventional, wearing flamboyant clothes, hair, and makeup. He was a heterosexual man who was never afraid to explore the female parts of his own character," noted National Correspondent Joy Reid on MSNBC.

So much there. Prince wasn't passive when he saw opportunity for people to be involved. And life always demanded passion. If you attended a Prince concert, you were expected to be on your feet as a participant.

In New York City, the marquis of the Hard Rock Café is now displaying lyrics from "Purple Rain." Outside the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, people are dancing to Prince's "I Would Die for You."

Last year, Prince gave a free concert in Baltimore after the death by police of Freddie Gray — the artist trying to bring that torn city back together. After the Trayvon Martin tragedy, Prince founded and very quietly funded "Yes We Code" to teach high-end high tech industry skills to underprivileged young people.

Prince always sought-out talent. Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman worked closely with him before and after doing iconic tv show themes on their own, including "Crossing Jordan," where they also wrote memorable material for Jill Hennessey to perform on acoustic guitar as part of the story lines. Novi Novog played viola on his tours and records; before that, Novi played for Frank Zappa. When you see a booking around town for STRING PLANET, that's Novi Novog and Larry Tuttle. Very innovative stuff. Go see them.

Thinking and writing about Prince inescapably brings freely-associating thoughts. Perhaps he'd like that. He certainly causes it.

Saturday Night Live knew that, too, through several casts and many years, parodying the reclusive, elusive star and his remarks (when he made them), that often seemed astutely incongruous or mildly scandalous.

Rev. Al Sharpton was a Prince friend who went on tv today to relate how Prince supported a lot of civil rights causes and never wanted credit. And if that sounds like an odd association, Sharpton worked for music icon James Brown for more than 20 years.

CNN went to an all-day Prince tribute. Brian Williams hijacked MSNBC's broadcast schedule for hours, evicting the bloviating politicians and echo chamber of pundits. Both cable channels got music luminaries on the phone —including Aretha Franklin with Williams and Stevie Wonder with Anderson Cooper — and many more flocked to cite Prince's influence on their careers.

Susan Rogers engineered some of his most notable recordings. She notes, "Very few artists have worn the 'triple crown' of public fame, artistic respect, and critical acclaim. Duke Ellington was one... Prince was one who wore that triple crown."

Rogers continues, "When we were on the Purple Rain tour, we would do special shows during the day for handicapped kids..., people who couldn't come to the regular shows at night. He would do that on the condition that the press not be told. I have heard from many artists who say he kept their careers alive by funding their tours. As we hear more stories coming in, people will be amazed at who this man really was."

Prince's other principal engineer, Chuck Zwicky, said, "He was gifted and talented and innovative." And to emphasize what "innovative" really means, he added, "We used to say at the end of the day that if something wasn't f'ed up, it wasn't a Prince record."

The Recording Academy® — the GRAMMY organization — released a statement that reads:

"Our GRAMMY® family is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of seven-time GRAMMY Award winner Prince. Today, we remember and celebrate him as one of the most uniquely gifted artists of all time. Never one to conform, he redefined and forever changed our musical landscape. Prince was an original who influenced so many, and his legacy will live on forever. We have lost a true innovator and our sincerest condolences go out to his family, friends, collaborators, and all who have been impacted by his incredible work."

— Neil Portnow President/CEO, The Recording Academy.

Prince was a vegan. He drove people crazy on tour with his Jehovah's Witness religion. Beyond that, he was deeply spiritual and so private he was accused of being reclusive.

Many people who knew him are noting, as Brian Williams is emphasizing, that the unreleased catalog of his recordings is overwhelmingly enormous. Talk will be abundant about what it will take to release the material that Prince didn't.

Alicia Quarles, a freelance entertainment writer, notes that he was working on a book about his life, edited by his brother. "Too many people around him would have said 'yes' to everything, and he needed someone who could be harsh and critical and tell him 'no,' so he would only allow his brother to be involved with his book," she said.

Quarles named Tavis Smiley, Dave Chapell, Eddie Murphy, and Tamron Hall as people with whom he was close.

"Prince made pancakes for Eddie Murphy and his brother after they played a basketball game. Growing up, Prince was quite an athlete," she added.

Van Jones, a CNN political commentator, spoke of Prince's athleticism, too. "He could absolutely kill you at table tennis, and talking trash the whole time."

Jones also said, "He was one of the funniest people I've ever known. He could have you on the verge of peeing yourself, you were laughing so hard. He could do so many things."

Prince wrote "Nothing Compares to You" for Sinead O'Connor. He grew-up listening to the Bangles. "He was unconventional, wearing flamboyant clothes, hair, and makeup. He was a heterosexual man who was never afraid to explore the female parts of his character," noted Joy Reid on MSNBC.

If you attended a Prince concert, you were expected to be on your feet as a participant.

In New York City, the marquis of the Hard Rock Café is now displaying lyrics from "Purple Rain." Last year, Prince gave a free concert in Baltimore after the death by police of Freddie Gray —the artist trying to bring that torn city back together. After the Trayvon Martin tragedy, Prince founded and very quietly funded "Yes We Code," to teach high tech industry skills to underprivileged young people.

James Peterson, Prof. of Africana Studies at Lehigh University, cited the importance of Prince's presentation and how he enabled fans to comfortably embrace it. "With rap and hip hop pushing a model of hypermasculinity for black entertainers, [Prince] was invested as an artist in being the most prolific artist he could be... in a way that transcends anyone's stereotypes and expectations."

Jersey has the Boss. Seattle has Heart and Nirvana. L.A. had the Doors and the Byrds. Minnesota has long been just as proud of Prince.

Tonight, on the facing banks of the Mississippi in Minnesota's Twin Cities, baseball's Twins have their stadium bathed in purple. So do both downtowns, where thousands of Prince fans have congregated to hear local bands play his music, all organized on five hours' notice from a local radio station. Appropriately, all is bathed in purple. And it's raining.

Today we lost an artist and an authentically American original. A man whose influence transcends music. A man who positively gifted American and global culture.


Music news, FESTIVALS, and events are in the UPDATED edition originally published April 16 and available at a separate click.

Much more, soon, on other topics.


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♪ The ACOUSTIC AMERICANA MUSIC GUIDE endeavors to bring you NEWS and views of interest to artists everywhere, more specifically to musicians and the creative community and music makers and fans of acoustic and Folk-Americana music, both traditional and innovative forms. From the deepest roots to today’s acoustic renaissance, that’s our beat. We provide a wealth of resources, including a HUGE catalog of acoustic-friendly venues, and schedules and inside info on FESTIVALS and select performances in Southern California in venues monumentally large and intimately small and cozy. We cover workshops and other events for artists and folks in the music industry, and all kinds o’ things in the world of acoustic and Americana and accessible classical music. From washtub bass to musical spoons to oboe to viola to banjo to squeezebox, from Djangostyle to new-fangled-old-time string band music, from sweet Cajun fiddle to bluegrass and pre-bluegrass Appalachian mountain music to all the roots of the blues and where the music is headed now.
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