Can you think of any other artist that has been that obsessed with recording at such a torrid pace?
No. I can't think of any other artist who has ever done what he's done. His competition at that time was Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Madonna. Now there have been other artists since that have seemingly done it all in the studio. But they don't really do it all. They are not writing, producing and arranging all of their material. And playing every instrument and writing music for movies at the same time and writing for other artists. Prince was doing all this and designing every aspect of his live show. He even designed his own clothes. To do all this and be on top for as long as he was and to have that many hit records and exercising that much control and power and that much anonymity over that many aspects of your music there's no precedent for that.
You are not dealing with someone who wakes up and does the dishes, huh?
[Laughs] That's true! When I first got to Prince's home it was a typical split level suburban house and the studio was in a bedroom downstairs right below his living room. So his piano was right above me. While I was downstairs in his bedroom for a week installing his console and doing his wiring, Prince was just waiting for his studio to be built, and I would hear him on the piano playing over and over again. I heard him play an early version of "The Beautiful Ones" more than any other song. He was just working it out over and over again. It was a powerful theme for him in his playing. It was really a privilege to hear him play these great songs. He would sit down at the piano and just play.
What was a typical recording session with Prince like during the Purple Rain era?
A typical session for Prince was when we started a song from scratch we typically didn't leave the studio until it was mixed and printed. No one else did that. But Prince did that for every song. So if we came in and we started a song from scratch we would either do the drum machine or live drums first. Then we might bring in members of his band. But usually he would finish an entire song without any help. We would not leave until everything was overdubbed. When I officially became Prince's engineer I would usually be mixing it as we went along. He changed his method of recording after Paisley Park was built because he could finally use automation. But most of the time I was with Prince it was very old school.
The only time we would remix something after the fact is when the original track was cut live like in the case of "Let's Go Crazy" and subsequent records like "Mountains." And of course we would remix tracks that were recorded live by the mobile truck. We would bring it back in the studio, fix it and mix it. That was the case with "Purple Rain" and a few other tracks on that album.
Did you have a hand at recording Purple Rain's film score as well?
Even though I came in late on the project, I was doing quite a bit of work on the album and the movie. In addition to sequencing Purple Rain and taking it to mastering, I helped with recording the incidental music for the film. I was hearing it all as it was coming together.
Was there a sense that you were working on a game-changing project?
There was definitely a sense that the Purple Rain soundtrack and entire project was noteworthy. We had no idea that this thing was going to sell how many millions of copies that it did. But there was a sense that if they hadn't noticed Prince before they would notice him now. And he had songs that didn't make it on the album like "Wonderful Ass," which was on a tape that was just sitting there in his room when I joined him as an employee. He had those great [Purple Rain b-sides] like "17 Days," a song I loved! He had so much material. That was probably his most fertile period. And really good stuff. I was disappointed that his funk songs like "17 Days" didn't make it onto Purple Rain.
You engineered on the Purple Rain tour as well. What's your fondest memory?
We had a mobile recording truck at the Superdome in Louisiana. Imagine being a single-named artist and selling out two nights at a place that holds 60,000 people. That's where we recorded "4 The Tears In Your Eyes." This was an astonishing moment for me. I was on the side as the band was taking the stage and was hit by the sound of 60,000 people. I have never heard anything like that before. Prince and the stage looked so small in a place of that size. It was great just to realize what this guy had accomplished. After that we played Los Angeles, which was a big deal because you would see all of these celebrities backstage. I'm looking at Prince like, "Wow, you are the guy I go to work for everyday."
That had to be a humbling experience for everyone involved, right?
It really was. Prince was an output for recording and performing. That's all he did. But he didn't want to be backstage, and yet something remarkable happened at the Forum. Prince was held captive by Elizabeth Taylor! He didn't want to be talking to Elizabeth Taylor... not there; not after a sold-out show. But there he was. My ex-boyfriend John was also backstage. So I'm running around because we have the mobile truck there, too. John looked at Prince being talked to by Elizabeth Taylor and he saw a brother in trouble [laughs]. And John thought to himself, "I'm going to fall on the sword." So John jumped in between Prince and Elizabeth Taylor and did his best Quincy, Massachusetts, nutcase kid. He's screaming, "Prince, the show was wicked awesome! I took two hits of acid and smoked a big joint!"
That should have been a Dave Chappelle sketch.
It was hilarious! That was enough of a distraction where Prince could look at Taylor and go, "Well, nutcase in the room...what are you gonna do?" and make his escape. I never heard this until Prince told me that story afterwards. He was laughing when he told what happened. He said, "Man, that dude saved my life...I love that guy!"