Prince was a ‘genius,’ say musicians who played with him

Genius. Master.

Those are the words often used to describe Prince by several musicians who had the good fortunate to share a stage or studio with him.

And they all say they are better musicians having played with him.

Prince, a prolific singer, musician, songwriter and producer, died at 57.

Lil John Roberts has played with some of the biggest names in the business - Stevie Wonder, George Duke and Janet Jackson.

He also played one gig with Prince, whom he called “top of the chain.”

Roberts, a drummer who lives in Atlanta, played with Prince in 2005 during the NAACP Image Awards show during which Prince was honored.

So, what was it like to play with the master musician?

He was serious about his music, Roberts said. “If you were not on point,he would definitely let you know.”

However, he never saw that side of Prince. “I made sure I was on point. I’ve seen him deal with others who weren’t.”

For those slacking, he would “fire you or fine you. I know musicians who worked with him who were fine for mistakes during sound check, rehearsals or shows. One friend of mine, a former drummer, once got fined for wearing the wrong clothes out in the streets. If you know Prince, you know how he rolls. You always represented…When you represented him, you always had to be in character.”

Saxophonist Michael Phillips toured and worked in the studio with Prince for about a decade. Phillips, who lives in Portland, Ore., but still has a home in Atlanta, called Prince “a master of understanding the crowd. If something was not working, he would flip in a minute. All of a sudden they would get back into it. He had that kind of sensibility.”

He said also said Prince could be a tough boss, like one of his idols, James Brown. “He mirrored a lot of things after James Brown and James Brown was tough on his band.”

He constantly challenged his band. Phillips said Prince would let him and other musicians go out and do long solos.

“Prince was so bad, he would let you go out and do the baddest thing that you could do then come out and top that. He was secure in his musicianship. He would come out and slay them.”

He was the master of the big arenas, but simply flourished in the after parties.

“In the big shows, he was Prince the Artist,” said Phillips. “In the after parties he was Prince the musican. He would hop from drums, to guitar to bass and sing. It was his candy store.”

There were other sides of Prince as well.

He was soft spoken and very aware of what was happening in the world around.

“He had his pulse on certain things politically, from Trayvon Martin to municipalities not having instruments in the schools,” Phillips said. “He would quietly raise money for instruments. He was one of the first persons to expose me to global warming.”

He has a whimsical side. He might suddenly decide to rent out a movie theater for his band. Or after invite them out to listen to poetry.

“He’s mysterious and he has a lot of personality,” said Roberts, a native of Philadelphia. “He’s a jokester. He’s a funny guy. A prankster. He shows up in places you don’t expect. Then, you turn around and he’s disappeared.”

Looking back, Roberts said it was the experience of a lifetime to work with the master musician, singer, songwriter and producer. They didn’t talk a lot, but both had a mutual respect for each other and the music.

“He can play every instrument - the guitar, keyboards and he’s an awesome drummer as well. I feel honored just to have been in the presence of a genius like him. We jammed.”


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