Elusive Prince talks music before show

Gary C.W. Chun



A light blue laminated sign reading “lakshmi,” leads back stage at the Blaisdell Arena, to Prince. It refers to the Hindu goddess of power, beauty and prosperity, in both the material and spiritual sense.

The guarded but still congenial musician has taken a moment before yesterday’s late afternoon rehearsal to talk briefly about his music— and nothing more. His rules: No notebooks, no pens, no tape recorders.

While it’s evident that he’s taken “lakshmi” to heart—as a musician, bandleader and fiercely independent businessman who keeps in touch with fans through his NPG Music Club Web site—he deflects comment about his Jehovah’s Witnesses studies, saying simply, “It’s a personal matter.”

Other than that, he’s willing to talk about the music that will be presented on Oahu tonight and Maui Friday. Judging by the elaborate stage setup that will take up nearly half the arena’s floor space, and the sporadic bursts of music being rehearsed backstage, it should be one heck of a show.

Prince has just finished touring Australia and Hong Kong, has a DVD out that documents his show at the Aladdin in Las Vegas, and his latest album on his own label, “N.E.W.S.,” is among the Best Pop Instrumental Album Grammy nominees.

He’s shopping for a new label to help distribute his music to a wider audience, although he will retain all publishing rights. Once, as he says, “the record industry is put to death,” he’ll probably release more exploratory material that hasn’t seen the “legal” light of day, including, hopefully, sessions with the late Miles Davis.

In the meantime, he’s surrounded again by a crack New Generation band that includes two formidable alto sax players in longtime James Brown sideman Maceo Parker and Dutch-born guest Candy Dulfer.

When Prince is not performing, he and the band are jamming. “It’s like what we did in Australia and Hong Kong—after a show, we’d set up again at a nearby club and keep jamming.” He also likes to vary the concert set list nightly, allowing the rest of his “leaders” room to stretch and solo.

But don’t expect to hear the earlier, more sexually explicit songs he’s made famous. He says he’s grown, not only as a musician, but as a person, and that material doesn’t reflect who he is now.

When I say that I thought he was channeling Ray Charles during his “Strange Relationship” performance on the DVD, he laughs and says “somebody else mentioned that to me.

“It’s not like I’m doing it on purpose. And while I think I may have met him briefly earlier in my career, drawing inspiration from him and others like him, I don’t want to feel that my music has to be compared to theirs. When I work with guys like John and the rest of the band away from the stage, I want us to feel this is our music, and no one else’s, that we’re working on.”