Prince Talks Drums

Billy Amendola



Prince, The Symbol, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, The Artist... whatever he wants to be called, Prince is a multi-talented superstar. He is truly one of the mest groundbreaking artists of the last hundred years. And not because he’s sold millions of records, won a few Grammys, or starred in a hit movie (which won him an Oscar for Purple Rain’s soundtrack). It’s because he’s a serious musician.

Most people don’t realize that, along with being a gifted songwriter, vocalist, guitarist, and keyboardist, Prince is also a fine drummer. Did you know that he programs the drum parts, as well as plays drums—or combines the two—on most of his recordings? Well, we were thrilled to get Prince’s thoughts on our favorite topic.

MD: When did you first start playing drums?

Prince: I was twelve years old when I first started playing drums. I learned on a big box of newspapers. I kicked the box 2 imitate the bass drum and played the flaps 2 imitate the hi-hat and snare.

MD: What makes you decide whether to program drums or play them live?

Prince: My impatience usually dictates that decision. Whichever the engineer plugs in first.

MD: If you do decide on live drums, what makes you decide to play them yourself or bring in another drummer?

Prince: Basically the same answer as the question before, although when John [Blackwell] is in town, he always gets the call.

MD: Do you think being a songwriter has helped you as a drummer?

Prince: Yes, absolutely.

MD: How about as far as being a multi-instrumentalist?

Prince: Yes, being a multi-instrumentalist, I tend not 2 b greedy on the drums, not wanting to overshadow the other colors on the track. One of the things I’m trying 2 teach John is 2 hear the finished production in his head while he’s recording it. This technique allows him 2 play the right thing at the right time.

MD: Do you think being a drummer has helped you as a songwriter?

Prince: No. One of the misconceptions about modern music is that a funky beat alone constitutes a song.

MD: How do you like to record your drum tracks?

Prince: That’s a trade secret; I can’t give up that information.

MD: What makes a drummer funky?

Prince: One’s complete understanding of James Brown.

MD: What was your first impression of John Blackwell the first time you saw him play?

Prince: That he was in desperate need of a tailor! Second impression: that people will remember his name ‘til times indefinite.

MD: What makes John unique?

Prince: His ability 2 take direction without a demanding ego. His understanding of money. (He plays 4 the love of the art, so he’ll end up the richest of all!) His respect 4 the drum’s history, And he doesn’t break the drum stools we buy him!