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In 2017 David Bowie fans were treated to some very special shows when past members of Bowie’s band gathered to perform the music of the rock legend. Now fans of Prince have the opportunity to experience a similar, extraordinary celebration when the Nothing Compares 2 Prince show comes to Melbourne and Sydney in a world exclusive concert event. NOTHING COMPARES 2 PRINCE is a celebration of the music of Prince performed by musicians and singers that performed alongside him at various times of his career and will premiere in Australia a week after the anniversary of Prince’s passing (April 21st, 2016) – playing at the Sydney Opera House on the 27th April and then play in Melbourne at Hamer Hall on the 29th April 2018.

Included in the lineup of artists performing in the tribute will be Prince’s sister Tyka Nelson (singer and multi-instrumentalist), Cassandra O’Neal (Prince’s MD 2009-2016), Tori Ruffin (lead guitarist with The Time), Jellybean Johnson (drums, Purple Rain, The Family), Shelby J (singer, NPG for 10 years), Liv Warfield (singer NPG), Nik West (bass, 4 studio recordings with Prince), Stokley Williams (The Revolution, Mint Condition), Ricky Peterson (keyboards, staff producer at Paisley Park), and Adrian Crutchfield, BK Jackson and Lyn Grissett of the NPG Hornz.

Assigned to bring this fabulous group together musically is Minneapolis mainstay and multi-instrumentalist St Paul Peterson, who will act as musical director for the event. St Paul was hand picked to appear in the 1984 Grammy Award winning film Purple Rain as the new keyboard player in the acclaimed funk group The Time. He shortly thereafter contributed his keyboard and bass skills to the group’s platinum album Ice Cream Castle, the infectious singles Jungle Love and The Bird. Prince later recruited him to front The Family, now known as fDeluxe.

Ahead of the Nothing Compares 2 Prince concerts, ST PAUL PETERSON spoke to Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips.

St.Paul, you come from an extraordinary musical family. Your brother Ricky, who was just here with Stevie Nicks is also performing in this Prince tribute. Your mum and dad performed, your sisters sing. Your family is part of the fabric of the Minneapolis music scene. What do you remember about growing up at home in regard to music?
I am actually sitting in my childhood home now. I bought it from my brothers and sisters when my mum passed away. There is so much history in this house. We’ve done a few things to it but the basement is exactly as she left it. There have been so many rehearsals here from the 1950s up until I had one two days ago. If those walls could talk … it’s an incredible place and I am so lucky to be able to have it. Memories of being the youngest Peterson? I just remember music and love and family and that’s still so important to me. I love my brothers and sisters and they have taught me so much and have totally been my biggest influence in music. I am so grateful that I can bring my brother Ricky Peterson to Australia one more time to play in this great concert that we’re doing to pay tribute to Prince called Nothing Compares 2 Prince.

How and when did you get into funk music?
That’s a great question because you would think that guy from the suburbs of Minneapolis wouldn’t be into that but you have to understand that my house was all about jazz, my mother and father were the great studio musicians of their time. They were the hit musicians in Minneapolis St Paul in the 1940s. They loved and gravitated towards black music. When they had kids, jazz was a huge influence, then jazz turned into RnB, RnB turned into rock n roll and all the other influences my brothers and sisters would bring into the house. By the time it trickled down to me I was listening to a community supported radio station called KMOJ, the only black station in town. I loved Earth Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, Tony Williams and Miles Davis, so it was an eclectic thing. That’s what I cut my teeth on and grew up trying to pick up chicks with … Stevie Wonder songs. I can say that because I met my wife playing those songs.

Minneapolis is quite famous for it’s funk scene, I guess mainly due to Prince …
I guess it is but you gotta remember, it depends on what decade you are talking about. Ten or twenty years before that, it was Bob Dylan. My brother Billy played bass on Blood On The Tracks by the way. Before that it was the Andrews Sisters. At the same time as funk music, we had a punk scene here with The Replacements and The Suburbs. Then there were bands like Soul Asylum and now we have a great rap scene. It is a very eclectic melting pot of music here.

Sounds like Minneapolis and Melbourne have a lot in common?
That’s funny you know because not only is the topography downtown similar in that it is situated around a river, musically I think you are right too. I’ve been to Melbourne many times and I love it.

Then you got involved with Prince with The Time and the Purple Rain movie, quite a life changing experience for you …
Oh my god, you have to understand that I was playing bars with members of my family in my high school days. When I graduated high school, I was working 6 days a week in a frickin’ bar. I was just trying to work it all out and that’s when I got the incredible opportunity to audition for the film Purple Rain but that was for keyboards. I thought, I can do this, being cocky you know. I went in and you have no fear when you are seventeen. Next thing you know I got the job and I’m hanging out with Prince and he’s picking out swatches of clothing for the Purple Rain movie … what an incredible opportunity I had at that age.

Are you able to describe rehearsals? How would it begin and what kind of structure would it have?
There were two different periods for me, there was one with the Time and Prince was not around. That was run by a guy named Jesse Johnson who is an incredible singer and guitar player and he came from the school of discipline, like Prince and James Brown. If you didn’t do it right you got fined or you’d get a tongue lashing, so going in there at the age of seventeen I had a lot to learn. I was a fairly mature musician at seventeen, just because I had grown up in such a musical family but we were more about bebop and improvisational stuff. The Time’s music and Prince’s music was very precise and particular. That training that I got from my family did not necessarily coincide with what I needed to accomplish with The Time. So I got a whole new education at the Prince university during that time. Now I look back and understand why they did that, how they did that and the precision they were looking for and in a short amount of time, so a rehearsal like that like is … do it again … do it again! It was repetition, making sure the groove was good, making sure you look good. Looking cool, not stupid and doing my moves and being funky at the same time. I owe a lot to Jessie Johnson. I don’t want to indicate in any way that it was a bad experience because it was not. That’s what a Time rehearsal would be like.

A Family rehearsal … Prince would be there sometimes. He would help out with the structure of the songs. He’d help me out with movements, that kind of thing. He’d do some patches for the keyboard players. He was very hands on. I remember distinctly a rehearsal at this warehouse where we would video tape stuff. We’d send video tapes back and forth to each other, kind of ribbing each other in friendly competition as to to who was down and funky. That was always fun, so that was what a Prince rehearsal was like… a little bit more laid back. By that time, I knew what he was looking for.

How particular was he with sounds, tones or the kind of gear being used?
He was really good at programming the Oberheim synths. He was inspired by sounds. He found a keyboard called the Yamaha DX7 and if you listen to The Family record, it’s all that is. There are so many DX7 sounds on that record but he used them as only Prince could. He would goof with the sounds either through pedals or manipulation of the envelopes or modulation or whatever the case may be. It was just the next step after the Oberheim for him. He loved being a sound designer, he was great at it. If we were having trouble recreating it, he’d come up and help out and make it sound good.

You’re coming to Australia in late April for the NOTHING COMPARES 2 PRINCE tour. Your brother Ricky is coming out on keys. Cassandra O’Neal plays keys. You play keys. Nik West plays bass, you also play bass … how are you going to work out who does what in this show?
You should see my spreadsheet! They called me quite a while ago, this has been in planning for a while. You know I have been coming to Australia for a while, I love being there. It’s an honour to be asked to be the MD for this but when I said yes, I thought how am I going to organise this and what songs are we going to pick? Who is going to do what and what are the players going to be? I tell you I was a little intimidated at first but my job is to be organised, make suggestions and keep my mouth shut and let these incredible musicians be who they are. I’d call them up and say this is what I’d like you to do, this is what I’d like you to sing, this is what I’d like you to play … how do you feel about that? They were like … cool, sounds good to me, let’s go! There is this link between Prince alumni that .. I mean I haven’t worked with a lot of these people … ever … but there is this incredible kinship and bond that we share because we are Prince alumni that no one can take away from us. I already know what these people can do. I am already fans of them all from watching what they did with Prince. To be able to put a band like this together, that spans his whole career … no one has done that and that’s what makes this concert so special.

I know what you mean about that Prince family kinship. I saw it on display in New York a year or so ago when I saw Shelby J, Liv Warfield and Judith Hill perform together. There was a real sense of family going on.
Right! It’s important and you can’t fake that camaraderie that we share, even though we haven’t played a note together. I called Shelby on the phone and I love her already. The minute I spoke to her, I knew we were going to be friends forever. That’s something that Prince knew, he would match up people that on paper, might not look good together but he knew their personality, their musicality. We would put a band together … take for example The Family, now known as fDeluxe. Do you think Prince knew that knew 35 years later that we’d be still playing together or that Maurice Day and The Time would stay together. He had an uncanny ability to not just put bands together but … these people are my friends. We still play music together and have them over for Christmas … we do that! To be ambassadors for Prince’s legacy, we don’t take that lightly … the NPG, I love those people, some of my favourite people in the world and I just saw them two weeks ago. Sheila E is a friend, The Revolution, these people are my friends forever and we are all ambassadors.

Shelby J photo by Jason Rosewarne

What does it mean to have Prince’s sister Tyka on this tour?
I think it is really, really incredibly cool to have Tyka with us. My brother Ricky produced quite a few songs on her record. For her to be able to share her brother’s music I think is huge for the fans, huge for her and we love having her with us. I think it means a lot to us that Tyka would put her stamp of approval on this knowing that we don’t take this lightly.

How much consideration has there been in regard to the gear and the sounds that you’ll be using on this tour?
Having the right tones and right sounds is super important. It’s crazy what you can into a laptop now. The virtual instruments now are so incredible. I have a buddy helping by the name of Corey, just to do the pre production with me because I’ve got to delegate it otherwise I’ll go crazy. He is such a Prince aficionado. He knows what these sounds are. These sounds that we have coming out of these virtual instruments are incredible and these musicians toured with Prince, so they know what they are supposed to do, they know what the sounds are. It is important that we get it right. It’s also important that we show our own personalities in there as well. We’re spanning many years, we’re playing the hits but we also want to make sure the musicians involved are playing the music that they played with Prince. We are definitely covering a lot of ground and there are going to be some cool surprises. We can’t wait to come down and play.

NOTHING COMPARES 2 PRINCE – tickets on sale now.


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