30 Jul 2017

Lisa Coleman on the legend that was Prince

From Sunday Morning, 11:40 am on 30 July 2017
Prince and the Revolution

Prince and the Revolution Photo: Warner Music

Lisa Coleman from the band behind Prince, The Revolution, and of Wendy & Lisa fame, talks to Wallace Chapman about Prince and his legacy.

The first time Lisa Coleman met Prince, she lit up a cigarette in his car, which she later found out was a ‘no-no’.

It was 1980 and Prince was picking Lisa up from the airport in Minneapolis, so she could come to Paisley Park and audition as keyboardist in his band The Revolution.

“It was actually kind of a funny story because we were both very shy people. He and I got into his car and there was very little conversation.”

Prince later said in a story he’d tell about Lisa, that she never looked him in the eye, “And so he thought I was kind of weird.”

“We got to his house and he just pointed downstairs and said, ‘there’s a piano down there, go make yourself comfortable,’ and unbeknownst to me, he called his manager and said, ‘I don’t think this is going to work out,’ which was really funny because both of us were too shy to talk to each other.

“But then he heard me playing the piano downstairs and he told his manager, ‘hang on a second – never mind,’ and he hung up the phone, came downstairs and picked up a guitar.”

“So we played together and fell in love, and the rest is history.”

Lisa, who is also well-known as part of the duo Wendy & Lisa, went on to be a key member of Prince’s Revolution, gaining international fame with the release of Purple Rain.

Lisa Coleman

Lisa Coleman Photo: Alchetron free encyclopedia

A deluxe version of the landmark 1984 album has just been re-issued including a double CD with 11 previously unreleased songs.

Lisa says the newly released tracks weren’t ever really destined for the Purple Rain album: “The tracks we [recorded] because we were always working – Prince was really one of the most prolific writers of our time … we just always were recording new songs.

I think ‘Wonderful Ass’ might have even come a little bit later than most of the Purple Rain material.”

“’Electric Intercourse’ was a ‘maybe’ … but I think he was holding out for a stronger ballad. And the ballad that happened to be better than ‘Electric Intercourse’ happened to be ‘The Beautiful One’ … It was just such an incredible piece of work it had to go on the album and ‘Electric Intercourse’ got booted off.”

Lisa recalls recording the duet ‘Wonderful Ass’ with Prince: “I remember it perfectly well, just because it’s such a humorous kind of song and it was fun to sing.

“I always kind of remembered that and kept it in my heart all these years, as one of my favourites … it’s a great melody, a great groove, and it’s something just kind of silly to say.”

Lisa’s band mate from Wendy & Lisa – Wendy Melvoin – was also a member of The Revolution. Prince was enamoured with her guitar playing: “Oh absolutely. Again, the timing was just perfect – Dave Dickerson who was in the band decided for whatever reason to quit the band, and Wendy happened to be visiting me on the road.

“She was playing the guitar in my hotel room and Prince came walking down the hall and heard the guitar playing … so he knocked on the door, like, ‘Who’s playing in there?’ And I said, ‘Oh it’s my friend Wendy.’ And he came in and played something and she just strummed some beautiful chords.

“The next day, she came to sound check … and once [Prince] heard her play funk guitar, then he was killed on the spot right there!”

Wendy joining The Revolution was like the last piece of the puzzle falling into place: “Once he had her in the band, he was just so inspired.

“She brought that last bit of colour to the band that made us somehow bigger and just more realised as not just a funk band [but] as a kind of everything band. We played rock and soul and funk and everything all mixed together, and it just seemed to work.”

The band rehearsed every day. Not only did they rehearse music, they rehearsed body movements and choreography. Lisa compares it to going to the gym.

“It was a total mind/body workout … we become just one thing … and we all moved together … it was a lot of work and it just became second nature.”

The band were so tight that guests, such as Madonna and Bruce Springsteen, would find it difficult to perform live with them.

According to Lisa, Prince would often be ‘tricky’ on stage: “We were so tight and Prince had hand signals for us … so Prince, behind Bruce Springsteen’s back was giving us all the cues … [and] naturally the guy’s trying to solo, and the band’s doing all these turnarounds and horn punches … [it was like] ‘c’mon that’s not fair!’”

More about Prince from RNZ Music