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It wasn’t until my flight from Los Angeles touched down at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International, just after noon, that I let myself get excited. I was allowed: I’m certain I was the only person onboard who’d come to meet with Prince.

October 1991. After more than a decade of hit singles, multi-platinum albums, sell-out concert tours, Grammys and a 1985 Best Original Song Score Oscar for the acclaimed “Purple Rain,” Warner Brothers released Prince’s 13th album, Diamonds And Pearls.

At the time, musician and label were at odds over, among other things, how much material Prince could release at once and when (Warner said no to the ever prolific artist’s desire to routinely release double and triple-album sets), and the label’s promotion of his records, or lack thereof. To that end, Warner held that their situation wasn’t helped by an artist who grants so few interviews.

Prince’s compromise was his agreement to meet with some reporters. Thus, one morning I received a phone call at the Hollywood office of Black Beat, the fan magazine I edited at the time, from a PR man who said Prince, his client, wanted to fly me to Paisley Park in Minneapolis. There wouldn’t be an interview, the publicist was quick to add; I’d watch Prince rehearse his current band, New Power Generation, for a series of concert dates. I’d hang out at the rehearsal and write about what I saw and heard.

I listened in quiet exhilaration to the man’s proposition. When he was finished, I politely declined.

What was an innocent, professional offer in the hands of a unknowing publicist I felt could also be a trap. In fact, I was sure that Prince was going get me to Minneapolis and punk me.

See, in 1984, I wrote the first book ever about him (the first book I’d written, too), an unauthorized, hastily created quickie paperback bio printed in a font large enough to serve as an eye test that Perigee Books commissioned in time for the premiere of the movie “Purple Rain.” Alan Leeds, Prince’s road manager during the period, told me Prince had said of the book, “Well, I don’t hate it.” “From Prince,” Leeds added, “that’s a compliment.”

Maybe. But that didn’t change the fact that from the beginning of his career, Prince and I shared a fragile, whimsical relationship.

I first encountered him in May 1977, one Saturday afternoon backstage at the Los Angeles Coliseum where I was covering L.A.’s first Funk Festival for Soul Newspaper. Soul publisher Regina Jones had dispatched members of its staff—photographers Bruce Talamon, Bobby Holland and Michael Jones; I don’t remember if Soul writer Leonard Pitts, Jr., came out—-to cover the story from all angles.

The line-up for the all-day summer affair included Rick James, whose debut Motown album,Come Get It, featuring his first hit single, “You And I,” was just out; the Bar-Kays, the Brothers Johnson, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, Chaka Khan and Rufus, the Isleys 3+3, and headliners George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic

The Festival, the largest assemblage of Black music stars at the venue since 1972’s legendary “Wattstax” benefit concert, happened during a heady period in late ‘70s R&B/pop, when soloists, vocal groups and self-contained bands all flourished. In ‘77 Stevie Wonder’s Songs In the Key of Life was going strong. Marvin Gaye hit with the funky “Got To Give It Up.” The Emotions broke through with “Best Of My Love,” while L.T.D., featuring Jeffrey Osborne, scored with “(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again.” The O’Jays, Natalie Cole and Thelma Houston all enjoyed chart hits.

Meanwhile, the continued success of veteran super bands the Ohio Players, Earth, Wind & Fire and the Commodores paved the way for new self-contained units such as the Norman Whitfield-produced Rose Royce, which officially debuted with the urban comedy movie soundtrack “Car Wash,” and Quincy Jones protégés the Brothers Johnson, who had a huge single with a cover of guitarist Shuggie Otis’ “Strawberry Letter 23.” Out of this wonderful era of Soul, funk, rock and roll, jazz and gospel emerged Prince.

That Time Prince Invited Me To Hang Out At Paisley Park  was originally published on blackamericaweb.com

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