Like smoke in a crowded saloon, these four words hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity, as my mind struggled to make sense of this most surreal, life moment. There I was, standing in a cold, curtained off dressing room area, trying so desperately to keep my cool, to act as if this was just another conversation in just another backstage room on just another Friday night. But, it was no use. This was not just another conversation in just another backstage room on just another Friday night….
It was Prince.
And he was asking me to jam.
It was a proposition that I had wished for my entire adult life, but never in my wildest dreams imagined possible. Jam. With. Prince. Absolutely unfathomable. That’s like dancing with Fred Astaire! Baking with Betty Crocker! Bong hits with Bob Marley! This man was a musical deity! A towering giant! (figuratively speaking, of course) It took every ounce of my being not to drop to my knees right then and there and assume the classic Wayne and Garth “WE’RE NOT WORTHY!!” ritual. I was in the presence of greatness. A superhuman. A Titan. Awestruck, I somehow maintained a shred of composure, thanked him for an amazing night, and FLOATED back to my friends in the other room with those four words still echoing in my brain. The countdown began.
T-minus 7 days…..
Prince Rogers Nelson. The Kid. The artist formerly known as Prince. The legend whose name wasn’t even a word, but some weird insignia thingy dingy that looked like a lollipop with a squiggly tail (a.k.a the “love symbol”) Whatever you called him, there is no denying that the man was unrivaled in his mastery of all things musical. Guitar? He hit it like Hendrix. Bass? He banged it like Bootsy. Drums? He beat ’em like Bonham. I’ll never forget the first time I saw him play live, he stalked the stage, ripping the instruments from each of his band member’s hands one by one, shredding them within an inch of their life, and handing them back to their respective (and humbled) owners, leaving no doubt as to who the real star of the show was. All while dancing like James Brown in 6 inch heels. Houdini had nothing on this guy…the man was a fucking magician.
T-minus 6 days….beyond excited.
I was told that Prince had my cell number and would call me. First of all…let me tell you something about myself that you might not find on Wikipedia or Kerrang.com: I’m that guy whose phone battery is always hovering between 4 and 11 percent. Usually only plugging it in long enough to get back to 12%, then down to 3%, frantically charging it back up to 6%, dropping down to 1%, maybe powering up to 7%, then dead as a door knocker. I don’t think I’ve been above 20% charged since Steve Jobs was rocking Fab Four turtlenecks. I’m hopelessly teetering on shutdown at all times. But, let me tell you…for those 7 days, I didn’t let that motherfucker dip below 100% for one hot second. Ringer on 10. Vibrate on “stun”. Never more than 3 feet from a wall socket. I literally slept with that thing on my chest like a Winnie the Pooh doll, desperately waiting for it to ring. No fucking way in hell I was gonna miss a call from Prince.
T-minus 5 days….no call yet, but plenty of time.
What on earth would we play? I mean, he was surely aware that the Foos had recorded a cover of “Darling Nikki” years before. I know this because, when asked for his blessing to release it commercially, he shut us down faster than you can say, “Dearly beloved….” A crude version of his sultry classic that we recorded in Taylor’s basement, I believe I remember him saying, “They should write their own tunes…” or something along those lines (We tried, Prince. Oh, how we tried…) So, having grown up worshipping this man like a God, even in my most cynical-punk rock asshole years, you can imagine the disappointment (but not total surprise) knowing that he thought we sucked giant, hairy dog balls. Ouch. (We released it anyway as a B-side to the Australian ‘Have it All’ single. Needless to say, it did not reach the lofty heights of the original…) Like it or not, I had now earned a spot on Prince’s esteemed “shit list”. Nice going, Dave. Way to piss off the “artist formerly known as someone you most wanted to hang out and jam with someday”. Maybe it was better this way. Maybe Ween were right when they sang, “Don’t get 2 close to my fantasy” Nevertheless, I was amazed that I was even a blip on his purple radar.
T-minus 4 days….still waiting to hear, getting a little nervous.
You can imagine the surprise when my manager called the first day of February, 2007 and said, “Are you sitting down? Prince is going to play “Best of You” at the Super Bowl Halftime show this weekend.” I vividly remember standing there in my bathroom at home, stopped dead in my tracks, looking up at my scruffy reflection in the mirror, and saying, “Wait………WHY??” I practically dropped the phone in disbelief. Why on earth would this living phenomenon, a musical genius, a man with hits spilling out of his bedazzled pajamas, waste even a SECOND of his 11 minutes on that field playing a song I wrote while sitting on the concrete floor of my garage, leaning against an old refrigerator full of frozen burritos? This. Made. No. Sense. Apparently he was performing a medley which included a few covers, and decided to throw our song in between Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” and “Purple Rain” (Red-headed stepchild, anyone?) For a moment, I thought of saying “No. Tell him to write his own fuckin’ tunes…” but, YEAH FUCKING RIGHT. It was more along the lines of, “HOLY SHIT!!! PRINCE IS GOING TO PLAY ONE OF OUR SONGS ON THE SUPERBOWL?!?!?!?!? AAAAAHHHHH!!!!”
Truth be told, I actually missed the live broadcast. Almost wrote the whole thing off as something that was too good to be true. I’ve always been somewhat of a hopeful type, I suppose. Perhaps what some would call ‘cautiously optimistic’, because I think I’ve learned over the years not to expect much, just to be happy with what you’ve got (a healthy outlook for any musician). So, you can imagine my surprise when a stranger approached me that Sunday and said “Dude, Prince just played one of your songs on the halftime show….”
Oh my God. He did it. He actually did it. I ran to my computer, found it online and hit play. I was stunned. In shock. Flooded with emotion. As my tears hit the keyboard like the Miami rain that night, I realized that this was without a doubt my proudest musical achievement. All of those years spent in my bedroom practicing alone to Beatles records, sleeping in cold, infested squats on winter van tours across Europe, battering my drums until my hands literally bled….it all paid off in this one moment. I was watching the greatest living performer known to man sing my song to 100 million people as if it were his own (and, it goes without saying, much better than I ever could) Volumes have been written about his performance that day, as it truly was the best halftime show in history (sorry, JLO) But to me, I will always remember it as my life’s greatest compliment.
T-minus 3 days….nothing yet, but….ahem…..cautiously optimistic.
“Mommy and me”. Anyone familiar? A type of support group for new parents who are so terrified they’ll wind up raising a serial killer, they meet once a week for advice and reassurance. In reality, it’s a fucking Teletubbie nightmare come to life. And, don’t be fooled, fellas. It’s not exclusively for the mommies. At some point, you’ll get dragged in there too. Believe me, I know. Nothing like being the only dad in the room, dancing alone in your Foot Locker socks to “Puff the Magic Dragon” while all the ladies happily spin their babies around to the music. Yes. Guilty as charged. Don’t judge.
Fortunately for me, one of the other poor, terrified fathers was a man who worked with Prince! What are the odds? Thank my lucky stars. As the mommies huddled together on the floor swapping horror stories of sleepless nights and projectile vomiting, the two of us shared hilarious anecdotes about Prince in the corner of the room. One day as we were leaving class, I said, “Tell him I said hi.” He nodded. A week later, as we reunited in our little corner, obliviously whispering like two stoner students in the back of class while the mommies debated breast pumps and collapsable strollers, he said, “Prince thinks you guys should jam sometime!” Ha! Yeah, right. THAT’LL happen. Where? When? How? What song?
T-minus 2 days….fear sets in.
In 2011 it was announced that Prince would play 21 nights at the Los Angeles Forum in Inglewood, CA. Twenty one nights! Most musicians would give an arm and a leg just to play ONE night at this iconic venue. But, twenty one nights? There’s only one person badass enough to pull that off, and I wasn’t gonna miss it for the world. I rounded up a party bus, a rowdy group of friends, and enough booze to drown Shane MacGowan. This was going to be epic. By the time we pulled into the parking lot, I was already so loose I could hardly contain myself. Our good friend, Kerwin who was running security at the gig that night came up to me before the show and said, “Hey, he knows you’re here….he’s gonna call you up onstage to jam.” Now…I’m no stranger to impromptu jamming. I’m not scared to jump up on ANYONE’S stage for a bit of unrehearsed fun. And, I may or may not be comfortable hitting the stage after a few cocktails (wink wink) But, to put it bluntly…..I was fuuuuuuuucking hammered. Not sober. And there was NO WAY I was going to step onto Prince’s stage in that state. I mean, I’d waited my whole life for this to happen! God forbid I get up there and blow it in front of THE MAN himself (Much less 17,000 other purple people!) I told Kerwin to relay a huge “Thank you, I’m beyond honored, but I’ll see you after the show”
The show was mind blowing, of course. Prince proving, again, that he was the most talented musician in modern popular music. Hands down. No contest. Game over. Afterwards, I was summoned to a small room upstairs where I was instructed to wait outside of a small, curtained off area. My heart raced as If I had been summoned to the Principal of Pop’s office, sweating as if I were waiting to enter a rock and roll confessional booth. Once I had clearance, I stepped inside to find Prince AND SHEILA MOTHERFUCKIN’ E!!! Both standing side by side, waiting to meet me. Had I died and gone to heaven? Could this be real? After some cordial but dizzying, nervous conversation, we concluded with those famous four words, “How about next Friday?”
T-minus 24 hours. Officially shitting bricks.
No call. Nothing. Not so much as a message from his camp all week as to what song, what instrument, when to be at soundcheck (if he even needed such a thing) etc etc. I was told to “just go down there” and “play it by ear”. Again, no stranger to jumping into the cold, murky waters of musical mystery, but….really? Please God, give me a sign! This was a virtual trust fall off the fucking Grand Canyon! I blindly made my way down to the Forum, and upon my arrival was greeted by Kerwin who informed me that Prince “wasn’t sound checking on account of a little cold, needs to save his voice.” Great. Kerwin showed me to my dressing room (somewhat encouraging) and I went looking for catering. At least I’d get a hot meal out of this! I couldn’t sit still, too wound up, so I decided to walk out to the arena and check on my gear. The place was empty. Not a soul. You could hear a pin drop, it was so silent. Eerie, almost. The stage was the same shape of his “love symbol”, right in the center of the arena. As I approached the stage, I was met by my guitar tech, Ally. “What the fuck are we doin’?” he asked in his molasses-thick Glaswegian accent. I shrugged. His guess was as good as mine…..
And then…just like Fred Armisen’s infamous “Prince Show” skit on SNL…..he appeared. (This is no exaggeration, folks. I swear the dude moved like a Navy SEAL. He just…..materialized.) “Hey man. What you doing here?” he said. I laughed and told him I’d come to jam! “You know, like we had talked about?” I reminded him. Had I just concocted this whole rock and roll blind date in my head? Dipping in and out of an alternate reality the entire time? (a question I ask myself quite often, actually) “Wanna play some drums?” he asked. THANK GOD. These words washed over me in a life saving wave of relief. That “trust fall” was no longer a screaming free-fall to my fragile ego’s death. I quickly jumped onstage and climbed upon his drummer’s Megaladon sized kit (Like one of those drum sets you see at your local music store that costs more than all of the Kardashian’s implants combined). To get my footing, I started playing a groove, nothing fancy, but digging in to find my bearings on this behemoth wall of drums. At this point, his whole band had converged onstage, taking their places. Prince watched, inspecting me with a grin. He motioned to his bass player to hand over his instrument (just as he did the first time I saw him perform decades ago) strapped it on, and proceeded to decimate the damn thing with the smoothest, funkiest, fastest, most graceful playing I have ever seen to this day. He was on me like glue. Like a fresh roll of Gorilla tape. Within a few bars, the entire band locked in, and the jam blossomed into a symphony of rock/funk/gospel/psycheldelia. A moment divine….and not a soul in sight to witness it.
We hit the final chord, and the stage in erupted in cheers! A monumental success! A round of high fives! We sounded amazing! The vibe was on! It was musical match made in heaven! “Man, you got a heavy foot!” he said. I do?!? I mean….yes! Yes I do! I do have a heavy foot, Prince! I gave my best “awwww, shucks” face, but inside I was glowing, jumping out of my skin, forever validated by the grace of his eminence. That would have been enough for me to put down the sticks and never play another note again for the rest of my life, but then Prince grabbed his signature guitar and started playing the opening riff to “Whole Lotta Love”. Let me tell you, folks….I don’t have arms full of Zeppelin tattoos for nothing. This was the universe folding into itself right before my eyes!!! Prince was gleefully tearing open my ribcage and diving into my motherfucking soul, y’all!!!! I laid into that drum intro with every cell in my body, filling the empty, cavernous arena with all the thunder I could possibly summon. It fucking SLAMMED. Fat, funky, big bottomed swing as he let loose solos that would make your teeth curl. My rock and roll fantasy was coming true, and I couldn’t FUCKING wait to share it with an arena packed full of die hard Prince fans like myself! They were gonna lose their minds!!! The song came to a crescendo and ended with a final note like a dinosaur evaporating asteroid slamming into the earth’s core. More cheers. More high fives. Me and my heavy foot did it again! Prince turned to me, smiled and said, ‘We should do THAT!” Yes!! Yes, Prince!!! We should do that!!!
“How about next Friday?” he said…………
I never did make it back that next Friday. In a strange way, I didn’t need to. I had fulfilled a life dream, with no evidence of it to share with anyone, other than a memory that will stay with me forever. I only saw Prince once after that. We just smiled and said hello. And when I heard he had passed, I sat in my car alone, crying, feeling both blessed to have shared these moments with him, and heartbroken that there would be no more. There will never be another like him. We were lucky to have him while we did. I miss him dearly.