Thirty years ago, on January 21st 1987, the album 8 by the new group Madhouse was released. The album appeared on Prince’s Paisley Park label. According to the notes on the album, the album was recorded at the Madhouse Studios in Pittsburgh. The day following the release, the album was reviewed by Star Tribune (a Minnesota/Minneapolis newspaper). The review stated that the group was conceived by Austra Chanel. Besides Chanel the group consisted of John Lewis, Bill Lewis and Eric Leeds.
The only name that proved to be right, was that of Eric Leeds. Among Prince-music lovers a well-known name. Eric Leeds was the fantastic saxophone player in the last configuration of The Revolution and he played on the debut (and only) album by The Family, a genious project started by Prince. Eric Leeds was introduced to Prince by his brother, Alan Leeds, at the time Prince’s tourmanager (from 1983 until 1989) and, after that, became president of Paisley Park Records for 4 years. Eric Leeds made regular appearances on Prince songs from 1984/1985 onwards, leaving Leeds with an enourmous amount of freedom in the studio in contributing to Prince’s music. The saxophone was one of the very few instruments Prince couldn’t play himself and Leeds had made the right connection to Prince.
Madhouse turned out to be another alter-ego/psuedonym for Prince. Just like he wanted to express his funk-roots using the moniker The Time, he wanted to express his jazz-roots with Madhouse. And, as was the case with the Time, everything was created solely by Prince. The difference being that Eric Leeds contributed saxophone and flute. It would turn out to be the last project that Prince really made an effort to hide his role in a project, for which he had composed, arranged, produced and performed everything.
Prior to releasing Madhouse, Prince had done some things with jazz and/or instrumental pieces, which first truly came to fruition on the The Family album, which contains the pieces Susannah’s Pajamas and Yes. Both songs led to a new project by Prince: The Flesh, whose planned EP largely consisted of recordings of two jamsessions which took place on 12/28/1985 and 01/05/1986. The project The Flesh was shelved somewhere in 1986 and turned into Madhouse. What was Prince’s connection to jazz? His father was a jazz pianist and members of The Revolution had schooled him in (listening to) different kinds of music, among which jazz and he wanted to do something with that for himself. Prince called Eric Leeds proposing to play “some jazz”. Prince had already recorded some tracks and together they worked on new songs Prince had written. All music was instrumental. From September 28th to October 1st 1986 the whole first Madhouse album was recorded at Prince’s basement studio at his house at the time. The songs had no title, just a number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8.
The funny thing is that jazz is deeply rooted in (the principle of) improvisation. The album sounds very organic, but the reality of it is that Prince first recorded his drums, followed by his bass, keyboards, piano, guitars, etc., every time reacting to his own playing.
According to Eric Leeds, the reason behind Prince not wanting his name to be brought up with the Madhouse project was that he feared that the music wouldn’t be valued on its own merit, but instead be seen as a Prince-jazz album. Up to this day the album is very much appreciated among jazz-musiscians. and not by the lesser ones. Miles Davis was one of them (see below).
During the Sign O’ The Times World tour in 1987, which only toured throughout Europe, Charlie Parker’s Now’s The Time was played. The support act was Madhouse, that consisted of members of Prince’s band (not including Sheila E). Dale Alexander was brought in as the drummer.
The second Madhouse album, 16, containing the songs 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16, was released on November 18th, 1987. The musicians on that record were Prince and Eric Leeds, on 4 songs assisted by Levi Seacer Jr (bass), Matt Fink (keyboards) and Sheila E. Once again recorded very fast, from July 30th until August 2nd 1987, at the recently opened Paisley Park Studios. A number of Frank Zappa/Mothers Of Invention samples were utilized.
Of both released albums, 8 is the jazzy album and 16 the instrumental funky album. Prince’s playing on both albums is exceptional. Particularly his drumming is exciting, inventive and funky. Both albums have their own sound and feel and don’t sound like anything else within the Prince catalogue, yet are instantly recognizable as Prince. Both albums are considered essential listening.
All Madhouse cover contain a photo of model Maneca Lightner dressed in a 1950’s polkadot dress, accompanied by a little dog.
Three singles were pulled off the records: 6, 10 en 13. These singles contain B-sides, that weren’t available on any other format: 6 And ½, 10 And ½ and 13 And ¼.
Was Madhouse still active after this? Sure. Two more albums were recorded, both of which were met with a Warner Bros. veto on releasing them. A pity, because they contained some great music.
From July to December 1988 a third Madhouse album was recorded and compiled, consisting of 17 (Penetration), 18 (R U Legal Yet?), 19 (Jailbait), 20 (A Girl And Her Puppy) and 21-24 (The Dopamine Rush Suite). Some of these songs were later used on Eric Leeds’ first solo album Times Squared.
In 1993 Prince, this time with a full band, Prince recorded a fourth Madhouse album. The title was identical to the prior album, 24. It contained the songs 17, Rootie Kazootie, Space, Guitar Segue, Asswoop, Ethereal Segue, Parlor Games, Michael Segue, (Got 2) Give It Up and Sonny Segue. The first 6 songs were recorded in one day during a five hour long session. A number of these songs were later released (sometimes as a shorter version).
Did Prince do anything within the jazz-realm after Madhouse? Yes.
Best-known of course is working with Miles Davis. They talked sometimes and Miles Davis played with Prince at a benefit show at Paisley Park on 12/31/1987. Their combined efforts have never been released. Miles Davis repeatedly put Prince songs on his set(list)s, among which bootleg material. Two days after the passing of Miles Davis, Prince recorded the tribute Miles Is Not Dead. The tribute remains unreleased to this day.
Later in his career, Prince, using his own name, released a couple of albums which contained instrumental, complex, jazzy musical pieces:
- 16-10-2001: Release of The Rainbow Children;
- 01-01-2003: Release of Xpectation, exclusively to members of his NPG Music Club. Violinist Vanessa Mae guests on some songs;
- 30-06-2003: Release of the album N.E.W.S., which consists of 4 long musical pieces: intriguing album;
- 29-03-2004: Release of C-Note, exclusively to members of his NPG Music Club. Consists of 5 pieces of music, recorded during the One Nite Alone Tour, 2002.
During his concert tours excursions into jazz and/or fusion were regular, especially during the aftershows and his concerts at Montreux.
Madhouse was a unique project, even for Prince. It resulted in two really great albums. On top of that, he did this project in one of the busiest years of his whole career. In March of 1987, Sign O’ The Times, was released (more on that is planned for March).
Do you know Madhouse? What do you think of this side project by Prince? Let me know!
Madhouse logo: bp.blogspot.com
Madhouse – 8 & 24 (bootleg) images: medium.com
Madhouse – 16 & Madhouse, support act Sign O’ The Times tour 1987 images: discogs.com
Madhouse – 6, 10 en 13 images: 45cat.com
Eric Leeds – Times Squared image: flickr.com
Prince & Miles Davis 31-12-1987: bibliolore.org