In 1980 Mick Jagger saw Prince live at The Ritz in New York during the Dirty Mind Tour. It made quite the impression. When The Rolling Stones were touring the US in 1981, Prince was invited to be the first support act on October 9th and 11th, 1981. Both performances would turn into incidents with legendary status.
The Rolling Stones
It seemed like a perfect combination The young and upcoming Prince as one of the opening acts to The Rolling Stones, at the time still The Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band In The World. Mick Jagger always tried to stay in contact with the current spirt of the times. So when stories about a new young musician, multi-talent and genius performer appeared, Jagger wanted to know and see what the fuss was all about. Jagger witnessed Prince in New York during the Dirty Mind Tour. He never forgot that night and when two timeslots became available for The Rolling Stones shows is Los Angeles, Jagger suggested Prince.
It presented Prince with an opportunity to play for a predominantly white audience, 94,000 of them, twice.
Keyboard player Lisa Coleman:
We were so excited, we’d rehearsed our little booties off, our funky black asses. This is it, we’re gonna make the big time.
© Prince – The man and his music, Matt Thorne, 2016
October 9th, 1981
The first day, October 9th, 1981, was an unusually hot day. The audience had been standing in the stadium for quite some time and had to ‘endure’ 3 support acts before The Rolling Stones would start. Drummer Bobby Z. had this to say:
It’s Prince, it’s George Thorogood & The Destroyers, J. Geils Band, and the Rolling Stones. People that are up front are rough—it’s the Stones’ reputation—and it’s a festival scene. So if you survive the front, you were there since 6 am. You’re probably drunk for the third time and high on God knows what. They’re excited that there’s music about to start. But they don’t realize that they’ve got five hours until the Stones and three opening acts. So concert promoter Bill Graham comes out and says, “All right, we’ve got a new act for you today.” Boo. Everybody wants the Stones.
We start out with I think “Uptown” and they hear us singing falsetto. They’re not interested, they’re not willing, they’re certainly not tolerant. You’ve got three brothers up there. You’ve got weird-looking white people in the back. It’s New Age weird punky funk rock—all the stuff they don’t want to know about or be interested in. They just want the blues or rock and roll. They don’t want to listen to anything new—let alone from the guy who looks like a chick but he’s not a chick and the chicks like him.
© A Soldier in Prince’s Revolution, Jayne Haugen Olsen, 12/05/2016
Numerous racist and homophobic insults were hurled onto the stage accompanied by trash, cups, etc. Prince and band left the stage sooner than planned.
Keyboard player Matt Fink:
We went on when the sun was still up, I think we hit the stage around six or seven at night. We get on stage and within two minutes of the first song the audience, which was a hardcore hippie crowd, they took one look at Prince and went what the heck is this? And they started booing, flipping us the bird.
And they’re throwing whatever they could get their hands on…a crumpled up Coca-Cola can. I saw a fifth of Jack Daniels whiz by Prince’s face…
© I Would Die 4 U – Why Prince became an icon, Touré, 2013
Bass player Brown Mark remembers the shows well. Moreover, it was his initiation with Prince, as it was first ever official show as Prince’s bass player.
The Rolling Stones concert was my first gig with Prince. It was an unforgettable experience and very enlightening to say the least. I remember pulling up to the Coliseum in LA and walking through a small town of tents and trailers. It was a lot like a circus or fairgrounds with all the cables, tents, and generators and people everywhere working behind the scenes. Security brought us to our tent filled with flowers, mirrors, bright lights and a banquet of fruits, lunch meats and a variety of breads. You could hear the crowds roar although you couldn’t see them through the city of tents. As show time fast approached, security lined us up to direct us to the stage. It felt like a scene from the movie Gladiator as we walked towards the stage. I remember a huge set of white curtains towering across the back side of the stage and a very wide stair case taking us down to the stage. As we walked through the curtains from the back of the stage there was musical gear everywhere, technicians running back and forth; it was very chaotic. As we came around the towers of amps and speakers and entered the stage we still couldn’t see the audience because of the large curtains in front of us. We all looked at each other and Prince gave the ready signal. As the curtains opened, the drums started beating and all I can remember was the site of a massive herd of bodies all piled together like cattle; 94,000 if I can remember correctly. Everyone was hot and sweaty from the heat, screaming and dancing to the music, holding up beer cans and bottles. I couldn’t even hear the band, the crowd was so loud! On each side of the coliseum were these massive water hoses spraying every one down to keep them from dehydrating. As we finished the first song I noticed people not liking what they were hearing. This was a crowd of Stones fans, predominately bikers, and they wanted to hear Rock music. We changed up the set in an instance and started performing Bambi but the audience, not being familiar with this music, became very violent. The scene shifted quickly as the crowed began to up their middle finger, hollering out all sorts of profanities. Next thing I noticed was food starting to fly through the air like a dark thunder cloud. Imagine 94,000 people throwing food at each other; it was the craziest thing I had ever seen in my life. I got hit in the shoulder with a bag of fried chicken; then my guitar got knocked out of tune by a large grapefruit that hit the tuning keys and I knew then it was time to run! I dropped that guitar and started flying but the funny thing was, everyone else was already gone! They were smart enough to get the heck out of there not knowing what was going to happen at that point.
Brown Mark, 2009
Setlist October 9th, 1981
- When You Were Mine
- Jack U Off
Prince felt humiliated and was on his way back to Minneapolis. Somehow, he was persuaded (by Mick Jagger and Dez Dickerson) to do the second show as well.
October 11th, 1981
It was even worse than the first night. Having heard of the previous show, the audience came prepared. This time the stage was bombarded after just one note: rotting fruit, garbage, bottles, etc., etc. Once again the band didn’t play their full set.
Setlist October 11th, 1981
- When You Were Mine
- Jack U Off
- Why You Wanna treat me So Bad?
At the time, the well-known American (rock) journalist Greil Marcus received a letter from one of his readers after his description of the events in Los Angeles:
You obviously are a fan of that faggot nigger group or you wouldn’t of lied about it. I just wanted you to know that us W.A.S.P. rock n rollers pay to see white performers and not niggers, faggots or tawdry critics like yourself President Reagan has proven once and for all that liberals, niggers, fags and minorities are out. Thank god for that. I can sure bet your ass on one thing, prince wont open up for the stones next time around.
© Food fight: Real life rock top 10, 1981 (12/81), Greil Marcus
There’s really nothing to add here. Of course this doesn’t mean that all Stones fans felt this way, but to dismiss the thought that many agreed is naive. Just as The Sex Pistols en disco were despised by rock fans, Prince was treated rudely, just for being different. It is rather ironic that young, new, innovative music and/or musicians were threatened and ridiculed by the very same people who had fought for their own new sub culture only a decade earlier.
In 1982 Prince was interviewed and had this to say about the shows:
When we first went on stage, a lot of people were throwing things and making noises. At first I thought it was funny. I figured, ‘We’d better just play’. When I looked up a bit later, it had simmered down and a lot of people seemed relaxed. But there was this one dude right in front, and you could see hatred all over his face.
What was really strange was there was two of them. We kept playing and the one of them noticed that everyone else had cooled out. So he tried to stop this other dude, but the guy wouldn’t stop. The reason I left was because I didn’t want to play anymore. I just wanted to fight – to fight him,. I was really angry.
I’m sure wearing underwear and a trench coat didn’t help matters… but if you throw trash at anybody, it’s because you weren’t trained right at home.
© The renegade Prince, Robert Hilburn, 11/21/1982
Both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards weren’t exactly understanding towards Prince.
I talked to Prince on the phone once after he got two cans thrown at him in L.A. He said he didn’t want to do any more shows. God, I got thousands of bottles and cans thrown at me! Every kind of debris. I told him, if you get to be a really big headliner, you have to be prepared for people to throw bottles at you in the night.
© Rolling Stone, 11/24/1983
Keith Richards was pissed and was seemingly unaware of who/what Prince was, especially given his remark about Prince’s name, not realizing it was his actual birth name.
I wish him luck. He’s got a problem with his attitude and it comes across on record. Prince has to find out what it means to be a prince. That’s the trouble with conferring a title on yourself before you’ve proved it. That was his attitude when he opened for us on tour, and it was insulting to our audience. You don’t try to knock off the headline like that when you’re playing a Stones crowd. You’d be much better off just being yourself and projecting that. He’s a prince who thinks he’s a king already. Good luck to him.
© Musician Magazine, 1983
All who were involved have their memories about the shows. Guitar player Dez Dickerson has an interesting view of what went down.
The folklore surrounding those shows is fairly epic, especially regarding how things went down Day 1 versus Day 2. The shows took place with a day off in between, on Friday and Sunday, and we had a very different experience on the first show than the second. The response after the first song on the first day was something I’ll never forget – the sound of 120,000 people cheering is almost overwhelming. In addition to rank and file fans, there were hundreds of Hell’s Angels in the audience. They did not look favorably on a short black man wearing high heels, leg warmers, bikini underwear and a trenchcoat, singing in falsetto, on the Stones’ stage, and they let us know, along with a few other similarly inclined individuals. They threw paper Coke cups and booed heartily, but they were outnumbered by those who cheered us. It was enough to rattle Prince, though, who exited the stage early and left the band onstage to fend for themselves. He left the stadium and went straight to the airport, returning to Minneapolis. Bill Graham, the promoter, got up onstage and cussed out the people he singled out as troublemakers, and he got booed. The word that went out between Friday and Sunday is that we had been booed off the stage, which was not true – Bill got booed, we just cut our set short. A station that broadcast live from the stadium misreported the booing thing, and the legend grew until Sunday, by which time thousands came to the show intent on running us out of town. In the interim, after attempts by both our managers and Mick Jagger to convince Prince to come back and do the second show, I was asked by management to call and talk to him. We talked for 45 minutes, and I convinced him to get on a plane and come back. It was a bit like landing on Normandy Beach on stage the second day, but we did our entire set and left on our terms – that was important to us.
Dez Dickerson, 2009
Prince had definitely learned from this experience. There was some work to be done to achieve the real cross-over. For his next album 1999 he would go about things differently. And it quickly paid off: Little Red Corvette ensured the cross-over. Two years later everything exploded: Purple Rain turned Prince into the most successful and popular artist around the world in 1984 and 1985.
Prince and The Rolling Stones did cross in the years after. Jagger remained an avid fan and told he liked to work out to The Black Album.
On August 13th, 1986, Prince played an aftershow in London during the Parade Tour, where he played The Stones’ Miss You for the first time. It’s the only song of which he has publicly stated that he wished he had written it himself. Stones guitar player Ron Wood was also on stage at the time. On July 16th, 1988, it was repeated.
On and off, Prince would play Rolling Stones songs during the rest of his career.
April 21st, 2016
Following Prince’s death on April 21st, 2016, Ron Wood, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards all replied on Twitter.
On October 24th, 2021, The Rolling Stones played in Minneapolis and honored Prince by playing two short fragments from Prince songs Purple Rain and Controversy.
Whether or not Prince’s experience during The Rolling Stones shows were formative, we’ll never know. Fact is that Prince was getting into a kind of flow, which led him to writing and recording a song a day. According to his engineer at the time, Peggy McCreary, it was even more than that at times (!).
Prince and band en route to Rolling Stones show 1981, Prince as support act to The Rolling Stones October 1981, Prince – Ron Wood – Twitter 04/21/2016, Prince – Mick Jagger – Twitter 04/21/2016 (1 t/m 3), Prince – Keith Richards – Twitter 04/22/2016 images: twitter.com
En route to the soundcheck October 1981, Prince and Ron Wood July 16th,1988 images: pinterest.com
Prince on the Rolling Stones stage October 1981 image: allen-beaulieu-photo-prints.io
Prince – Rolling Stones backstage pass afbeelding: rrauction.com