The Family, the ultimate Prince satellite project

The Family - The Family - Gatefold (discogs.com)

The Family – The Family – Gatefold

Introduction

As stated in the story on Around The World In A Day, lots more Prince music saw the light of day in 1985, including albums and singles by a number of so-called satellite acts. Besides songs for André Cymone, Sheila E. and The Bangles the most special and best (?) satellite project was released: The Family by the group with the same name. A nearly forgotten project, which is primarily known for containing the first ever release of the song Nothing Compares 2 U.

The Family

When, even before the start of the Purple Rain Tour, it had become obvious that The Time was over, Prince wanted to start a new project. As if he had nothing better to do. Besides working on The Time, Sheila E., Appolonia 6, his own next album and preparations for the upcoming tour, Prince wanted to continue The Time following Morris Day’s departure. Prince suggested to promote keyboard player Paul Peterson (renamed to St. Paul), who entered The Time following the (forced) departures of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, to lead singer. Band leader Jesse Johnson wasn’t having it, knew what the plans for him were and consequentially left Minneapolis to start a (successful) solo career. Two Time members decided to go with him.

Late June 1984 Prince invited manager Alan Leeds and the remaining The Time members over for a get together at his house. He already had an idea for a new project. The invitees were to be part of the group and to be supplemented with female singer Susannah Melvoin, Prince’s girl friend at the time (who would later even be engaged to him). Prince had also thought about the concept for the group. It was supposed to be a combination of funk, pop and jazz. The group’s image was to be inspired by old movies and glamour magazines. The goal: “We gotta go after some of that Duran Duran money!”.

Much to his own amazement, Prince chose Paul Peterson to be the main focus of the group. He was supposed to portray a kind of Rudolph Valentino type role. Engineer Susan Rogers remembers a conversation between Prince and Peterson: “Paul, 20,000 women! That’s how many women Valentino had at his funeral, 20,000 women!”.

Once again, Prince was light-years ahead of everybody else. By the end of June 1984 Prince was busy working on his new project: The Family. Within just three days the basic recordings for half of the songs were done. The album would contain eight songs, written, played and produced by Prince, with the exception of one song, which was written by Revolution drummer Bobby Z.

Outside influences

Prince thank you note to Eric Leeds (early 1986) (icollector.com)

Prince thank you note to Eric Leeds (early 1986)

Saxophone/Eric Leeds

On June 29th, 1984, Bruce Springsteen launched his 1.5 year Born In The USA Tour in St. Paul, Minnesota. Prince attended the show and was impressed. Following talks with Springsteen, and especially The E. Street Band’s “Big Man” Clarence Clemons, he was convinced he wanted to employ saxophone for The Family.

Eddie Minnifield was Sheila E.’s regular saxophone player, so he was available, yet Prince didn’t use him. Manager Alan Leeds suggested his brother Eric. He previously had applied for a job with Sheila E. and had sent in some recordings of his playing. On July 2nd, 1984, Eric Leeds stepped into the Flying Cloud Drive Warehouse at Eden Prairie, saxophone in hand. Because Prince was unable to play the saxophone, Leeds was granted a remarkably large amount of freedom. That day four saxophone parts were recorded. Prince had a few ideas, which were copied by Leeds, but on two songs Leeds was encouraged to come up with his own stuff. Prince was very happy with the results. The cooperation ran smoothly and with mutual respect. Leeds once said that was caused by the fact that the saxophone was one of the few instruments Prince was unable to pick up and show how to play better.

Production/David Z.

Prince lacked the time to ensure that the ‘guide vocals’ he had recorded with the songs, would be sung and recorded by the prospected singers of The Family. He delegated the task to David Z., engineer and brother of Revolution drummer Bobby Z. It were long, long, tedious sessions getting the vocals on tape the way Prince wanted them to. Prince trusted David Z. enough to get the job done. A remarkable step.

Clare Fischer (1928-2012) (threadreaderapp.com)

Clare Fischer (1928-2012)

Orchestration/Clare Fischer

Around September/October 1984 the idea was mentioned to add orchestrations to the music. The name Clare Fischer was handed to Prince. After hearing some of his work Prince had become curious, David Z. was commissioned to start with one song, River Run Dry, and come back with the results. Prince released a song to someone he didn’t know who was adding to his music, so factually changing his song, a unique feat for Prince. To be fair, it was the one song for the project Prince hadn’t written himself, but still. Upon receiving the tapes he was very happy with the results. Fischer’s orchestrations brought a lot to the music, they were contrary, sounded organic and highly distinctive. Prince and Fischer would exchange dozens of songs right up to Fischer’s death in 2012. Sometimes the orchestrations weren’t used, or placed in other songs, yet they were always welcomed. Prince has never interfered with the proceedings, never gave instructions and gave Fischer all the freedom he needed. Both men have never met in real life. Prince went so far that he didn’t even want to know what Fischer looked like.

Album done

Before the start of the Purple Rain Tour the album was basically done. The band members were asked to have some patience until the tour would be finished, some six months later. Within three weeks after the tour Around The World In A Day was released. In the meantime Prince worked on some more mixes, resulting in removing the bass from a lot of the songs. Eric Leeds wasn’t too pleased: “Prince was in a no bass minimalist mood, there was bass guitar in a lot of those cuts that he did not include in the final mixes, and I missed it then and I miss it now. To hear the bass guitar that exists on those songs, particularly High Fashion and Mutiny, my God, those songs are on fire! And just listening to those rough mixes with the bass on there, that to me is quintessential funk, it doesn’t get much better than that”. By mid May 1985 the album was finished. In the meantime Prince had concocted the idea to do a tour with a number of satellite acts, including Sheila E., new group Mazarati and The Family. The band started to rehearse, lots and lots and lots of rehearsals. In the Neal Karlen interview that would be published in Rolling Stone on September 12th, 1985, one of those rehearsals is mentioned.

As a precursor to the album the single The Screams Of Passion was released on July 19th, 1985. It was the first release on the newly founded Paisley Park Records label, that wasn’t credited to Prince. It was also the first Prince release to feature Clare Fischer orchestrations and the first release to include Eric Leeds (on the B-side Yes).

The Family - The Family (discogs.com)

The Family – The Family

The Family – The Family

On August 12th, 1985, the debut album by The Family, called The Family, was released in Europe. The US followed one week later. In the album credits Prince is mentioned only as the composer of Nothing Compares 2 U. As was the case with a lot of satellite acts, this was far from the truth. With the exception of River Run Dry he actually wrote all of the songs (on two he had help). As was the case with The Time, the songs are credited to the band members on the album cover.

Song by song

All songs written by Prince, unless stated otherwise.

The Family - The Family - Side A (discogs.com)

The Family – The Family – Side A

High Fashion

(accredited to St. Paul and Jerome)

One of the first songs to be recorded for the new project. It immediately sets the tone for the group’s image, which emphasizes ostentation, something the group has in common with The Time. Still, it’s all in good taste, very tongue-in-cheek. Musically, the song resembles The Time the most as well. An up-tempo funky song.

It was released as the second (and last) single in October 1985. An extended remix was made for the song, which has never been released.

Mutiny

(accredited to Jerome)

An incredibly funky song, which ranks as one my all-time favorites. The basic recordings were made on the same day as High Fashion.

Prince himself was highly pleased with Mutiny as well and played it on a regular basis during the 1986 Parade Tour with The Revolution. Op April 23rd, 2012, a rehearsal version was streamed via drfunkenberry.com promoting the upcoming Welcome 2 Australia Tour.

The Screams Of Passion

(accredited to St. Paul and Susannah)

Classic in the Prince canon. The first ever release to feature Clare Fischer’s orchestrations. It made the song so different and unique, that it had to have a sequel (see the upcoming story on Parade). It’s a duet between singers St. Paul and Susannah. Initial recording took place on August 18th, 1984, at the Flying Cloud Drive Warehouse in Eden Prairie.

An otherworldly good song. The rhythm is addictive, the singing passionate, the orchestrations are rich, lush and original. The song contains some great moments, like the screaming followed by “Not so loud!” and “shh, shh”. On paper or screen it may come across as rather bland, but the performance of it is phenomenal.

In 1996 the song was added to the soundtrack to the Spike Lee movie Girl 6, which only consisted of Prince, or Prince related, music.

In early June 1985 a video was shot. Because the song doesn’t contain saxophone, Eric Leeds plays the bass in the video.

Yes

(accredited to Jerome and Jellybean, written by Prince and Eric Leeds)

Part of the very first release of Prince music featuring Eric Leeds (the The Screams Of Passion single). Initially called Lisa, the song is an instrumental and features Eric Leeds on saxophone and Wendy Melvoin on guitar. The music gently hints to another Prince and Eric Leeds project, Madhouse, which would release two great, jazz influenced, records in 1987. In 1985 it broke new ground for Prince and his audience.

The Family - The Family - Side B (discogs.com)

The Family – The Family – Side B

River Run Dry

(written by Bobby Z.)

The Revolution drummer Bobby Z. wrote the song in 1983 and made a demo of it. Prince liked the song and asked if he could use it for The Family album. Bobby Z. agreed. On August 5th, 1984, he recorded the song with Prince and Dr. Fink (The Revolution keyboard player). However, Prince wasn’t completely satisfied, because the recording that ended up on the album lacks the contributions of Bobby Z. and Dr. Fink.

Like stated above, this was the first ever song Prince sent over to Clare Fischer for orchestration additions. The start of a long lasting cooperation.

Nothing Compares 2 U

Prince had special feelings for this song, as this was the only song on the album he took full credit for.

On July 15th, 1984, Prince recorded the song for the first time. The lyrics were partly inspired by his personal assistant Sandy Scipioni, who left in a hurry after learning of her father’s passing. So, contrary to popular belief, the song has no romantic back story. Some members of The Family thought it was written for them. Jerome Benton thought (thinks?) the song was written for him following the demise of his relationship. Susannah Melvoin didn’t deny when she was asked whether the song was about her. She responded by saying one never knew if a song was written about/for someone, so who knows?

Anyway, on the album the song sounds extremely minimalistic. The music sounds sparse, intensifying the song’s impact even more. Even though Nothing Compares 2 U is not one of my personal favorites, on this album it works perfectly.

Of course, the majority of people know this song through Sinead O’Connor’s emotional rendition from 1990. Prince has played it regularly in concert ever since. It premiered during the 1990 Nude Tour.

Prince has released the song twice under his own name during his lifetime, both live versions. In 1993 as a duet with Rosie Gaines on the compilation album The Hits 1. In 2002 it was part of Prince’s first live album One Nite Alone… Live!.

On April 19th, 2018, the original version by Prince was released on various streaming platforms. Op April 21st, 1984 copies of a purple vinyl singles were delivered at record store Electric Fetus in Minneapolis, which Prince frequented often while he was alive. The single was exclusively sold by the store. In 2019 the single was part of the Originals album.

N.B.:
On May 4th, 2016, the live version (off The Hits 1), was broadcast at 05:07 PM CT on American radio stations commemorating the fact that Prince had been pronounced dead “7 hours and 13 days” before.

Susannah’s Pajamas

(accredited to Eric Leeds, written by Prince and Eric Leeds)

Initially called Mazarati, as it was originally intended for use on the Mazarati debut album. However, the music suits The Family project better. Prince thought so as well and renamed the song to Susannah’s Pajamas. Another jazzy and funky instrumental, that, just like Yes, hints towards the future Madhouse project.

Desire

(accredited to St. Paul)

The song was originally titled Ecstasy. A beautiful closer to the album. A great ballad that appropriately drips with longing.

The Family (analogkidblog.wordpress.com)

The Family

In conclusion

Besides being an astonishing good album, it holds a special place in the history of Prince and his music. It signifies a break with the past in many ways. Next to outsourcing musical additions (Eric Leeds and Clare Fischer) and production duties (David Z.), the musical direction was different, more complex and varied. Songs like The Screams Of Passion and both instrumentals were original and new. The musical setting (minimal, no bass (!)) was adventurous and exciting. At that time it was unclear what the future might hold, but sonically speaking The Family can be regarded as a first taste of the genius (Prince And The Revolution) Parade album, which would be released in March of 1986.

Contributions by others

Despite the many names on the album cover, the music was played and performed by Prince, with the following exceptions:

  • St. Paul Peterson – vocals
  • Susannah Melvoin – vocals on The Screams Of Passion, background vocals
  • Eric Leeds – saxophone on High Fashion, Mutiny, Yes, Nothing Compares 2 U, Susannah’s Pajamas and Desire
  • Clare Fischer – orchestrations on High Fashion, The Screams Of Passion, River Run Dry, Nothing Compares 2 U and Desire
  • Wendy Melvoin – guitar on Yes

Jellybean Johnson, Jerome Benton and Miko Weaver are named as contributors on the album, but they had nothing to do with the music and/or the album.

Production

Production was credited to David Z. Rivkin and The Family, but was actually done by Prince and David Z.

The Family - The Screams Of Passion - Video (hq-music-videos.com)

The Family – The Screams Of Passion – Video

Other songs

A number of other songs have been considered for use on the album, including two songs specifically written for the album that were ultimately discarded.

Miss Understood

The song was recorded in September 1984, meant to be placed on the album as a solo outing by Susannah Melvoin, but she really didn’t like the song. She told Prince so as well, resulting in Prince threatening giving it to someone else to sing. But, in the end, it didn’t end up on the album. A wise decision.

Feline

A wild, freaky song that Eric Leeds regards as the best he worked on during the time he worked for and with Prince: “We did another instrumental that did not go on the album. It was a very hard, aggressive, just ruckus, hard-funk instrumental that to this day is one of my favorite things we ever did” and “It was a manic track, I love it, I remember being there when he was doing most of his work on it, he was like a man possessed, the track was the odd man out from the album, it stuck out like a sore thumb”. The song didn’t make the album, probably due to its wild nature. Also, St. Paul argued the song was too sexually explicit, so much so he didn’t want it released as not to offend the strict Catholic background of his family. Prince willingly obliged. In the song St. Paul can be heard rapping “St. Paul’s my name, makin’ love’s my game”, which found its way into Holly Rock, a song given to Sheila E.

The Family - First Avenue 08/13/1985 (youtube.com/apoplife.nl)

The Family – First Avenue 08/13/1985

Concert, August 13th, 1985

The many rehearsals were finally put to use at an unplanned performance, the debut by The Family, on August 13th, 1985, in Minneapolis’ First Avenue. The band’s line-up:

  • St. Paul – vocals and keyboards
  • Susannah Melvoin – vocals
  • Eric Leeds – saxophone and flute
  • Jellybean Johnson – drums
  • Jerome Benton – background vocals, percussion and dance

For the live show and rehearsals the band was supplemented with:

  • Miko Weaver – guitar
  • Alan Flowers – bass
  • Billy Carruthers – keyboards
  • Jonathan Melvoin – keyboards
  • Wally Safford – dance and background vocals
  • Gregory Brooks – dance and background vocals

The concert was a success. The band was tight and sounded very good live. The show was well developed and very well rehearsed. The setlist that night was:

  • Susannah’s Pajamas
  • Yes
  • River Run Dry
  • Desire
  • High Fashion
  • Instrumental jam
  • Nothing Compares 2 U
  • The Screams Of Passion
  • Mutiny / Holly Rock

It was the first ánd last concert by The Family. Recordings of that show have circulated among Prince collectors for years, audio as well as video.

The Family - The Family singles (hhv.de/discogs.com/apoplife.nl)

The Family – The Family singles (The Screams Of Passion, High Fashion)

What followed next

As stated before, the album was released on August 19th, 1985, in the US. The album did well, especially considering the amount of promotion that was done for the album, which came down to 0.

The problem with the Paisley Park Records label became apparent almost immediately. Prince assumed he only had to make music for the label, including readying singles, videos, etc. Promotion was meant for Warner Bros., the mother company of Paisley Park Records. Warner Bros. felt the label, including promotion, was all Prince’s responsibility.

The result was that The Family project wasn’t promoted, at all. When Prince left for France in August of 1985, to film his second feature film Under The Cherry Moon, taking along The Family members Jerome Benton and Susannah Melvoin, St. Paul was left alone in the US, where he was supposed to take acting and dance classes to prepare for another, unspecified, project.

The end

At the invitation of A&M Records, St. Paul flew to Los Angeles to discuss a cooperation with Janet Jackson. Upon arrival it became clear they wanted him for a solo deal. St. Paul took some time to contemplate his options and decided to take the leap. Prince was away in France, the planned tour was far from certain, as was the proposed movie. Add to that the complete lack of promotion for The Family and the fact that St. Paul lived off a mere $250 a week. The initial A&M offer was a 6 figure deal.

St. Paul called Prince in France and told him he was leaving. Prince was pissed and wouldn’t talk to St. Paul for decades to come. The Family was over.

The Revolution 1986 (prince.org)

The Revolution 1986

After The Family

Despite the great offer by A&M, St. Paul was offered an even better deal with MCA, where he subsequently signed. However, his solo career didn’t fulfill expectations. The remaining members of the Family, complemented with Miko Weaver and Leeds’ friend and trumpet player Atlanta Bliss, were added to The Revolution (which Leeds called “The Counterrevolution”) and went on tour in 1986. During some shows the new Dream Factory was played, which, according to some, is about St. Paul’s leaving. At the live shows Prince clearly expressed his opinions on St. Paul’s decision: “Paul! Punk of the month!” and “You took, but did you give?!”

The Family (pinterest.com)

The Family

Review

With the Jill Jones album, The Family is the best music released by Prince satellites. The album is stylish, cinematic and, to this very day, breathes an adventurous and unique atmosphere. Required for Prince music lovers and Prince historians. An extremely essential album in Prince’s body of work, that provided perfect music.

Rating:

It’s a true disgrace that the album isn’t available nowadays, in any format, be it physical or through streaming services. I sincerely hope this is corrected soon.

The album was in no way competition to “that Duran Duran money”. The album’s music is way too diverse, different and divergent to the norm. If Prince really wanted to go after that money, he had to present something else entirely. Following the Purple Rain phenomenon, Prince had lost all interest in huge success (and money) for a long time. Thankfully so, frankly. It did produce some of the most astonishing and mind blowing records of all time.

fDeluxe (billboard.com)

fDeluxe

fDeluxe

On January 26th, 2007, The Family announced they would come back with a new album and tour. It took four more years for the 2011 release of Gaslight, of which I ordered a signed copy. However, Prince banned the use of the name The Family, just as he had done with The Time, a rather annoying stance. Even though he was legally right, it didn’t really show Prince’s sympathetic side. The Family continued as fDeluxe. In 2012 Relit was released, consisting of Gaslight remixes. In 2013 Live & Tight (As A Funk Fiends Fix) was released, one year later followed by the covers album, AM Static, to which I pledged.

On January 20th, 2012, I saw fDeluxe in a half empty Paradiso where they performed a great concert. Eric Leeds in the house!

In closing

What do you think about The Family project? Is it part of your undisputed highlights in Prince’s career as well? Let me know!

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: The Family, the ultimate Prince satellite project. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

 

More Prince?

5 comments

Skip to comment form

    • Miko Weaver on 08/12/2020 at 7:39 PM

  1. A GREAT article. I am proud to say that I own four copies of this masterpiece on vinyl, one of which I was fortunate enough to get signed by the entire band. Those second-hand record stores are virtual treasure troves.

    1. Thanks so much! Long live the (second hand) record stores!

    • Hamish on 08/17/2020 at 6:05 AM

    Excellent article – much like you Mutiny remains one of my favourite songs. To this day it continues to excite me.

    1. Thanks Hamish. Always great to hear from you! And, I agree, Mutiny is superb.

Compliments/remarks? Yes, please!