Af­ter Prince: The ( New) New Power Gen­er­a­tion

Q (UK) - - After The Stars Have Left -

For Mor­ris Hayes, who’d been the key­board player and band leader in Prince’s New Power Gen­er­a­tion back­ing band be­tween 1992 and 2012, his old boss’s pass­ing brought an over­whelm­ing del­uge of con­flict­ing emo­tions. Prompted by a friend to turn on his TV that ter­ri­ble night in April 2016, he was hor­ri­fied to see “the he­li­copter view of Paisley Park, and they’re talk­ing about a body in­side,” he says. “I was boo-hoo­ing big-time.” The Los An­ge­les-based key­boardist frankly ad­mits, how­ever, that he’d “al­ways worn the ti­tle of ‘band leader’ very loosely”, and as grief set in, mem­o­ries flooded back of how re­lent­less a task-mas­ter Prince al­ways was, how even flight time on his pri­vate Lear jet would be filled mak­ing up DJ playlists on a lap­top for that night’s af­ter-show. “He liked our in­put,” Hayes re­calls, “but he put ev­ery­thing to­gether, and he im­ple­mented it, and he was a hard dude, man. I’d go in to his place in LA] to work some days, and, see­ing his car in the garage, my stom­ach would turn over – like, ‘Oh Je­sus, he’s here!’ Some days would be ut­ter hell, be­cause he was a per­fec­tion­ist, and if you didn’t re­ally have your A-game that day, he was go­ing to ride you like a prize pony and to­tally run you into the ground.” Af­ter two decades of sur­viv­ing the per­pet­ual cull of play­ers who de­parted Prince’s band, Hayes “fi­nally con­sid­ered my­self gone in 2012”. So, he was some­what taken aback to be cho­sen to or­gan­ise Prince’s memo­rial con­cert in Minneapolis that Oc­to­ber, based around a re­united NPG line-up. He be­gan to un­der­stand just how much en­ergy his erst­while em­ployer burnt up or­ches­trat­ing his elaborate stage show. He in­wardly freaked when Ste­vie Won­der, who flew in to as­sume vo­cal du­ties, along­side Chaka Khan, Tori Kelly and Jessie J, first ar­rived at the mi­cro­phone for re­hearsals. “Ste­vie put his hand on my arm, and weep­ing he said, ‘Mor­ris, what do you want me to do?’ I’m look­ing at this dude, and I’m like, ‘Man, this is Ste­vie frickin’ Won­der!’ I said, ‘You’re Ste­vie Won­der, you can do what­ever you want to do!’” The chaotic per­for­mance even­tu­ally ran to 56 songs and some five hours, in front of 18,000 pur­ple-clad devo­tees, and some­where near the end, Hayes, who hadn’t slept for three days, ac­tu­ally nod­ded off at his key­boards. In the hours and days ahead, there would be a re­newed out­pour­ing of grief on so­cial me­dia, but also ela­tion at the show’s emo­tional de­liv­er­ance. “We got in­un­dated with mes­sages on Facebook,” says Hayes, “so af­ter a while, it was like, ‘Look, y’all, clearly there’s folks that wanna ex­pe­ri­ence this again, and folks ev­ery­where that didn’t get to, so let’s go out and do this.’”

They’ve been tour­ing ever since, con­fig­ured around core early-’ 90s alumni Tony Mosley (gui­tar), Kirk Johnson (drums), Sonny T (bass), Tommy Bar­barella (keys) and dancers Tony M and Da­mon D. Filling the gap stage-front was, ob­vi­ously, not straight­for­ward. Says Hayes: “It was not about look­ing for a singer that would try to em­u­late or im­i­tate Prince. You can’t do it, so I’m not go­ing to even try.” So, the NPG have two singers: one, Kip Black­shire, pre­vi­ously sang on more gospel-ori­ented ma­te­rial on Prince tours circa 1999-2002; the other, Macken­zie, is a

rel­a­tive new­comer in his late- 20s, who’d been record­ing in LA with one of Prince’s former bassists, and whose youth­ful vigour now re­put­edly car­ries the show. “I was never able to see Prince per­form in per­son,” he re­veals from the NPG’s tour­bus, on the way to a gig in Milwaukee, “but I’ve prob­a­bly watched a good 20,000 hours of video footage. [ Be­ing younger] prob­a­bly takes a bit of pres­sure off, and al­lows me to in­ter­ject my­self eas­ier. Be­cause, you can’t ‘be­come’ him. You can only be your­self.” While Prince was alive, it was of­ten re­marked – not al­ways ad­mir­ingly – how he’d race through med­leys full of hits, al­most teas­ing au­di­ences with his imp­ish talent. “Peo­ple were frus­trated,” chuck­les Mor­ris Hayes, “be­cause they wanted to hear those songs so bad.” NPG to­day don’t feel obliged to fol­low such dic­tates to the let­ter, pre­fer­ring, he says, “to make an ac­tual ex­pe­ri­ence out of each song”. These in­clude NPG-era gems such as Di­a­monds And Pearls, Gett Off and Cream, as well as ’ 80s clas­sics such as Kiss, Sign ‘O’ The Times, 1999 and, of course, a cer­tain re­gally-hued an­them. Hayes says that his crew are still far from im­mune to grief, only two days ago all break­ing down to­gether af­ter run­ning through Pur­ple Rain in re­hearsals. There are also hap­pier mo­ments, re­mem­ber­ing Prince’s fun-lov­ing side – how he’d make prank calls to their ho­tel rooms in the mid-’ 90s, but they couldn’t say, “Hey, is this Prince?” be­cause they weren’t al­lowed to call him that any more. Amid Prince’s on­go­ing post­hu­mous popularity, his ’ 80s band, The Revo­lu­tion, have also hit the road, as has his child­hood friend and protégé, Mor­ris Day. Un­abashed by the com­pe­ti­tion, Hayes is bullish, al­ready plan­ning to record their own ma­te­rial, “where we as a band can put for­ward what we learnt from Prince, in our own way.” One imag­ines, how­ever, that live shows won’t de­vi­ate too far from their late gu­vnor’s script.

“We got in­un­dated with mes­sages on Facebook. It was like, ‘Look, y’all, clearly there’s folks that wanna ex­pe­ri­ence this again, so let’s go out and do this.’” Mor­ris Hayes, Prince band leader

The New Power Gen­er­a­tion (be­low left) in 1994, fea­tur­ing Mor­ris Hayes (sec­ond left) and Prince (cen­tre); (right) the NPG in 2018, with new front­man Macken­zie (cen­tre).

(Top) Mor­ris Hayes with NPG; (above) NPG on­stage, By­ron Bay, Aus­tralia, 2018.

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