Tapes of songs the mu­sic leg­end wrote for oth­ers are the lat­est of his old work to be un­earthed, writes Cameron Adams

The West Australian - - TODAY -

Michael Howe’s full-time job is to sift through the hours and hours of un­heard mu­sic Prince left be­hind in his vault.

That vault has been re­lo­cated from Pais­ley Park to a data-recovery cen­tre in Los An­ge­les, where Prince’s cas­settes are be­ing digi­tised us­ing mod­ern tech­nol­ogy.

Howe has signed “a tremen­dous amount” of non-dis­clo­sure agree­ments, which means he can’t be spe­cific about the amount of mu­sic in the vault, any par­tic­u­lar items in the vault or any plans be­yond the fam­ily’s ten­ta­tive plan of an al­bum a year of un­heard ma­te­rial.

“I’m work­ing harder now than I did as a full-time A&R guy, which I was for 20 years,” Howe says. “But I can’t imag­ine that there’s a more var­ied and vo­lu­mi­nous vault of ma­te­rial in the world or one with this much cul­tural cur­rency. To dive into it ev­ery day is a priv­i­lege.

“What we’re do­ing is a multi-year process. There’s so much stuff. Some of the tapes are only par­tially la­belled or mis­spelled. We have to lis­ten to them in real time. We have to make sure the tape is not dam­aged, it’s very time con­sum­ing. We’ve tried to be chrono­log­i­cal about do­ing the archival process the way the Li­brary of Congress might do it.”

Af­ter last year’s Pi­ano & a Mi­cro­phone, a record­ing of Prince re­hears­ing from 1983, the lat­est re­lease is Orig­i­nals.

It fea­tures Prince’s orig­i­nal ver­sions of songs he wrote for other artists — from global hits Manic Mon­day, Noth­ing Com­pares 2U, The Glam­orous Life, Jun­gle Love and Love … Thy Will Be Done, to fan-pleas­ing ob­scu­ri­ties recorded by ev­ery­one from Kenny Rogers to Jill Jones.

Many of Prince’s orig­i­nal ver­sions sound iden­ti­cal to the ver­sions re­leased by other peo­ple. “It’s hard to imag­ine some­one else im­prov­ing them,” Howe says. “Of­ten he’d as­sume the per­sona of the per­son who will even­tu­ally de­liver the track to the public. And these are guide vo­cals to lit­er­ally guide the other artists. Even his guide vo­cals are by a mag­ni­tude bet­ter than many peo­ple’s very

best work. The guy was just as­ton­ish­ingly good, more cre­atively evolved than any­one I’ve worked with, or can point to.”

You’re My Love, later recorded by Rogers in 1986, was first recorded by Prince in 1982 un­der the pseu­do­nym Joey Coco — many of the songs on Orig­i­nals are un­der fake names or Prince gen­er­ously gave full writ­ing cred­its to the artist who recorded them.

“That’s one that had not emerged in the col­lec­tor com­mu­nity,” Howe says of You’re My Love.

“It’s a side of Prince not a lot of peo­ple had heard, it’s full-on Hol­i­day Inn lounge vibe, it’s not Prince the arena-stomp­ing rocker.”

Howe is aware that Prince is one of the most boot­legged artists in his­tory — from all his live con­certs to un­re­leased songs that es­caped from tapes the mu­si­cian would share with friends.

“When con­tem­plat­ing things for re­lease we try to take in a num­ber of fac­tors, not the least of which is has any of this ma­te­rial cir­cu­lated, can we of­fer a bet­ter ver­sion or a ver­sion with more in­tegrity than what is cur­rently float­ing around? Al­most with­out ex­cep­tion, the answer is yes.” Howe is con­stantly asked whether Prince would have wanted his un­re­leased songs heard — he points to sev­eral in­ter­views that sug­gested he knew that would hap­pen and had deleted songs he never wanted heard or marked them “W” for weak.

“At the top of our check­list is ‘Would Prince ap­prove of this, is it a high enough cal­i­bre to re­lease?’ If there’s any doubt, we re­move it from con­tention im­me­di­ately. Pre­serv­ing and pro­mot­ing his legacy with the in­tegrity he would de­mand and that the body of work de­serves is pri­or­ity num­ber one.” Howe worked with the artist him­self on the reis­sue of Pur­ple Rain. While it was re­leased in 2017, a year af­ter the mu­si­cian’s death, it had been in the works for years, with Prince fi­nally sign­ing off on a re­mas­tered ver­sion of the al­bum in 2015, which was in­cluded in the reis­sue as well as un­re­leased songs. Diehard fans were dis­ap­pointed with the lack of rare songs known to ex­ist from the era. “It didn’t re­ally take shape the way I en­vis­aged. I’m glad some­thing emerged,” Howe says. “I wish it had been a bit dif­fer­ent.” There are still dozens of songs Prince wrote for other artists, such as Mar­tika and Sheena Eas­ton. “There is cer­tainly enough ma­te­rial for vol­umes of Orig­i­nals-type re­leases, and I sus­pect that what­ever the con­sumers’ de­sire is . . . could or would be met at some point.” Fans are tip­ping 1982’s 1999 will be the next al­bum to re­ceive the reis­sue treat­ment, which Howe doesn’t con­firm or deny. “I know peo­ple are await­ing that . . . all I can say is that the abil­ity to re­lease vastly ex­panded bod­ies of work in a much more com­pre­hen­sive way than Pur­ple Rain is be­ing con­tem­plated.”

‘What we’re do­ing is a multi-year process. There’s so much stuff.’

Prince Orig­i­nals is out now.

Orig­i­nals is the lat­est re­lease of mu­sic from the late star’s vault.

Michael Howe, who is in charge of Prince’s vault.

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