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BLACK MUSIC MONTH: FUNK FACES

Nineteen-year-old Prince Rogers Nelson emerged in 1978, from the Minnesota tundra onto the R&B airwaves, with “Soft and Wet,” the first single from his debut album, For You. Influenced by JB, Sly Stone, P-Funk, Rufus, Tower of Power and loads more funk, soul and rock, Prince (like Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney before him) could play every single instrument in a kickass fashion all by himself. Until he assembled his own band, The Revolution, six years later, Prince produced, arranged, composed and performed his annual albums almost entirely solo.

He also channeled his protean creativity through The Time, a Minneapolis funk band fronted by the flamboyant Morris Day (with songs secretly written and performed on record by the Purple One), and furnished hits for Chaka Khan, Sinead O’Connor, Sheila E., The Bangles and other stars in the ’80s.

Prince’s formula was a synthezoid funk full of LinnDrum (and occasionally live) beats and Oberheim keyboards—“Controversy,” “Cool,” “777-9311,” “D.M.S.R.”—with a unique signature and sensibility. Prince evolved into the greatest upholder of the funk tradition laid down by James Brown, Sly Stone and George Clinton. He eventually collaborated with Clinton musically, and briefly folded members of JB’s and Sly’s bands (Maceo Parker, Larry Graham) into his own, adding his own classics into funk’s canon: “Housequake” and “Sexy MF” included.

“The funk thing has always been heavy with Prince,” Levi Seacer, Jr., who played guitar and bass in Prince’s band, told Guitar Player in 1993. “Every night [the band] try to out-funk each other. We know where the breaks  are going to be, but after the break hits we play whatever we want. Each of us is thinking ‘What can I do to get Prince to make the funk face?’ You know, when you play something funky and you make that face where it looks like something’s stinkin’. Every night we try to come up with something new. When he makes that face, we go, ‘Okay. Got it.’”


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