Man Next To The Man: Prince & Alan Leeds In A Paparazzi Shot ca. 1990
Alan Leeds, for a good chunk of Prince‘s most productive years, was the man next to the man. Having served as Prince’s tour manager from 1983 through the 1990 Nude tour (in between stints for James Brown, Maxwell and D’Angelo), by 1989 he had been named President of Prince’s label Paisley Park Records and can easily be considered among Prince’s closest, most consistent and enduring collaborators. As such, he holds, for the purposes or Prince obsessives like ourselves, the keys to The Vault. Not the one where the master tapes are stored, but rather the treasure-house of Prince knowledge and oral history, a decade and more of insights, stories and secrets that we can only hope will be bound in a personal memoirs, Prince reader or some other compendium. For the moment, we are honored for the occasional opportunity to be the man next to the man (Questlove) next to the man (Alan) next to the man (Prince Rogers Nelson) who touched so many lives through music. In what may be our favorite #PrinceDay exclusive interview yet, Mr. Leeds graciously gave us that opportunity again, sharing the full (we told you there was more!) story of Prince’s meeting and rocky collaborative history with jazz giant Miles Davis, Prince’s kinder, gentler side towards those he worked with closely and, yes, his view of how The Vault–the one with the master tapes–ought to be handled most respectfully and productively. Read on, if you’re a Prince fan, we guarantee you won’t be able to stop reading this one!
Okayplayer: You’ve already spoken movingly about your reaction to Prince’s passing, and expressed that D’Angelo’s tribute on the Tonight Show helped you achieve some sort of closure–but This loss has affected so many Okayplayers and fans in such a deep way. I’ve heard friend after friend say “it feels like I’ve lost a family member.” Why do you think this is? Why did Prince touch us in this way?
Alan Leeds: I have to confess that I’m a wee bit surprised at the degree of International grief. I suppose I simply never thought about what might happen. Prince seemed immortal, the concept of losing him never entered my mind. Obviously his impact went beyond music and lyrics – it was cultural. Purple Rain made so many things “okay”… 1) The rare pop band led by a black man. 2) Girls in a major band (I know, Sly did it first but Sly was an anomaly in the ‘70s. Prince made it seem normal). 3) A club (First Ave.) where blacks and whites, gays and straights, partied together, sharing the same musical, fashion and social values without being preachy about it. It was there before everyone’s eyes, without any question or highlighting of the fact. It just WAS – was the way it naturally was supposed to be.
OKP: It strikes me that something about Family is a recurring theme in his music, that he used music as a way to connect and connect with people himself–would you agree?
AL: Obviously Prince used music as his connection with people, assembling a family of musicians and crew and an extended family of fans. This was a young man with abandonment issues, stemming from his parents and a dysfunctional family atmosphere. He was black in a city with, then, a small black population of little visibility or influence. He was 5’2”, athletically and artistically gifted–but hardly the macho figure that young girls usually favored. I don’t need a degree in psychology to recognize how his upbringing shaped him.
OKP: I wonder if you could also speak to the connection btwn D’Angelo and Prince. One of the questions Prince’s loss leaves us with is: who else of his caliber do we have left? He is in so many ways incomparable but D’Angelo certainly seems to be determined to carry on the larger tradition of musicality that Prince embodied so effortlessly–and D is certainly one of the only people who could have paid him meaningful tribute with a performance like we saw on The Tonight Show.
AL: I think you said it best in your question. D may not share Prince’s manic drive, Prince’s need for attention, but he is a musical peer in his own way. The world has only begun to discover the wide scope of D’Angelo’s skills as a songwriter, musician and performer. In a sense it may be healthier that D’Angelo does not share Prince’s need of acceptance but it does make for a smaller catalogue. Like his entire generation of artists (of all genres), D’Angelo grew up listening to Prince, who was unavoidably the most influential artist of his time.
OKP: I’ve always treasure your story about Prince meeting Miles Davis–which you regaled Ahmir and assembled Okayplayers with backstage at the Prince Carnegie Hall tribute–would you be willing to share that with us in a more complete form with us, what they connected over or had in common?