St Paul Peterson on the honour of preserving Prince’s legacy
Australia is ridiculously fortunate to experience Nothing Compares 2 Prince for the first time anywhere in the world. Marking two years since the passing of Prince, this tribute tour sees many of his best friends and long time bandmates come together to honour the icon and share his music one last time.
Each of the collective’s 13 members has had a close relationship with Prince and his musical endeavors at some stage in his career – notably including his sister, Tyka Nelson.
One such man is St Paul Peterson, who was discovered by Prince himself at the young age of 17. Still in high school, Peterson was picked to keyboard player of funk band The Time, despite bass being his instrument of choice.
“During my high school years, I was working with my sisters in a couple of different bands, playing bass, singing… just cutting my teeth… around the time I graduated high school I got a phone call asking ‘Do you want to audition for for The Time?’
“I was 17 and cocky, and I gave it a go. It wasn’t until our first gig that I got really scared, as I realised what I’d gotten into.
“To have Prince and The Time pick me to replace someone as incredible as Jimmy Jam and Monte Moyer… you don’t really fathom that when you’re 17.”
Peterson remembers what a tight ship Prince ran, and how thorough he made sure his vision was, even when he wasn’t in the group itself.
“[The Time] was basically run by Jesse Johnson, and he learned from the James Brown/Prince era. What he transferred to us was the importance of playing parts – being able to move, and look cool. Focusing on that part was the most important thing. For a little 17 year old kid, that was probably a bit of a stretch.
“My background was more about improv. That was not what Prince was about.”
Being an eager musician and wanting to carve a name for himself, Peterson eventually left The Time and The Family, which caused quite a legal rift between himself and Prince. But Peterson says that’s all in the past now.
“That was 30 years ago… It’s understandable; he hand picked me, and I ended up splitting. I’d be pissed too.
“Years later, I was spending a lot of time at Paisley Park (Prince’s private estate) with my brother Ricky, who was a producer there. I’d end up on some records there. If Prince didn’t like me, I would have never have been let in.
“We didn’t speak much during that period of time, but when Ricky’s contract was up and we moved out, I ended up writing Prince a letter saying ‘Look, I know we haven’t seen eye to eye, but I gotta tell you, I appreciate everything you’ve done for me and my family. It certainly doesn’t go unnoticed.’
“Next day I get a phone call, Prince asked me back into his house and asked if I wanted to join his band. We met up, ended up having a great laugh, and it opened the door for healing. We weren’t best friends by any means, but we had a lot of great conversations. It was great to get closure.”
One would have thought that past tensions may have made Peterson hesitant to get involved with the Nothing Compares 2 Prince show, but his passion for the project quickly dispels any notion of grudges.
The show’s lineup is overflowing with talent. For Peterson, it’s been a healthy mix of reconnecting with old band mates and working with regular collaborators.
“Jellybean (Johnson, drummer of The Time) has been my friend since 1983. We’ve done so many musical things together. And my brother Rickie is on keys, so I get to bring my actual family out on the road!”
The feeling is that this isn’t so much a random collective of people who happen to overlap in careers, but good friends who genuinely want to celebrate the life and legacy of Prince. It’s organic and natural.
Peterson also has the privilege of being musical director for the show, which he explains as a double-edged sword.
“I’m so lucky and daunted at the same time. The producers wanted me to do it, but how do you choose what to play from a catalogue as large as Prince’s? You should see the spreadsheets I have.”
The true depth of Prince’s work came to light around the time of his passing, with hundreds of demo’s and unpublished songs being found, not to mention the amount of songs he wrote for other artists.
“I’ve never seen anything like it. His work ethic was second to none. It sure taught me a lesson.
“What this is for me… I feel like an ambassador for Prince’s music and his legacy. This is a collaboration spanning all the different decades, all the different bands and the different eras. It all makes this concert so, so special.”
Nothing Compares 2 Prince
Sydney Opera House
Friday, April 27
Saturday, April 28
Melbourne Arts Center, Hamer Hall
Sunday, April 29