The History of Prince’s Backline: The Bands
Much like James Brown, Prince's music was so important to music throughout the years and the bands he worked with were a key component. Here is a short history on each one of his backlines.
Grand Central was a band formed in 1972 by Prince's cousin, drummer Charles "Chazz" Smith, Prince and André Cymone, while still in high-school. They initially did not have a name, but when Terry Jackson joined they briefly went by Charles; Cousin & Friends, Phoenix, Sex Machine, then settling for Grand Central. André Cymone's sister Linda Anderson (keyboard) and soon after William "Hollywood" Doughty (congas) joined. They rehearsed at Terry Jackson's house and played at local community places. In 1973 drummer Charles "Chazz" Smith was replaced by Morris Day. As time went by Grand Central started playing original music. They were sometimes referred to as 'Grand Central Corporation' after Morris Day's mother started managing them. It wasn't until late in 1976, after Prince and Terry Jackson left the band that they evolved into Shampayne. They disbanded in 1978.
The Revolution is a band assembled by Prince in 1983, although an earlier form of the same band existed since 1979 and toured with him from 1979 to 1983. The name "The Revolution" first appeared on the cover of 1999, written in reverse underneath Prince's name. The departure of Dez Dickerson from Prince's band and his replacement with Wendy Melvoin marks "The Revolution" foundation. Although it took until the Purple Rain album for the Revolution to first be named as such. For the next four years not only the band was Prince's backing band but he credited it on three albums.
The band never evolved as an entity of its own, but its members have been an essential resource for Prince, who not only encouraged common efforts in studio sessions, but also gave the band full credits on records. Particularly, Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman were delegated many composing tasks, and have played a major influence in his input of the 80's.
In 1986, Prince disbands The Revolution and most of its members are taken of the retainer. Dr. Fink, as well as Miko Weaver an additional guitarist on the Parade Tour are asked to stay, while Prince starts to form a new band around Sheila E. (see The 87-89 Band).
The 87-89 Band with no name, but was Prince's band from 1987 to early 1989. Initially they served as a live band on the sign O' The Times Tour, and later they also recorded in the studio and can be heard on on the Lovesexy album and subsequent Lovesexy Tour. In February 1988 back-up singers and dancers Greg Brooks and Wally Safford left, and the band would tour without them until their demise following the Lovesexy Tour. The subsequent band, the first incarnation of The NPG, but effectively still nameless would only feature Levi Seacer, Jr., Miko Weaver and Dr Fink. The others would no longer appear.
The New Power Generation is a band assembled by Prince in late 1990 in order to back him up during his live appearances.
After disbanding The Revolution, Prince had been using a live backing band on tours from 1987 to 1990 that did not have a name as such. Following the 1990 Nude Tour, Prince first started referring to his band as "The New Power Generation", a term first used in the song No.
On the 1990 soundtrack album Graffiti Bridge there is also a song dubbed New Power Generation, but at the time it is not attributed to Prince's backing band per se. Like he did with The Revolution previously, Prince coupled his name with "The New Power Generation" on his two next albums.
During the early nineties the band evolved from a backing band to an entity of its own, for which Prince composed material and produced a number of albums, like he had done for The Time previously. Members were encouraged to actively participate in the music creation process, for Prince's album as well as "The New Power Generation (shortened to The NPG) albums projects and other Prince's productions for protégé(e)s or related artists.
In 1996, Prince disbanded "The NPG" and all its members were taken of the retainer. He then began to form a new band, keeping only the "NPG" moniker. Although not being as prominent as in the former "NPG" concept, the band members kept an influential role during studio sessions and live performances. The third "NPG" album, Newpower Soul, reflected these changes: Prince was now openly a member of the band, and its lead singer.
The first half of the new millennium saw "The NPG" line-up evolve almost every year. The band released two singles in 2001, but after that no other studio project stamped "The NPG" surfaced. Meanwhile Prince kept giving each member space to express their own skills on stage .
After disbanding "The NPG" once more, following the Musicology Tour, Prince assembled a new band in order to back up his new protégée, Támar Davis. When he went back to touring as a main act, Prince retained the Támar Davis band musicians to form his own backing band. Nevertheless the autonomy and part of creativity that Prince allowed "The NPG" in the nineties were less prominent: The band seemed to have been delegated to serve merely as a backing band for live shows.
The numerous changes in the band over the last few years reflect Prince's needs on stage, more than what the band would need as members when they would be their own entity. In contrast with earlier line ups, Prince does not exclusively work in studio with its members.
In spite of "The NPG"'s many changes throughout the years, and the fact that today's line-up has little in common with the initial "NPG", Prince has kept the name of "The New Power Generation / The NPG" to define his band.
In addition, "The NPG" seems to have become a wider concept to Prince than just a band, sometimes also including the concert audiences.
3rdEyeGirl is an all-girl band / power trio assembled by Prince in 2012.
Prince first denied being linked with 3rdEyeGirl, but it soon appeared that the entity was under his control as a Twitter account streaming official Prince material was launched in the first days of January 2013, shortly followed by a website, 3rdEyeGirl.com, selling official material (linked with a paypal account belonging to NPG Records Inc.).
Prince recruited Hannah Ford in September 2012 as a guest drummer for the "Welcome 2 Chicago" three show-residency, after seeing videos of her performing on line. Soon after she appeared as lead drummer of The NPG for Prince's performance of Rock And Roll Love Affair on Jimmy Kimmel Live! show on 23 October 2012 as well as in the video for that song.
Asked by Prince to look for a female guitarist, Ford together with her husband Joshua Welton scouted on line and found Donna Grantis via her videos on Youtube in late November. She was auditioned one week later at Paisley Park Studios and subsequently recruited in December 2012. Bassist Ida Nielsen had been performing with The NPG since October 2010, and the only member of the trio to have previous experience playing for Prince as bassist of The NPG.
Shortly after Grantis came on board, the band started rehearsals for the Live Out Loud Tour and started to recorded new material with Prince at Paisley Park Studios. A 3rdEyeGirl featuring Prince album release, Plectrumelectrum, was announced to be released in 'early 2014', but did not come out until late September of that year.
At times 3rdEyeGirl acts as a replacement for The NPG, backing up Prince at shows (albeit always billed as Prince with 3rdEeyeGirl). but Prince also continues to play live shows and to release music with The NPG, on most occasions with Ford on drums, Grantis on guitar and Ida Nielsen, alternating on (extra) guitar and bass, depending if there is another bass player, since 2014 usually Andrew Gouché.