It’s been a week now since Prince left us and the shock has yet to subside.
The impact Prince had on me personally is profound. I vividly remember the day I discovered him just like it was yesterday. It was a late summer night at a multiplex in my hometown that’s long since been razed. Every Tuesday, they used to show movies there for a buck. “Purple Rain” was playing that night on the big screen.
I wasn’t close to being old enough to drive yet, so my mom dropped me off. I paid to see another movie — couldn’t tell you which one now. I lingered between the concession stand and the restroom, and when I thought nobody was looking, I took my chance and ducked into the already darkened theater and took a seat in the back row. There, for the better part of the next hour, Prince proceeded to blow my mind.
Looking back, it was the most exhilarating moment of my young life up to that point for several reasons. First, I was terrified the entire time that I’d be found out, and that already had the adrenaline flowing pretty strong. Add to that the fact that it was the first rated R movie I’d ever seen on my own, and, man, what a rush! It was overwhelming for somebody like me whose sensibilities had yet to really take shape, the lake scene, the man, his motorcycle, the music. Most of all the music! It changed me. It opened a whole new world of possibilities as a music fan and as a musician. His music was all mine, the first tunes I found all on my own that weren’t hand me downs from my older brothers and sisters.
Watching the widespread reactions pour in from across the music world this past week, it’s clear that Prince had that kind of impact on just about everybody who ever picked up an instrument it seems. His influence was enormous and seemed to extend to just about every genre. Even those not necessarily inspired by his iconic presence seem to respect his titanic talent. This point was driven home even more soundly when I spoke with some of the acts who contributed to “PunkSexy: A Las Vegas Punk Rock Tribute to Prince,” the local Record Store Day release compiled by SquidHat Records (available for free streaming and download on Bandcamp). If you haven’t heard it yet, you should totally take the time and it’s definitely worth picking up on vinyl if you can get your hands on a copy.
While there will undoubtedly be countless other comps and covers that follow, this one is fittingly unique, like Prince himself. From the pep punk of the Negative Nancys, who turn in a searing version of “Sister,” to Mercy Music, whose frontman Brendan Scholz fretwork is fierce on the solo of “Purple Rain,” the whole record is rad. It’s hard for me to pick a single highlight.
I also love Guilty By Association’s revved up take on “Let’s Go Crazy” and Franks &Deans’ version of “Jungle Love,” which sews together the intro of “Welcome to the Jungle” to the timeless ode made popular by the Time. And then there’s “Delirious” by the Heiz, who turn back the clock on the tune. I also really dig what the People’s Whiskey does with “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man,” one of my favorite Prince tunes, as well as “I Would Die 4 U” by New Cold War, who makes the song heavy as hell, and the raucous version of “Raspberry Beret” by the Dirty Panties, in addition to the tune taken on by the Quitters, the name of which can’t be printed in a family newspaper.
I asked some of those acts to weigh in, telling me why they chose the songs that they did for the compilation and what Prince has meant to them as musicians and fans, and most everyone I spoke with each shared similar sentiments with regard to his musicianship or had memories that were as vivid as mine of how they first found him.
“Prince was definitely a big influence in my early years growing up,” said Turbo, drummer of the New Waves, whose band offers up a satisfying surf instrumental of “Erotic City” on the comp. “I think a lot of punkers really appreciated what he did when he was doing it. The punk music at the time was pretty hardcore, and when Prince came out, he was pretty hardcore. It was different perspective. He definitely had an influence on a lot of punks.”
“Prince’s arrange(ment) is perfect, so it seemed there (is) no room for re-arranging any Prince’s songs,” wrote Shak Keiji of the Heiz from Tokyo. “We gotta find something both Prince and the heiz have in common. We listened Prince’s hit songs carefully, (we LOVE hit songs!), (and) we finally found out, ‘Delirious.’ It was written with only three chords. What a surprise! Actually, that party-pop-tune was blues number. When it comes to three chords, the heiz’s doing the heiz. You can understand when you listen our version of ‘Delirious.’ I guess Prince is real artist. Even when he plays his music, he created art, so sexy stuff. He lives forever in great arts he ever created.”
“The New Cold War crew does not have an extensive knowledge of Prince’s catalog. We chose ‘I Would Die 4 U’ on the suggestion of the great Steve DeZarn,” said John Brown via email. “Our buddies in False Cause had to drop off the record and we decided to go in a heavy-thrash kind of direction to help fill the vacancy. We also had the goal of creating an arrangement that was as far from the original as possible. ‘I Would Die 4 U’ has lyrical content and themes that lend themselves well to a psychotic hardcore tune — so we attempted a psychotic hardcore tune. We fell in love with the arrangement and the cover remains a regular part of our set.”
“My exposure, to be completely honest, was ‘Batman,’” Andy Harrison of Mustang Ranch Hands told me. He first heard “Batdance” on the late ’80s soundtrack, and “later on, when I started playing guitar is when I realized how genius he was really. I picked ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in the World’ because that’s the one CD single I owned of Prince. I think it was like ninth grade, and of course I got into that song because of a girl. I searched around, but that was my first choice. I wanted to do kind of a country-ish, you know, folk-y song, and that one just fit perfect.”
“What drew me to it, everything was just so well done, like well produced,” said the Quitters drummer Micah Malcolm of Prince’s music. Unlike many of his counterparts on the comp, Malcolm discovered Prince through his ’90s output. “Everything was just so stylized, like a maestro did everything. His musicianship is just insane. That’s the thing I probably take from Prince the most. I wouldn’t say I’m the biggest Prince follower, but as a peripheral fan, I respect the hell out of him.”
For Mary Kate Outenreath of the Negative Nancys, Prince meant just as much to her as a musician as he did a person. “Being born in the ’70s, and growing up in the ’80s, it would have been hard not to be influenced by Prince,” she wrote in an email. “I have fond memories of ‘Raspberry Beret’ blaring on the radio in the hot Texas summers. Later in life, I fell in love with Prince’s early work, which is why I picked ‘Sister’ to cover on the tribute. It’s dirty. It’s honest. It’s a sad reality for some.
“I’ve been a vegetarian/vegan for almost 26 years. Prince was, too,” she went on to point out. “He spoke out about animal rights and the cruelty of the wool industry. He was one of the most talented musicians to ever walk on the Earth. He was compassionate and passionate. He was an inspiration as a musician and a person. I really don’t know what more I can say. We lost another good one.”
Steve DeZarn, who typically just plays guitar in the People’s Whiskey, handles vocals on his band’s rendition of “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man.” And he does an excellent job. He’s been playing the particular tune for years, long before his outfit recorded a version for the record. “I’ve always been a Prince fan and have always worked out other punk rock versions of Prince songs,” said DeZarn. “I just think he was an incredible genius. He’s the Mozart of our time, and his music translates, whether it’s on an acoustic guitar or his full band or three guys playing punk rock music. The song is still as poignant as it ever was intended to be.”
Indeed. And I think we can all agree, nobody will ever take the place of that man.
Dave Herrera’s column, Viva Live Vegas, appears in the paper every Thursday. Follow him on Twitter @rjmusicdh or reach out directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.