West Coast Bureau Chief Keith Valcourt caught up with Prince’s longtime drummer Bobby Z to discuss his time spent with Prince, cheating death and reuniting the greatest funk rock band ever: The Revolution (aka: Prince’s band in “Purple Rain”), for a cause that was close to his heart – literally.
Rocker: For those that don’t know, what happened to you a year ago?
Bobby: I had a a very serious heart attack while on the operating table. It was a few days before Valentine’s Day in 2011. They were able to put two stents in. They wanted to put in a third but I was too weak. They let me rest for a couple days and then my heart rate got out of control and couldn’t be brought down, so they put me in a medically induced coma and at that point they had no idea if I was going to come back to life. My family was called in to sit by. It got pretty twisted there for a minute. But I recovered and was shipped to the University of Minnesota where they have a backup unit. I had the third stent done and watched it on the big screen. Talk about reality TV!
How are you feeling these days?
Bobby Z: I’ve improved greatly. I had a heart function in the beginning of about 16% and now I’m at about 49%, so I’m pleased that they cleaned me out and I’ve been able to rehabilitate. So far. So good.
During the hospital stay there was lots of times where I worried if I would ever play the drums again. My shoulder got crushed a little bit, and for the one split second where I thought I couldn’t play again I was scared to death. I promised myself that if I ever could play the drums again I would do the biggest show I can to thank all these fans who helped me get through this with their prayers and everything. I said, “I wanna get Prince and The Revolution back together, or at least try.” I called Prince and he didn’t answer right away but I finally got his permission. His answer was “What can I do to help?” Then I called Wendy & Lisa and they graciously said yes right away. I’ll never forget the phone call. I said, “I need to talk to you both together.” Before I could say anything Wendy said, “You’re going to ask us to play with you right?” I said, “Yes.” Wendy said, “Lisa is nodding yes.” Lisa’s nod was the official launch of this thing. I love her and being on stage with them is something else. The show we are doing at First Avenue is the experience of Prince and The Revolution the way it was back in the day in First Avenue because our crew is coming back too. The best people in the business.
Dez Dickerson is joining rest of The Revolution (Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman, Dr. Matt Fink, Brown Mark and Eric Leeds) for the entire first set. By him being there you open two chapters of The Revolution. You get the “Controversy”/ “1999” Revolution with Dez which spills into the “Purple Rain”/ “Around The World In A Day”/ “Parade” Revolution. That makes the potential songs from the Prince songbook wider. To be honest with you, I worked with Prince from day one, and since it’s my party the Prince songbook goes all the way back. Nothing is off the table. We’re really looking forward to playing his music again.
Is this the first time you’ve been back at (legendary Minneapolis nightclub) First Avenue since the “Purple Rain” days?
It is. The first time since we came back after the “Purple Rain” tour and did a couple shows. Prince came back and played there as part of his three shows in one day in 2007. The final one being around 2am at First Avenue.
How close to the real Bobby Z was the character of Bobby Z you played in “Purple Rain?”
I’ve never been asked that. It’s an interesting question. I’m an actor because of that moment. When they stick that huge 35-millimeter panavision camera in your face in a Hollywood setting, it is pretty unnerving and revealing even for the toughest and most self-confident of people. I think I brought some kind of coolness or seriousness that I think I have – my son called it my “Game Face” – to it. We took the movie roles deadly seriously. Took dance classes and actor’s training to get to the moment. I felt confident I came off as ‘street’; tough guy drummer dressed like Louis the 14th. It’s not easy to pull off! Tough guy in ruffled shirts wearing more makeup than your grandma is tough to do! (Laughs)
Wendy is handling the lead vocals, how is that different from when Prince does?
It’s similar to like when the teacher leaves the room. There is always somebody that carries on the lesson. And that was Wendy’s role when we rehearsed. We rehearsed every day and there were all kinds of configurations that took place. Everybody has their roles.
When you get back together like this are you tempted to take the band minus Prince on tour or in the studio?
I think we are doing a lot of good with this one show. We have Prince’s blessing and I think we should just all enjoy the moment. I think the world would love to see Prince and The Revolution again. I think we would have a healing effect on the world. It would be his call at that point to take it a step further. If we are good enough and people were talking about it then it would be his call for us to continue on. Or if Prince was okay with it maybe we could do a show out West. We’ll see.
What was it like to be Prince’s drummer for almost 2 decades?
There is all this weird stuff about the way groups evolve, shift and separate. Bands are constantly shifting electrons. People talk about U2. Four guys meet in high school grow up together and they’re all good enough to stick it out and make it. If it were that easy every high school would have a famous band. It’s difficult to find that combination of people that somehow work off each other. Then you have to have a master leader. There are so many different complexities that make it up. In our case Minneapolis was set for some sort of musical messiah if you will. When Prince came I gravitated to him instantly because had never seen anyone play a piano like that in my life. The piano was moving like a Betty Boop cartoon, bouncing around in my brain when I heard this music. I saw it and I went “wow!” Prince totally lived up to and beyond the world’s expectations and I’m proud of him.
Prince gave his blessing for the show and has been invited. Any chance he may join you onstage?
I had dinner with him 3 days ago on Valentines Day. We had an amazing night. I asked him. He’s here in town. I told him the stage door will be open and it will never close. It’s up to him. It would be fun. But we’re good either way.
Editors note: Prince was a no show at the concert.
The Set List:
2. Do It All Night
4. Let’s Work
5. Pop Life
8. Life Can Be So Nice
11. Baby I’m a Star
12. Let’s Go Crazy
13. Encore: Purple Rain
14. 2nd Encore: Uptown (featuring Greg Sain of G Sharp)
Check out Bobby Z’s website: Mypurpleheart.org