Monday, June 19, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Wendy Melvoin has composed and performed Emmy and ASCAP award-winning music for television shows like Heroes, Nurse Jackie, Carnivale and more, and written for and collaborated with artists including Madonna and Glen Campbell. But she’ll always be best known as the guitar player in the Revolution, Prince’s backing band on iconic albums Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day and Parade. The Revolution was also immortalized in the Purple Rain film, which won two Academy Awards.
Since the band’s heyday in the 1980s, Melvoin has kept in touch with original Revolution members Bobby Z, Matt Fink, Lisa Coleman and Brown Mark, and after Prince’s death in April 2016, the group decided to reunite to play three shows at First Avenue in Minneapolis. The response to those shows and demand for the performance of Prince’s music turned into a tour, one which visits Brooklyn Bown Las Vegas at the Linq Promenade Wednesday night, June 21 (find ticket info here).
We caught up with Melvoin for a conversation about the music and the memories behind Prince and the Revolution.
The tour has been getting a lot of attention, but how’s it going for you and the band? It’s been going remarkably well. At first, when we were rehearsing in Minneapolis in a warehouse working out the kinks, it was like, Wow, are we going to be able to keep this going? Can we do this? A couple of those rehearsals were pretty damn sketchy, I gotta tell you. But after the first [tour] show we did in Chicago, however cheese-ball it may sound, it was like wearing an old comfortable shoe. And now more than a month in, it’s even more comfortable. Everybody in the band is feeling more settled. We’re really trying to make a point to let the fans know that this is about giving these songs back to them, because no artist will ever be him, and no one in our band will ever try to be him. And we know the only way for fans to reconcile his loss is to own these songs, so we want everybody to come and sing. We’ll be your band.
You’ve been bringing out different guests to sing different songs during the show. Yeah, we’ll have a couple guests come out. It’s just nice to have other artists that love him come out and share what it is they love about Prince. We had Bilal come out [for a concert], and he done a tribute at Carnegie Hall singing “Sister,” and it was a completely different arrangement of the song but it was so deeply touching. He turned it into his own pathos in a way I’ve never heard anyone do [Prince’s] work before. To go out and play these songs is to realize how monumental this music was to people, because the Revolution was part of an era where Prince became himself. We sort of feel like we can sort of offer some place for fans to land and navigate their grief … we’re trying to make sure we give the audience a place to creatively get their feelings out.
You’ve also performed with Stokley Williams, the vocalist from the R&B group Mint Condition. Is he coming to Vegas? Yes, and what a big surprise he was. I had never heard of him or Mint Condition, but Bobby and Matt and Mark knew him and Prince loved him. What a massive talent, and a really lovely man. He has done a remarkable job of coming out and being a part of this in a way that doesn’t take away from Prince, because he’s so respectful of the material and the audience’s relationship to it. He’s not [like Prince] at all but Prince really loved him because he’s so Stokley, and when he comes out and sings some of these songs, it’s Stokley holding the hands of the audience, and that’s the whole idea of what it is we’re doing.
Every musician I’ve spoken with in the last year is quick to bring up Prince and talk about him and his music and impact. Everyone has such an emotional connection to his work. Do the performances with the Revolution continue to be consistently emotional, or have you moved into a different space at this point? Most of the time it’s not a full-on boo-hoo through the whole thing, but there are moments when the five of us look at each other and go, Wow, where is he? A show hasn’t gone by without some heavy moments, that is for sure. We are wearing the pain of our loss a little more responsibly now; it doesn’t seem quite as messy. We’re not playing in a puddle of tears, but there are moments that are difficult, and you can tell when the audience responds in a certain way. There are moments during “Purple Rain,” because it’s such an epic piece of music, where people are crying and it affects everybody on stage. But it’s not a bummer, it’s more healing and relief.
You’ve done a lot since your original days with the Revolution. Was there a time in your career when you wanted to distance yourself from that notoriety? I never made a conscious choice to distance myself from the Revolution. It was a difficult time for all of us to be apart and it’s been many years, but we tried many times to get [together] and get off the ground, and it was close to happening before [Prince] died. But I needed the time away from them. I’ve become a consummate musician in the years I’ve been away and it’s only helped what we’re doing now. I’m a better player than I was on Purple Rain by a thousand percent. Carrying the weight of those [guitar] solos and certain vocals is not an issue for me.
The reason we are out here now is because he died and we needed to be together. We just wanted to be together. There are a lot of people out there who are very angry at us because we’re out here, and we don’t have the whole Paisley Park family involved. But this is our form of grief, to be together and do this. I understand their anger but this is how we navigate through this loss.
Is there a song that you are enjoying a lot more now than you ever did before? “America.” We wrote that song together. There is such a different meaning now with what is happening in the world today, so when we play, it has a different energy. It would be fierce no matter what, but it is fiercer now, and it feels comfortably owned by us on stage.