Keyboardist Morris Hayes arrived at Paisley Park as a production assistant. Under Prince’s tutelage, he eventually became not just a member of the New Power Generation but the band’s most senior member.
“I was just one of those church cats that played music by ear, so at first it was very difficult for me to keep up. We wouldn’t just learn one song, we’d learn a string of songs, and when we’d come back the next day I’d forget some. I remember he pulled me to the side and said, ‘Are you a genius, Morris?’ I said no. ‘O.K., then write it down. I don’t write it down ‘cause I’m a genius. I’ve got a million of ‘em, and I can remember. But unless you’re a genius, write it down.’ He gave you that extreme focus, where you knew you had to really come with it.”
It’s fascinating that unlike so many gifted individuals, Prince was able to coach less talented and help them improve. I wonder if that might have had something to do with his early relationship with Andre Cymone, his friend from junior high and member of both Grand Central and The Revolution, of whom it was said that he could play everything Prince could play, but only if Prince showed him how to do it first. Speaking of which, this article about his performance at the 2004 ceremony honoring George Harrison tends to support that anecdote as well as put both both his performance and his demeanor in context.
I had no idea that Prince was going to be there. Steve Winwood said, “Hey, Prince is over there.” And I said, “I guess he’s playing with us?”
So I said to Winwood, “I’m going to go over and say hello to him.” I wandered across the stage and I went up to him and I said, “Hi, Prince, it’s nice to meet you — Steve Ferrone.” And he said, “Oh, I know who you are!” Maybe because I’d played on Chaka Khan’s “I Feel for You,” which is a song that he wrote. I went back over and I sat down behind the drum kit, and Winwood was like: “What’s he like? What’d he say?”
Then I was sitting there, and I heard somebody playing a guitar riff from a song that I wrote with Average White Band. And I looked over and Prince was looking right at me and playing that song. And I thought, “Yeah, you actually do know who I am!”
I was actually more surprised that Prince had ever heard anything played by a band called Average White Band than at the fact he would remember a riff from it and be able to play it from memory. But then, they were pretty funky and even I would recognize “Pick up the Pieces”, so I suppose that makes sense.
My favorite part of the Harrison tribute article is how the clueless lead guitarist kept playing the Clapton solos in rehearsal and Prince didn’t make a fuss. He just strummed along, waited for someone else tell the guy to back off, then waited until they were on stage to show him how it’s done. Prince being Prince, I strongly suspect it was his quiet annoyance at the guy’s earlier failure to know his place that drove the unusual nature of his performance that night, particularly because he told the producer to let the guy go ahead and play the middle solo.
“Look, let this guy do what he does, and I’ll just step in at the end. For the end solo, forget the middle solo.”
That wasn’t just genius being expressed on that stage, it was also the contempt of a genius for mere talent and skill. Hey, even geniuses sometimes require motivation.