Former bandmate Morris Hayes opens up about the kindness and confidence of Prince
Morris Hayes began playing in Prince’s band in 1992, and stayed with him for two decades.
This week, he has brought a group of Prince’s former musicians to Australia to perform a series of shows in celebration of his old boss’ incomparable work.
He dropped by Double J to chat to Tim Shiel about his career as a Prince sideman.
You started as a production assistant at Paisley Park then worked your way up. Do you remember the first time you bumped in to Prince?
I would see him all the time and he would see me but he just never said anything to me. That was really weird, because I was cool with a couple of his band guys like Levi Caesar and Mark Brown. I’d be in the studio and Prince would be holding court, doing his thing, and I’d just kind of be in the corner out of the way.
I just made it a point not to laugh too loud at the jokes. Prince loved a joke and he’d be funny and I tried not to bring attention to myself because people who usually brought attention to themselves got gone.
I think what really got his attention is Levi let me do some keyboard parts on a song that Time was working on. He heard it and he liked it and that was really the first comments he made to me. While I was sitting in the studio he said, ‘Nice solo’.
It was all about the musicianship for Prince, wasn’t it?
Yeah, that’s what it really came down to. At that time there was a lot of people that worked at Paisley Park. It was like the Starship Enterprise, there was a lot of people walking around [who] you didn’t know what they did. But, towards the end, there was nobody there, because he didn’t want anybody there. Back then there was like 100 and something people on staff.
It’s not a myth, right – Prince was an incredible basketballer?
No, he was dope, man. He used to beat the tar out of me every chance he got.
Sometimes Prince was hard on us and I just wanted anyway I could get revenge. I thought the only place I possibly could was basketball. I’m 6’5” and I wanted to beat him senseless and I could not do it. He knew that I was big and gangly so all he had to do was pump fake me enough to get me off my feet and he’d dribble around me or dribble through my legs.
He was very quick. He beat me all the time. It was very frustrating.
Take me back to the 2007 NFL Super Bowl. Do you remember Prince’s reaction when he found out he would have to perform in the middle of a torrential downpour?
There was a production person who was telling him they’d checked the weather and it was going to come in on us. What they do at the Super Bowl is record the whole thing Friday night, so, if there’s a problem Sunday they have this b-roll. They were explaining the situation to [Prince] saying it’s not going to let up, it’s going to be treacherous.
He’s like, ‘Can you make it rain harder?’.
Was he fearless?
It’s hard to say. On one hand, Prince got really nervous with these kind of shows. I found out later that all his attention to detail was just [him being] really nervous, not so much what he was going to do, but mostly about what we were going to do. Cos, in his mind, he’s gonna kill it. His whole thing was, ‘I’m gonna get on stage and murderise my part. Morris, what are you going to do?’
I considered myself his friend and he treated me like a friend, his actions proved that he was. He did a lot of things for me. To be honest I made an inordinate amount of mistakes. I had so many things that could go wrong, and this dude man was incredibly patient. I think a lot of other people would have been fired so long ago, but he allowed me to make mistakes. I got better and I grew over time.
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He came to my house towards the end of our working relationship and told me how much he appreciated me, how much he loved me. It unsettled me enough that I had to sit in my wife’s office and kind of get myself together. I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed.
He was intense like that. He told me he appreciated the people I had brought to him. I was looking around like there was a camera crew around, I just thought it was crazy cos it’s not something he did often.
More than anything he treated me like a friend. And he built my dream house! That place had a recording studio that he even got mad at as he thought it sounded better than his. He yelled at his engineers saying, ‘Why does Morris’s sound better than Paisley? He’s [got a] quarter of a million in his and I’ve got 12 million in mine. Mine should be way better!’
One of the locals in Minneapolis said that most venues in town would keep a spot free when Prince is in town, just in case?
Sometimes he was working and he’d send word to have you guys come to the studio. He did it with D’Angelo, he did it with No Doubt, he did it with Lenny [Kravitz]. After the show he’d say, ‘Come out to Paisley, we’re gonna all jam.’ That was his thing. If he couldn’t go to you, he’d send word. Like ‘the Prince has requested your presence at Paisley’.
The New Power Generation play Bluesfest Byron Bay on Friday 30 and Saturday 31 March.