November 1994

“The Guitarist Formerly Known As Prince”

By Alan Di Perna

Call him “funky", call him “bad", but don’t call him “Prince”. A rare conversation with , visionary composer and one of the best guitarists of this generation.

The room is small and cave-like, maybe five feet long, with a low, rounded, gold ceiling that slopes gradually down to a floor covered with a snow white, shag pile carpet. The space has a slightly claustrophobic feel and smells vaguely of perspiration and Lord knows what else. If there were a whorehouse in Disneyland, it might look something like this. At the big end of the cave, right behind a red velvet curtain, stands a huge mixing console. Down at the smaller end there’s a mirrored dressing table and a throne-like chair upholstered in leopard skin.

Welcome to the Endorphin Machine—the on-stage inner sanctum of The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.

Who else but — as he wishes now to be identified — would design a stage that includes a place where the artist can hide from his audience? Exclusive and withdrawn, is a man of mystery. Ticket holders will never see behind the red velvet curtain. Perhaps they are meant to imagine scenes of deliciously unutterable decadence unfolding in that lair every time retreats inside. But now the truth can be revealed: he goes back there to primp and mix the show.

The mirror and mixing board are fitting symbols for the boundless ego encased within the 5-foot, 3-inch frame of The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. If it weren’t for the incredible, genre-bending, funkier-than-God music created by that Artist, the ego might be totally unbearable. You think that (1) singing his heart out, (2) make his guitar wail like St. Theresa on ecstasy, (3) leading his awe-inspiring band and (4) being the all-round focal point of the whole damn show would give the guy enough to do. He’s gotta be the sound man too? Everybody in the music business knows you can’t mix house sound from the stage.

Or can’t you?

"It’s been a real trial-and-error process, but it’s getting a lot better", says Michael Bland, the drummer for ’s current band, The New Power Generation. “Right now doesn’t trust any sound man—and rightfully so . Back in 1990 during my first tour with Prince, as he was called then, he would go into his guitar solo on ’Purple Rain’, and sometimes it would be like four bars before the sound man would boost the signal and the guitar would finally kick in. Now, where’s that at? The whole solo would be shot. is a very hands-on person. His attitude is, ’If you can’t give it to me, I’ll get it myself.’”

It certainly sounds good inside ’s Glam Slam club in Minneapolis, where the man is leading mighty New Power Generation through a set that comes on as hard, strong and relentless as a lubed-up locomotive. The whole crow is dancing three feet above the ground—elated seeing their hometown hero at such close quarters, in the intimate confines of his own night club. Chalk up another one for . If anyone can mix house sound from stage, it’s this slender enigma, who can get utterly slammin’ funk out of everything—from a “cloud” guitar to an SSL mixing computer.

He has in fact, made a lifelong career of breaking all known showbiz rules. At the tender age of 17, Prince, as he was known, was singed to Warner Bros. and given complete artistic control over his music -the youngest artist in the company’s history ever to be so privileged. Since then he has resolutely refused to conform to anything resembling a safe or predictable career path, always taking chances that many would deem reckless, if not downright foolish. He’s never been afraid to expose himself to potential ridicule. And he has consistently been vindicated by the superlative quality and imaginative intensity of his music.

Speaking of imagination, designed the entrance and interior of his onstage mixing cave as a stylized replica of the female sex organ—complete with a two-foot high, faux gold clitoris. This may seem sexist but it should be remembered that his stage set also includes a massive gold tower that in no small way suggests the main anatomical peculiarity of males. The fact is, has never been one to discriminate. His bands have always included musicians of all genders and races. His music spans a wide spread of styles, from rock to funk to bop. The man has always delighted in taking what appear to be irreconcilable opposites and demonstrating that they are really part of the same cosmic Love Vibe. Typical is the new name he’s taken on: , a combination of the symbols for male and female. Even the design of the form-fitting bodysuit he wears at the Glam Slam—one black trouser leg, one white, and a bold interweaving of the two colors up and down the garment—reflects his obsession with the true harmony of apparent opposites.

But there is a downside to all this. With one foot squarely in funk and the other one firmly planted in rock, has never gotten his full propers in either field. And his talents as a songwriter, singer, multi-instrumentalist, producer and all-around image maker have tended to obscure the fact that he is one kickass guitar player.

But he certainly isn’t hiding his mastery from his Glam Slam audience. opens his show with several thunderous hard rock numbers, tearing up the fretboard of his eponymous “love symbol” guitar. The set is heavy on brand new material, mostly from albums the public may never get to hear (see below). Never one to pander to audience expectations, isn’t performing any of his old hits tonight. (they were, in any case, recorded by a forgettable someone named Prince). His one concession to commercialism is his performance of his newest single, “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World”. Not surprisingly, the concert is compelling from beginning to end. It’s clear is that is currently going through one of his most rock-guitar-intensive phases since the glory days of Purple Rain. He even closes his set with a medley of classic Santana guitar moments, deftly evoking Carlos’s hot phrasing while adding something of his own unique tone and style.

“I always wanted to be thought of as a guitarist,” quietly admits. “But you have a hit and you know what happens...”

The interviewer must content himself with such tantalizingly brief pronouncements when dealing with The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. Just as he disdains showbiz conventions for concerts or albums, he ignores the rules when it comes to playing the interview game. Journalists are forbidden to even use the word “interview” in his presence, use a tape recorder, refer to a question sheet or take any form of notes during their “conversation” with . ( Of course, the “P-word” is verboten). Reporters are simply supposed to remember everything he says. This seems a daunting task—until you realize how little he does say: ’s responses are monosyllabic and often deliberately evasive. The man seems to harbor a deep mistrust of the written or spoken word. Even his new name is a symbol that cannot be expressed verbally or represented in the alphabet of any language. Knowingly or otherwise, has allied himself with those post-modernist intellectuals who feel that language is inherently deceitful—a tool of oppression wielded by those in power.

On the other hand, the possibility does exist that is something of an idiot savant. (Who ever said that musical genius has anything to do with intelligence?) Or perhaps his long time friend and current bassist, Sonny Thompson, has the best take: “He’d just rather say it through his music. His thing is, ’I’ll put out as much music as I can and express myself that way’”.

In any case, inquiring reporters are given little opportunity to learn whether the Man Who Calls Himself ’s mind is like Albert Einstein’s—or more like Forrest Gump’s. Audiences with are typically brief. Journalists are generally kept waiting for hours and hours, typically till two or three in the morning. It should be noted that the press aren’t the only ones singles out of this kind of treatment. On the evening of my own appointment with him in Minneapolis, he also had Barbara Streisand’s lighting director flown in all the way from New York, presumably to discuss hiring him for the big upcoming tour. This poor fellow was kept cooling his heels for five hours before being ushered into ’s presence, where he was told, “My work is my love. My love is my work. We’ll talk”.

My own first meeting with the Man Whose Name You’re Not Supposed To Say comes a few hours after the Glam Slam gig, at an after-show party held upstairs at the club. Two of his functionaries lead me with due reverence up to a spot next to the DJ’s console where is standing, holding court. Despite the strenuous set he’s just played, he looks quite fresh. He’s changed into a striped polo shirt and flares—the sailor boy look. (The Hendrix-cum-Little Richard bouffant seems to have gone out with the P-name). His pencil-line sideburns and mustache are connected in a single sinuous line. My research on has prepared for me for his slight stature and the quarter-inch thick layer of make up on his face. But the real surprise is his everyday speaking voice. He sounds so normal, like a regular guy from the Midwest. This comes across with particular force over the telephone, where he is carefully-preened physical presence can’t serve as a decoy.

As the crowd around him thickens, abandons his post and scoots up onto a brick window ledge behind the DJ booth. He’s said to be sensitive about his height, and from this vantage point he’s able to look over the heads of most of the other people in the room. was purportedly eager for an interview that would deal with music and guitar playing instead of focusing on issues like his sexuality or what Kim Bassinger was like. So I start by inquiring whether he considers the guitar his main instrument. He replies reasonably enough, that he doesn’t considers any instrument his “main” one. He just reaches for whatever seems necessary to bring a song into being.

“I start with the city. Then I choose the street.” he adds somewhat cryptically.

GUITAR WORLD: And what instrument did you start on?

: Piano, I went to guitar later on, when I was about 13.

GW: What is your idea of the ultimate guitar tone?

: A woman in climax.

GW: Do you plan your solos on record or are they spontaneous?

: Spontaneous.

GW: Which solo or guitar track of yours is your favorite?

: All are different.

GW: What was the genesis of the Santana medley you performed tonight?

: It was Sonny’s (Thompson) idea.

GW: Is Carlos a particular favorite guitarist of yours? Have you two ever met?

: I would consider Carlos a friend.

GW: Who are your all-time favorite guitarists? Your biggest guitar influences?

: I listened to everybody. My favorite of all time is Sonny T.

The influence question is a sticky one with —there’s no making him cite any name players who’s affected his guitar style. Not that he doesn’t wear many of his musical antecedents on his sleeve. Whether it’s because he grew up black in whiter-than-white-Minnesota, or because of the man’s own voracious musical appetites, the young Prince cut his teeth on a mixture of R&B and early-Seventies FM radio rock: Sly And The Family Stone and Earth Wind and Fire, along with vigorous helpings of the likes of Grand Funk Railroad and Chicago. According to the account, the ability to play the solo from Chicago’s album rock hit “25 Or Six to Four” was the acid test for aspiring guitarists in Prince’s high school. And an early band of his was named Grand Central, in homage to Michigan’s own Seventies trio, Grand Funk Railroad. Also, as the son of a working jazz pianist, John Nelson, the young Prince must surely have picked up on that side of the African-American musical tradition.

But today there’s no getting him to acknowledge any of this. It’s as though he wants to create the impression that he was created ex nihilo—from nothing, like Venus springing fully formed from the forehead of Zeus. So he won’t play the name game when asked about his influences. Perhaps he’s afraid of leaving someone out, or naming someone who might be considered unhip. The more he is pressed to identify role models on the guitar, the more he returns to Sonny Thompson, the bass player in his own band. Thompson played guitar with several Minneapolis groups before joining the New Power Generation.

“I thought Sonny was God,” says the man many speak of in similarly exalted terms. “Sonny was my hero. A lot of what I do on guitar, I learned from him. I’d go over to his house and we’d play records and he’d show me things on guitar.”

Thompson seems agreeably surprised when informed of his boss high praise: “Oh, man! He said that? Wow!” Sonny has known since childhood. “We grew up together,” the bassist narrates. “I met him on the south side of Minneapolis. I was carrying my guitar somewhere and he was carrying a guitar too.”

Sonny remembers what he and the young listened to during their formative stages as guitarists: “At that particular time, I was about 13 or 14. I was listening to a lot of Hendrix and Grand Funk Railroad. I had a band I was playing guitar in then. Chick Corea and them were around and I was just starting to get into them. A whole bunch of wild stuff.”

Sonny adds that was a fast learner.

“Oh, man! Photographic memory. Anything you played for him, he could repeat it. I’ve never seen anything like it. He’s definitely got perfect pitch. Anything he hears, he can play.“

It’s hardly surprising that and Sonny worked out on Hendrix riffs during the early Seventies: what guitarist who grew up in that era didn’t? At times, specially during the 1984-85 Purple Rain phase, seemed intent on turning himself into Jimi Hendrix. The lace neck cloths and spangly frock coats were a defiantly blatant rip from the cover of Hendrix’ Are you Experienced? album. Many of the stage moves for his lengthy in-concert guitar solos during this period also seemed carefully copied from Hendrix film clips. One wonders whether the whole thing was just another costume change for him -another disguise, something new to wear, like his Sign O’ the Times terrycloth miniskirt or the Zorro get up in the front cover of . But in donning Jimi’s stage weeds, seems to have taken the man’s music deeply to heart as well. Even his latest album, Come, concludes with a free-form solo guitar track called “Orgasm,” which finds erupting on the fretboard in a manner that bears no small resemblance to Jimi’s Woodstock rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner”. Only, has added his own inimitable touch of the proceedings. The only other sound on the track is that of an unidentified female experiencing a prolonged, and rather vocal sexual climax.

GW: You’ve often been compared to Jimi Hendrix. How do you feel about that?

: People make the world go ’round.

GW: Was your guitar solo on “Orgasm” directly inspired by the track’s title/subject matter?

: Yes.

GW: So many people think of the guitar as a phallic symbol. Do you?

: People make the world go ’round.

Sonny Thompson has his own respective: “A lot of people say he sounds like Hendrix; but to me, he doesn’t really. His vibrato is different. Just the way he attacks the guitar is different. I think his guitar sound is coming into its own at this point. I think he incorporates whatever he hears into his guitar playing, like from different instruments and all. It’s like his absorbing all this stuff and spitting it back out.”

One reason why it’s difficult to get a fix on the musician is that he’s so incredibly prolific. In addition to his own prodigious output—roughly an album a year since 1978 plus a slew of singles, remixes and non-albums B-sides—he’s said to have some 500 songs in the can that have never been released, not counting bootleg material. And let’s not forget his activities as a film and video actor/director/screenwriter. Or the hits he’s written and/or produced for other artists, including Sheila E., the Bangles, Sheena Easton, The Time, even Kenny Rogers. He’s all over the just released 1800-NEW FUNK album which includes his duet with Nona Gaye (daughter of Marvin), “Love Sign”. Beyond this, songs are always turning up on soundtracks and he even finds time to play keyboards on recordings by the jazzy instrumental group Madhouse. The man is almost perpetually writing and recording. His whole existence is apparently set up so he can do as much as possible.

The Paisley Park headquarters is located near ’s house out in Chanhassen, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. It’s a sanitary, corporate-looking building that could easily be the headquarters of a prosperous Midwestern insurance company. Not a rococo phallus in sight.

“People are always disappointed that there aren’t women in bondage gear hanging from the rafters", deadpans Paisley Park’s house publicist. Instead, the place is staffed by clean-cut, efficient-looking young woman and men—again racially mixed—all of whom seem able to say “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince” with an entirely straight face. “Hope you have a good conversation with The Artist Formerly Known As Prince", one told me, beaming. Or “have you seen this new picture of The Artist Formerly Known As Prince?” Among themselves, though, they usually just refer to him as “The Boss”.

The top floor at Paisley Park houses ’s many business operations. This includes his newly created NPG Records, headed by Levi Seacer Jr., who left his post at the New Power Generation’s consummately funky second guitarist to concentrate on the biz. On the main floor, there’s justly famous Paisley Park recording studio which houses, among other things, one of the slickest SSL consoles on the planet, and certainly the only one that bears a symbol in place of the manufacturer’s logo. Down a level is a massive sound stage which is used for everything, from video shoots to full-scale tour rehearsals and impromptu jams.

Basically, whenever the inspiration strikes him, will slip down from his house and futz around with any of these state-of-the-art facilities. People at Paisley will tell you that their Boss “is very hands on” with the business, and that he’s in his upstairs office by 10 or 11 every morning. But far more of his time is spent in the studio. Apparently, sleeps very little. It’s not unusual for his band members to be awakened at three or four in the morning and summoned to a recording session.

“It’s like being a fireman,” Michael Bland suggests. “If there’s a fire, you get up, put your rubber pants on and you slide down the pole. The turnover rate in terms of writing material and recording it, is incredible. works quicker than anyone could imagine. He has a tendency to walk around with this notebook that has words in it -just lyrics looking for a song. And if he hears something he likes while we’re jamming, he’ll pull [the book] right open and we’ll be working on a new song. Other times, he’ll come into the studio with a completed song that he’ll have finished at his house, at his grand piano and a cheap little cassette deck.”

himself doesn’t like to talk about songwriting; “childbearing,” he calls it. “Those questions are too personal. Thank you for not asking.” But if we talk to the people around you learn things. From the guys at his band, you learn that is a virtual antenna for song ideas. He’s perpetually in receive mode, ever ready to snatch a new song idea from the air around him.

“A lot of ideas for songs come from our soundchecks” says Levi Seacer. “I mean our soundchecks are sometimes longer than our shows! We just start jamming. If someone has a good idea, we put it on a cassette and we may go to the studio after the show and cut the song. Like Diamonds and Pearls—the basic tracks for that album came together in like a week and a half. I remember one night we cut three songs: ’Money Don’t Matter,’ ’Willing and Able’ and [the non-lp B-side] ’Horny Pony’. All three of those in one evening.”

tends to go for spontaneous, first take, live-in-the-studio tracks—even when he’s cutting a complex, episodic piece like “Three Chains Of Gold” from the album. “That’s one of many we had to do in one take,” Michael Bland remembers. “We had to cut that all in one big hunk, and it was murder man. All had was all these little sections that he’d written while he was in Paris. We had to piece it all together and then play it.”

Another artist has been compared to is Frank Zappa—for the staggering amount of high quality work he’s released, for his ability to play instruments, and for his obsessive, workaholic perfectionism. And like Zappa, he meticulously composes and arranges some of his records in advance, while on other discs, like Come, he trusts more to improvisation.

“The Come album really evolved from a boredom during Christmas vacation", Michael Bland laughs. “Sonny and I were the only two cats in the band who hung around Minneapolis during Christmas vacation. And got bored, as he usually does. Because when he’s not creating he’s not alive, you know. So he went down to the soundstage where we were set up for rehearsal before vacation began. And he just played by himself all day; they say he stayed in there for like eight, 10 hours, just messing around with ideas. And then the second day he got up the courage to call us and ask, “You guys bored too?” So we came out and worked on a good half dozen tunes. And we went in the studio and started cutting them—we cut the rhythm tracks for ’Dark,’ ’Come,’ ’Papa’ and a few other things like that.”

As his band members returned to town, did quite a bit more work on these basic tracks, and Come ultimately turned out to be a pretty slick album. But the idea of just working in a trio context with just Sonny and Michael triggered in the idea for another kind of record. In the midst of work on Come, the three of them set up together on the soundstage at Paisley Park, their amps cranked up full, and did some bluesy jamming. The result is an album called The Undertaker.

“Picture this” says Michael: “A DAT machine, a 32-channel board, two techs and three players. It was about three o’clock in the morning. We got our sounds together and just let the DAT roll. We took about an hour to make that record, from start to finish, playing straight through with no overdubs. The sequence of songs on the record is exactly the way we played it. The guitar guitar segues from one song to the next, like when we do live stuff.”

There’d been talk for a while of a straight-up blues album from the Artist They Used To Call Prince, but The Undertaker, says , is not that album. “It starts off in a blues vein,” he admits, “bit then quickly goes to funk. But because of the first song, people tend to want to put it in that [blues] glass of water.”

I take a seat behind the SSL board in the control room at Paisley Park’s big studio. An engineer cues up a tape and a lean, powerful three-chord blues called “The Ride” flows from the speakers. The song is squarely in the classic automotive double-entendrè tradition: “If you got the time baby, I got the ride”. But ’s guitar solos (and there are many of them) fling themselves violently outside the confines of traditional blues riffing. The first solo is fluid and slippery, with a tone that combines honking wah and the envelope filter sound from a Zoom 9030 effects processor. (apparently has become infatuated with the Zoom. He’s currently using it heavily, much in the same way he used a harmonizer on the Diamonds and Pearls album). And with the second guitar solo, all hell breaks loose—mega-distorted, dissonant madness which in its own guitarristic way, is the most excessive thing yet from an artist noted for always going over the top.

“He tends to really start opening up and playing a lot of different things when me and Michael do a trio thing with him” Says Sonny Thompson. “There’s no keyboards there—no nothing. So he can venture out and play what he wants to play.”

As for , he says he’s really pleased with The Undertaker; “It’s real garage, you know? But Warners won’t release it...”

Which brings us to the real sore point for The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. To the essence of his dispute with Warner Bros. To put it as simply and naturally as possible, produces more music per year than the label feels it can profitably release. So they don’t.

“Don’t you think there’s restraint of trade?” demands, who has avidly followed singer George Michael’s lawsuit with Sony Records over artistic freedom. His own impasse with Warners has been building to a crisis over the past several years. The public’s first awareness of the struggle came circa 1988, with the notorious Black Album—a scathing disc full of gansta rap material that the Artist Then Known As Prince was originally going to release through Warners, but then decided to pull. The reason generally cited for the record’s withdrawal was its “dark subject matter", but there were also gripes from the Princely camp about “scheduling conflicts” with Warners. Meanwhile the Lovesexy album appeared so quickly that the Black Album was soon forgotten—by all the bootleggers and collectors, that is.

Cut to 1994. After losing money for some time, the former Prince’s Paisley Park Records label (distributed by Warners) finally folds. Meanwhile the Artist Who Formerly Owned the Label, has at last three albums’ worth of material in the can. Warners says it will release only one. So what happens? The Artist announces that he is no longer Prince, that he has changed his name to . Thanks to a special dispensation from Warners, he is allowed to release his first work under his new identity—the hit single “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World"—on his newly created NPG label. The record is distributed not by Warners, but by a r&b entrepreneur All Beller’s Bellmark Records.

What will happen with The Undertaker? If Warners won’t release it, will they permit the Artist They Continue To Market As Prince to put it out on NPG/Bellmark? In other words, was “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” deal a one-off courtesy or was it a precedent-setting policy move on Warners part? Apparently, lawyers and managers are ducking that out right now. Ask about the whole affair and you’ll get a characteristically enlightening answer.

GW: Will The Undertaker come out on your own NPG label?

: I don’t know. Levi runs the label.

Ask the same question to Levi Seacer and you don’t get much further: “As to when it’s gonna come out, I don’t know. The thing is that he’s always working on something. But I think this needs to be heard. “

If the controversy were only about some bonus jam-out disc, it wouldn’t be worth all the ink that’s already been spilled over it. But also in the can is a brand-new, full-fledged and the New Power Generation studio album called The Gold Experience, which was a much more deliberate effort than Come, says Michael Bland, who drummed on both discs. “I think wanted to write some strong songs that are classics”.

Hearing and the New Power Generation perform songs from The Gold Experience in concert, one is inclined to believe he succeeded. Songs like “Acknowledge Me” and “Days Of Wild” are stupefyingly funky—among the best stuff has recorded under any name. And yet, according to Bland, The Gold Experience will probably never see the light of day. is presently attempting to release it by himself. But his contract prohibits him from doing so. “There’s no release date,” says Bland. “We don’t know where it’s gonna go—except for into the hands of the fans. There’s a possibility that we might just give the record away. It’s about time that we actually gave something back to our fans who have supported us for so many years”.

Distribution of the album via the much-vaunted “information superhighway” is another possibility that seems to be under discussion. is reportedly quite interested in the new computer technologies and recently issued his own CD-ROM disk. So does his mane change signal ’s entry into the new cyber era—perhaps like Todd Rundgren’s decision to change his name to TR1? In adopting his new name, The Artist We’ve Been Talking About All Along Here had purportedly decided to release only old material on Warners—things laying around in the can that he’d recorded back when he was still Prince. Yet according to his sidemen, the Come album dates from the same period as The Undertaker—and is, consequently, a fairly recent work. Yet, it has been released on Warners under the name of “Prince.” So is the name change a merely a business convenience—a thinly veiled ploy to bring out extra product under another imprint? Or is it a personal thing, as has alleged in interviews? Perhaps a rejection of the identity his parents thrust on him at birth? Or is it yet another artistic persona? Questions, questions.

GW: Does your name change signal a shift in your approach to marketing music?

: We’ll have to see, not deliberately.

In the midst of all this there exists the intriguing possibility that the Ego Formerly Known as Prince is simply and finally spinning irrevocably out of control. If the Paisley Park complex resembles your average mid-sized American corporation (and it does), it seems distinctly like the kind of company run by a real “cut-to-the-chase", “shoot-from-the-hip” kind of CEO. You know, the kind of guy who’s got so many plates spinning in the air that a crash seems inevitable. Around Minneapolis, there’s talk of the high employee turnover rate at Paisley Park. “If you want to talk to disgruntled ex-employees, you can do plenty of interviews", one local informs me. There’s also talk of money leaving the company under mysterious circumstances.

There certainly have been moments in the past when the Artist Then Known As Prince looked like he was really losing it. He followed the rampaging success of Purple Rain with the lackluster Around The World In a Day, and the willfully obscure (but musically fascinating) Parade. It seemed he’d never have a hit again. Ultimately, however, had the last laugh over his detractors—many times over. There can be sensed among the people who work with an almost cultic faith—unshakable belief that, no matter how things look to the outside world, everything is really and truly okay. The capacity for this kind of faith of seems to be a requirement for working with .

GW: What do you look for when hiring a musician?

: Sickness.

Up on the stage at Glam Slam, in full cry, the New Power Generation are a sight to behold. Keyboardist Morris Hayes, his hat resembling a Hostese Snowball leans over a transparent plexiglass Hammond B-3 that is festooned with George Clintonsque white feather boas. Tommy Barbarella, the other keyboard man, with his floor-length hair, looks like somebody’s hippy mom who picked the wrong biker bar to get drunk in. Michael Bland pounds a 14-carat gold drum kit -a gift from “the Boss"- while Sonny Thompson wrestles a five string bass bigger than he is, his dreadlock-style braids half obscuring his face.

And then there’s Mayte (pronounced My-Tay). Schooled in every form of dance from belly to ballet, NPG’s resident temptress knows more ways to shake her remarkable derrière than her boss knows ways to dodge interviewers’ questions. During ’s extended guitar solo on “The Ride", Mayte ascends the clitoral tower atop the Endorphin Machine. A magician’s top hat crowning her long, dark, silky hair, she performs a series of splits and squats that defy the laws of both gravity and anatomy, and which must surely be illegal in certain Southern states. What heavy metal shred god would ever consent to be upstaged in this way during his Big Guitar Moment? As guitar heroes go, is a breed apart.

And he’s such a loose guy that he’ll even introduce a new song to the band right on stage. About mid-way through the Glam Slam set, the energy of the show changes drastically. The rock concert vibe gives way to the ecstatic feel of a hip hop show. has slipped on a demo tape he’d recorded earlier that very day.

“Right in the middle of the show he asked us, ’Y’all wanna hear a new song?’” Michael Bland later explains. “And he went back to the Endorphin Machine and put it on.” The song called “Pussy Control,” inspires three women from the audience to leap on the stage and dance in a manner appropriate to this title. Ostensibly, they’re just ordinary concert-goers but the woman in the almost non existent red dress is most certainly a pro.

“You mean was that, like, staged or something?” Michael Bland laughs later. “No. Un-uh. We didn’t have a clue it was going to happen. But then I gotta say—and I mean this totally respectfully—all sorts of freaks come to our shows. And we see ’em. You can identify them a mile away. So sometimes you just let ’em get on stage and do their thing. ’Cause you know, we’re pretty freaky too.”