After playing together at the Prince tribute concert in Minneapolis last October, various members of the collective -- best known for its work on 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls and 1992’s Love Symbol Album -- will play Celebration 2017 at Paisley Park (the four-day tribute to Prince in honor of the one-year anniversary of his death) on April 23. Following that appearance, The New Power Generation will play their own solo show at California's Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center on May 22. More dates in the U.S. and Europe are to come. Tickets for the Redondo Beach show go on sale March 21.
The crowd's reception to NPG during the October show triggered the decision to reunite. Members of the band last played on Prince’s last album, 2015’s HitnRun: Phase Two. “It was quite an undertaking doing the tribute in October, the politics of it,” says Morris Hayes, NPG’s musical director, who first met Prince in the late ‘80s and played with him from 1992 to 2012. “I had three people to please: the promoter, the family, and most of all, the fans. The resounding response I got on social media was they were so happy, but there were a lot of people who couldn’t get a ticket who wanted to hear this music. Prince’s music is here to stay and people want to experience that feeling of getting together. That was the biggest motivator for me.”
NPG’s move follows The Revolution’s February announcement to tour this Spring. The Revolution backed Prince during the ‘80s, including the Purple Rain era.
The Revolution consisted primarily of five core players, while NPG’s line-up was much more fluid -- “It was more like a P-Funk All Stars thing,” Hayes says. For the upcoming dates, the roster will be Hayes (keyboards), former Revolution member Andre Cymone (vocals), Kip Blackshire (vocals), Marva King (vocals), Tommy Barbarella (keyboards), Levi Seacer Jr (guitar), Kirk Johnson (Drums), Tony Mosley (guitar, vocals), Sonny Thompson (bassist) and Damon Dickson (dancer, vocals)
Other members, including drummer Michael Bland and vocalist Shelby J will rotate in as needed and as their schedules permit.
For their own shows (outside of the Paisley Park concert), NPG will perform songs spanning Prince’s career, including from the Purple Rain era. “It’s celebrating Prince. The fan is key,” Hayes says. “That’s the music they want to hear. It was a big family and the family has a lot of kids in it. The songs are the kids and we do them in service of the fans.”
Plus, those songs are a blast to play says Hayes. “I love some earlier Prince material, ‘The Question of U,’ ‘The Ballad of Dorothy Parker,’ ‘Let’s go Crazy’… to be behind Prince and be playing that stuff and watching him put his guitars in the air was unreal.”
Belgian-based QG Enterprise books NPG for Europe and Australia, while NPG’s manager Jill Willis, who co-managed Prince in the early ‘90s, is sorting out a U.S. booking agent.
When Willis began working with Prince, he hand wrote notes for a Diamonds and Pearls-era press release praising NPG that she recently found and has never before made public until now. In Prince’s notes (below) he praises the members of NPG, including calling Thompson his “musical idol.” He also refers to himself in the third person, declaring “Prince is planning a small club tour 2 showcase his new material reportedly because he misses the one on one intimacy of his past concerts.” He adds that “Warner Bros. haven’t even heard the album. No one has a copy except Prince.”
Seeing Prince’s handwritten note brought a flood of memories back for Hayes, who first met Prince in the late ‘80s after members of Prince’s band heard Hayes’ group, Fingerprint, playing Prince covers in Memphis. Hayes then relocated to Minneapolis to work with Revolution bassist Mark Brown (aka Brown Mark). He became a production assistant at Paisley Park, flying under Prince’s radar until Prince heard him play a keyboard solo on The Time’s “Shake.”
“I’d been around for months and he’d never said anything to me,” Hayes says. “When I did the solo, he said, ‘that was a nice solo.’ I looked around. He’s like, ‘I’m talking to you.’”
Prince’s phrase to clear people unwanted people out of the studio was “Oprah’s on,” which was code for “get out.” Hayes laid low, never hearing those words. “I just made sure I was quiet and never wanted to draw attention to myself. I just wanted to learn and hear stories. Prince loved to laugh and joke. He had such a hearty laugh. He liked to lie down on the console and on the floor. He’d just get so tickled.”
After serving as Carmen Elektra’s musical director for the Diamonds and Pearls tour, Hayes got the call to join NPG. He shared two of his favorite stage memories with Billboard: “We were doing a show in Moscow, a private function for a Russian bank. Prince comes over with his guitar and says, ‘they got us playing for an hour. I don’t even know how to play for just an hour. I’ll just wing it’,” Hayes recalls with a laugh. “He was like, ‘I change clothes for longer than an hour.’ We’d warm up for three hours.”
He also fondly recalls stunning the audience at Coachella in 2008 when Prince covered Radiohead’s “Creep.” “It was crazy -- 50,000 kids had their phones up. For those fans, who may or may not know Prince’s music, but knew who he was, they were like ‘Wow, this dude is severe.’ We had a whole new crowd of people who were bananas,” Hayes says. “It’s our duty to perpetuate that music.”
NPG will record the Redondo Beach show, and then plans to begin writing together for a potential album of new material.