You don’t often think of Prince and Bob Seger in the same musical breath, but the two shared some strong bonds over the years. They both participated in the 1992 Special Olympics, including a TV special/concert on Prince’s home turf of Minneapolis. And in 2004, they entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame together.
Seger was at home in the Detroit area when he learned of Prince’s passing today (April 21) and shared some thoughts with Billboard about the artist he knew and admired a great deal.
“It’s so sad. He was way too young. And he was kind of an athlete, such a great performer. You wouldn’t expect it,” Seger says. “The first time I saw him was in ’81 at [Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena]. I got a call from two of my crew guys and my light guy. They called me up and said, ‘Bob, you got to come see this guy.’ I said, ‘Who?’ ‘Prince.’ I said, ‘I never heard of him.’ [laughs] They said, ‘You gotta come see him. You’ll love him ’cause we know how much you love James Brown.’ ‘OK, I’m in.’
“Controversy was out. It was kind of a risque album, wasn’t getting any airplay. So I went down and the place was jammed, sold out — and no airplay. This was all word of mouth, and he was sensational. He was outstanding. The band was phenomenal. Of course I loved the music, the funk, the grooves. They were out of control. I was completely stunned. It was just a great, great show. I left saying, ‘Oh my God, I’m gonna call everybody I know. You got to see this guy!’
“And then cut to about a year later. I’m working with Jimmy Iovine on The Distance album in ’82. He was also producing Stevie Nicks. So Prince comes down one night and does this song ‘Stand Back’ with Stevie. I’m not there but Jimmy was and he tells me the story the next day. [Prince] puts down every instrument and then stays there while they sing it and everything. Then he decides to play guitar; He starts playing and then he listens back and says ‘Nah, I don’t like it. Take it off.’ And Iovine was heartbroken. He absolutely loved how he played guitar. So he stripped it off, and the next day [Iovine] told me, ‘What people don’t realize is as great as he is at everything he does, the best thing he does is play guitar.’ I think everybody saw that later, with Purple Rain and all that.”
Seger also recalls getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside Prince in 2004. “We went into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame together. That was so nice. I was just sitting there with [Bruce] Springsteen and Jackson [Browne] when he showed up, and he was real gracious and open and talkative — unlike Prince. Usually the guy was very inward. If you talked to him he mostly just listened and asked questions. I met him down through the years many times. I’d see him in clubs a lot in L.A. and got to know him a little bit, as well as you could know him. He’s just a very quiet guy. It’s like pulling teeth to get anything out of him. He doesn’t like to talk. I did most of the talking.
“And in 1992 I was involved in Special Olympics and so was he. Prince said, ‘Let’s have a show in Minnesota’ and he played, and that was sensational. Every athlete got a tambourine from Prince, which I thought was really sweet. They just loved the show, so it was great to be part of that.
“He was just an off-the-charts talent — instruments, songwriting, singing, performing, producing. You name it, he could do everything. My son loves [Trent] Reznor, and I told him, ‘Before there was Reznor, there was Prince.’ And of course I’ve heard stories that James Brown did that stuff, too; He would play drums, bass, could do just about it all. So it was kind of a progression. It’s unusual to have somebody be that talented on so many instruments and yet still be a really good producer, songwriter — everything.
“It’s a damn shame, it really is. I know he had greatness still ahead of him. I’m just glad he was around. He was a gift to music.”