Following Prince’s unexpected passing last week, Taylor Dayne — pop singer behind the 1987 freestyle classic “Tell It To My Heart” — reflects on her first encounter with the “hypnotizing” Prince and her first visit to Paisley Park.
The first time I saw him was like everybody else. By the time I met him I was a breaking artist, this was the Lovesexy Tour, so it was 1988 and I had just finished my stint opening up for Michael [Jackson] on the Bad tour, which were all these arena dates. I had probably my first couple of singles out on my first record. We were watching Prince play in Hamburg — me and my girlfriend Diane Jones, who I took from Brighton Beach when I was working in the Russian clubs and I said to her ‘when I get famous I’m gonna take you with me!’ We were up in the front in the VIP, press section in the pit and this big beautiful man comes up to us and he was security and he says, ‘Hey Taylor, I’m so-and-so, I’m security but I’m Prince’s brother.’ He was talking to us and said ‘Prince wants to come meet you later and have you come to the after show’ and I’m like this isn’t real. Listen, I forget at the time I was probably the biggest breaking artist in Europe, but it doesn’t matter – seeing Prince and Michael, these men, these artists contributed to my entire repertoire and my entire being of wanting to be an artist, let alone emulating them, striving to be them, and hearing what they heard. Prince was in that top realm of artists that completely moved my world, so when they were talking to us I was just like [screams].
So we went to the club and it was kind of like a real small Roxy, but it had an upstairs balcony, so we were upstairs and I’ll never forget at one point we had to use the restroom so we were escorted downstairs. It’s myself, Diane and Joe Phillips, my rep. We walked past security and it was just this junky club in the red light district in Hamburg, trust me, and I just see someone descending the stairs and I just see these legs — it says Lovesexy up the legs — there’s only one person that was wearing that and boom he’s just standing in front me. Prince is looking at me and I’m looking at him and he gives me that little smile, and he goes “What your name girl?” and I go “Taylor…” [laughs] and he goes “Taylor what?” and I say “Dayne,” and he says ‘Girl! I’ve been wanting to meet you for a long time.”
I’m looking at Diane and it’s just the three of us and his bodyguard and he’s just smiling away, chewing this piece of gum, and the next thing you know he’s poking it out of his mouth, like he’s sticking it at me. And I go, “What the hell is that coming out of your…?” And typical Long Island I go right up to his mouth and start to reach for it, and he jumps and goes “Babe! What you doing digging in my mouth?” And I go “What the hell is that?” And he goes “Girl, you’re insane!” But laughing, we were peeing in our pants and I go, “What the hell are you pushing it out your mouth for?” I couldn’t even understand it, so we just broke it down and he stops immediately — all quiet, and he goes “I want you to come up there and sing with me.” And I go “Sing with you?’” And I asked if Diane could come with me. He goes “Girl, whatever! We’re gonna come get you.” And I go “Okay…” He walks away and we’re just standing there. We go into the restroom and I’m telling you, we screamed I think for three minutes solid, pulling each other and I don’t even know what we did, but we were screaming at the top of our lungs, like Beatlemania. That’s how I met the man.
Needless to say, he calls me on stage and I’m blitzed by then and I’m so nervous I don’t even know what to do and I drag Diane Jones onstage. And I go Diane, you can sing anything in the book — she taught me everything, she used to work in top 40 — so I said you’re coming with me. So we go down to the stage and we’re at the wing, and Prince is at the piano and he says “come over to me,” and he’s staring at me, and I’m just shell shocked, I look like a doe in the lights, and he says “Go take my mic,” and I say “go take your mic?” And I look at him and I go, “Can she come with me?” And he looks at me and goes “Girl! You impossible.” He knew I was so crazy! And I go “she’s gotta come with me” and he says “OK go take my mic,” and then he started calling me like [sings] “Taylor, I need some help over here, help me Lord, come on down!” Oh, he was so funny. I dragged her ass, I’m telling you, she’s right up there — our big hair, and he stopped the song in the middle and schooled me and said “Girl, time don’t stand still, still don’t stand time,” and I was like “what the hell does that even mean?” This was the man — funny as hell, loved it.
And a week later when we came back from Europe, he already said “you’re coming to Paisley Park.” I went with one of my managers and we flew and we just played in his house — Chaka [Khan] was there, Carmen was there. He lived it and breathed it and never stopped. He was always surrounded by the most incredible musicians and he always had incredible women around him. He’d look at you in Madison Square Garden and could see you in row twenty and he’d just go “Taylor…!” This was the man. He never stopped and I know there was a lot of exhaustion involved in it, he was so driven. I talk to Sheila a lot about it, but he just couldn’t sleep – it never stopped.
This was the beginning of my career and I just never felt more humbled in my life. I can’t speak for any other artists in the room with him, but if you heard a song he wrote and the melody, I mean he wrote for singers — it has to start there. But when you’re that prolific, I remember listening to a Meli’sa Morgan “Do Me Baby,” and when she sang that, that was even before I heard Chaka’s “I Feel For You.” These were covers, singers doing Prince jams. And If I listen to his version, or when he did “Adore,” the falsetto — how do you go from this rich falsetto to something as rich as James Brown or Donny Hathaway at times. The man could go from an Al Green falsetto to a Donny Hathaway low soul, it was incredible – not to mention entertainment. First of all, he was a charming mother freaker, and sexy – he just stood in front me and we were like goo-goo ga-ga. He was such a powerful physical presence, as diminutive as he was. Everything was with his eyes and his smile and his expressions. The power of that alone is very hypnotizing, and then you sit down and you listen to the chops on his guitar or piano, just anything. People say that to me, “you sing like it’s the last time you’re going to sing,” and I go “isn’t that the point?” I’m not playing the part — this is the role, this is the show.
I can’t say that for any other artists for him, but obviously look what he did for Sheena Easton, so to speak, or Sheila E., or any of the other women that joined him on that ride personally in the studio, how they came up. The magic is always that it lasts a lifetime, those songs will forever – Sheena Easton’s “Sugar Walls,” and Sheila E.’s “Love Bazaar,” and “The Glamorous Life,” and then other artists like the Bangles “Manic Monday.” The connection for him was always the music – that’s how I saw it, that’s how I felt it. The man spoke with you through his instrument, as any great jazz artist or musician does. Their words are their instrumentation, that’s a language unto itself. He grew from his experiences – he had terrible times in the music industry, just like I’ve had terrible times and great times. Without greatness you can’t have losses. But he always kept his vision. I played Vegas last week and I did “Nothing Compares 2 U” and let’s just talk about that song as a whole — this is a song. The power of that song and singing that song, the whole entire audience was in tears. My entire band and I have worked with all of his players. That’s the power of music and the power of who he was — the artist that created the music.