Neville Shende, fleet operations manager for Pioneer Coach, was the driver for Prince on the Musicology tour in 2004. Somewhere along the Texas Panhandle, as he drives toward the Coachella festival in Indio, Calif., Shende reminisces about the superstar, who he knew as a quite perfectionist, and a deeply religious man of generosity and kindness.
Billboard: What were your instructions prior to being Prince’s driver on Musicology?
Neville Shende: Before I got on the bus I was told I couldn’t look at him, talk to him.. always communicate through the security guard… at venues I had to face the wall, all kinds of crap that I basically dispelled. I wanted to start off with a clean slate. I researched him and found out he liked orchids, so I bought a big bouquet of orchids in a nice crystal vase and put it on the bus when we were setting it up.
How much time did Prince spend on the bus?
I was told originally that he would just take the bus to private airports and then jump on a jet and fly to the next venue, and I would mainly just be transportation to and from the hotel and venue. What ended up happening was I guess Prince felt very comfortable with my driving and who I was, so within a week he was on the bus all the time, even for a 500- or 600-mile jump. He would sit in the jump seat and read his Ebony magazine. I mentioned to him one time, “you’re riding with me everywhere, I thought I was just gonna take you to the airports.” He basically explained to me he loved the peace of being on the bus. If he jumped on a plane after he left the venue, he’d almost be immediately in the hotel room and people could bug him and phone him, he would be under pressure. If we had a nice nine- or 10-hour drive, he had peace, he could use my cell phone or the security guard’s phone to make his calls. He really liked the space and peace that he got when he was on the bus.
Did you talk much going down the road?
Yes, we had some philosophical conversations. One of the coolest conversations I had with him — which, at at the time, I thought went in one ear and out the other — was I told him that I used to love to ride motorcycles, and when my wife and I got married I sold my Harley. I told him, “My wife always said I’d be able to get another one, and it’s already been five years and I ain’t even close.”
Well, at the end of the tour I got a purple Harley Sportster for a tip.
Was there anything he liked to do on the road?
He loved Jamba Juice. I’d always make sure a Jamba Juice, or a vegetarian restaurant, was plugged into my GPS, so if he came up and asked, “hey, is there a Jamba Juice around here?” I’d be able to answer, “yeah, there’s one about a mile from here,” and he’d say, “OK, let’s go.”
Also, he was a Jehovah’s Witness, and it was interesting, on the tour, on Saturdays, he actually wanted me to go with him to Jehovah’s Witness halls. We’d take the bus, I would actually sit with him, and he’d share his bible with me as they’d go through the ceremonies. We did that religiously, you might say, on Saturdays. I’d be trying to navigate this giant bus through the Jehovah’s Witness parking lots.
What kind of person was he?
I would describe him as quietly reserved, extremely intelligent, and very polite. He was a perfectionist with his craft, I have nothing but respect for him. He used to make notes of every show, and after every show I’d have the front-of-house-guy burn the DVD with the audio and video. He would run to the bus, they’d set up his food, and I would plug in the DVD, have it set up, and push pause, so all he would have to do is press play. He would not leave until he watched the video of his performance, or at least parts of it, he would fast-forward to specific parts. And he would make notes and changes. From Show One until the very last show, it was amazing to watch how deeply he was into his craft and delivering a show to the audience. His quest for perfection was superior to anybody else I’ve ever seen.