Photo: Peter Lodder

Morris Hayes is bandleader of the New Power Generation, the backing band Prince formed in 1991 after parting ways with the Revolution. Hayes was also Prince's musical director for many years and worked closely with the Minneapolis musician for over two decades.

The band's Celebrating Prince tour takes in four UK dates this month.

Taking time out from rehearsals, Morris spoke exclusively to Huckle The Barber about the tour, working with Prince and keeping the musician's legacy alive.

Tell us a bit about the show Celebrating Prince, which starts on Saturday in London.

As the name suggests, we will be playing songs from the extensive Prince catalogue. Always the hardest job for us is choosing which songs to play. Prince used to always joke to me, "Too many hits, too little time". That pretty much sums it up. In the tribute show we played in 2016, we played 52 songs in five hours, and we still had fans asking for more.

Can you reveal any tracks you might be playing?

Sure. There are ones you know you're going to play, but I'm always looking to play the unexpected too. So we are going to do 'Lady Cab Driver'. Prince himself never liked to play it live. He said he never felt it translated live, so it's been really interesting for myself and the band to explore an arrangement for our show. I hope that the audience loves it. And we have a completely new arrangement for 'Thieves in the Temple'. But 'Purple Rain' - that's not a song you are going to mess around with. It's really emotional for us when we play it - it's hard to keep a dry eye then.

How did you first meet Prince?

Mark Brown [also know as Brownmark, bassist in the Revolution] heard me playing in a club when they were touring with Purple Rain. That must have been around 1984. He's the one who really got me up to Paisley Park, and I played in the band he put together, Mazarati. After that, I played for The Time [another Paisley Park band], replacing Jimmy Jam.

  


How did you go from playing bass to becoming Prince's musical director?

When they were working on the Graffiti Bridge album, Levi Seacer Jr, who was one of the producers at Paisley Park, threw me a bone and let me play on a track he was working on for The Time. When Prince heard it, he turned to me and said "nice solo". That was my first real interaction with him, and then I progressed from there.

What was Prince looking for when he created the New Power Generation?

Well, he was known for creating what is referred to as the Minneapolis Sound. But when he was coming through at the beginning, the big bands of the day were Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool & the Gang and groups like that. They all had horns sections, and all the local bands were mimicking that sound. So what Prince wanted to do was emulate that but by using keyboards and synthesisers. And that's really how he created his own music - taking the funk sounds and using those arrangements but without actually using the horns. By the time he formed the New Power Generation everyone from Phil Collins to Madonna had copied his idea so, I think he just wanted to do it for real. I mean he loved all those bands like  P-Funk, George Clinton, Sly & the Family Stone and James Brown. And they all had legendary horn players, like Maceo Parker.

And you worked with Maceo Parker?

Yeah for about three years. I fact, that was the time when I stepped back from working with Prince for a bit. Although I still played with him in that period too.

How long did you work with Prince?

20 years. 18 years in the band.

Are you looking forward to playing in the UK?

I've played all over the world with Prince, and the UK was always special for him. The audiences are always so fantastic. For me too, I love the history of the place. I've been fortunate enough to see amazing things in the UK. I've even petted the queen's horses at Buckingham Palace.

Why do you think Prince's music endures and what makes him so special?

I remember asking him once what he thought he did best. He paused for a bit and put his hand on his chin, and looked up to the sky - and thought about it for a bit Finally he turned to me and said, "You know, at the end of the day I'm a poet; I'm a songwriter". He said he hated bad lyrics. He thought that's what he did best - and remember what an amazing musician he was, too! But if you strip all the music away and listen to the words - and how he puts them together - I think he's right. You can hear the poetry in his songs. But he read a lot; he read Shakespeare and poets' work. And people really do connect to the words in his music.

What's your abiding memory of Prince, the man?

For me, Prince was someone who really wore his heart on his sleeve. But the thing I miss the most is hearing him laugh; he had a great sense of humour.

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