Interview: André Cymone's dad was in a band with Prince's dad

Prince's longtime friend and musical collaborator André Cymone
Prince's longtime friend and musical collaborator André Cymone at Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minn., on April 21, 2017. (Nate Ryan | MPR)
Andre Cymone at Paisley Park
Download MP3
| 00:11:28

The morning of Friday, April 21, 2017, The Current and MPR News joined together for an hour-long simulcast from Paisley Park. Between Prince songs, they welcomed two special guests to the airwaves: Donna Grantis (3RDEYEGIRL) and André Cymone, the first bandmate Prince ever had. Grantis's segment is on its way to the web; in the meantime, here's Cymone on Paisley Park, Prince's Twin Cities roots, and the crazy ways Prince's path crossed his own.

Jim McGuinn: Broadcasting live together from Paisley Park, it's Jim McGuinn, Tom Weber, and Andrea Swensson. [That was] "Uptown" from Prince. Pretty surreal to be sitting here with André Cymone, singing some live harmonies to the track. [laughs]

André Cymone: It's a beautiful thing, being here right now. The weather is beautiful, but this is a very strange day. In some ways, it's beautiful, and in some ways, it's surreal. You know, you gotta keep moving.

Andrea Swensson: André, you're rehearsing for a big show tomorrow night, Dance On Til Dawn. What's going through your mind right now as you get ready for the show, and what's it like to be back here in Minneapolis?

The one thing that goes through my mind, at any point, since this has been a reality -- and it's hard for me to really get my head around it, because honestly, it's hard for me to believe that this is a reality. I almost feel like this is some weird dream. But to be here is great.

Prince has created such an amazing, amazing story, if you want to call it a story. A journey; there's so many things you could call it. But [he made] a life for himself; a reality for a lot of people through his music, what he's done, the people he's touched, the people he's helped. And believe me, he's come a long way. I know how long because I was obviously there at the very beginning. [laughs] I know what he went through to build that building.

When I was pulling up here, and I saw the building and the car with the Paisley sign, it's almost unbelievable, because we used to talk about the different things we were gonna do. One day we were gonna have this money and we were gonna do this. We were just little dreamers, and to see what he's created -- here in Minnesota, on top of that. He didn't move, like I did [...] he loved the idea that he was grounded, and he really needed that foundation.

Those roots really meant a whole lot to him with his particular background, with what he went through with family and all those different things. I think it meant a lot, that the Twin Cities and Minnesota was his roots and that was his grounding. Obviously, you can look around, and they're here for him. And they've been here for him. And I think that is so, so special. I think that means more than anything.

Tom Weber: You knew Prince before he was Prince, of course. The story is that Prince moved out of his house and moved in with your family. You had Grand Central and Champagne and pre-Revolution. So North Minneapolis to Chanhassen, not many people think in those terms [...] Reflect on the Prince Rogers Nelson you met that one day in school as we think back on this past year.

It's funny, because I hadn't thought about that individual for years and years. I just didn't key in on that until I was talking to Morris Day when we did the Xcel show. I went back to Morris's dressing room and we started talking, and Morris asked me how I was feeling. And I'm like, you know, things happened. My mother passed away and that was a big deal for me. That was the biggest thing for me -- and my father passed away and my brother passed away. Those are big things, and then, Prince passed away, and I thought, wow.

That was like a chunk of me that sort of left the building, you know, which was strange. But I hadn't quite figured out what that meant. I remember, after he passed, I literally walked around my neighborhood with our dog, my wife and I. And I kept saying to myself, what does this mean? Because I knew it meant something big. And I just didn't know what.

And so when I was talking to Morris, and he asked me that question -- he said, you guys go back way even before me. And I thought about it, and it made me think about that person, that I met so many years ago. And that's the person that I miss. He was such a special, special individual. To think about him in that perspective, just sitting there, standing there, looking completely, you know, self-righteous. I looked at all the people in there, cause I didn't know anybody, and I looked at him, and he caught my eye. He reminded me of myself in a strange sort of way.

TW: This is in a classroom, right?

No, it was in a gymnasium. People were lined up along the wall. And so, I thought, I'm gonna go stand next to this guy. And he was just standing there and if I'm not mistaken, I think he had a notebook, which was interesting. And so we just started talking, and obviously, I said, "I'm André. What's your name?" He said, "Prince."

We went back and forth and discovered that he was into music, which blew my mind, because that's all I lived and breathed. People used to get sick of me talking about how I'm going to be famous one day. And I finally met somebody that actually said, yeah, me too. I was like, really? So we wound up going back and forth and that's where it all started. We talked about all the different things we were going to do one day.

All the talk was great, so it was like, okay, what can you play? We wound up going to his dad's and jamming and it turned out he could really play, and he found that I really could play. And that was it. From then on, literally, I think we were almost inseparable.

We discovered we were two people -- he was kind of in the same boat I was in. I was going to Harrison, and there was nobody in Harrison that was even remotely interested in doing what I was interested in doing. He probably had the same reality in -- I think he was going to Bryant. So for two kids to meet up, and to have that same kind of passion, I think, it was some weird destiny.

And then to find out our fathers played in a band together, that blew my mind.

AS: That's so poignant to me. You actually saw a photograph of Prince's dad on a piano, right?

Yeah, when we went to jam! I had no idea. His dad had a bunch of pictures of him in his different combos and trios and whatnot. I saw this one guy, and he had an upright bass. I said to Prince, "That looks like my dad, except he has hair!" [all laugh] My dad had like no hair on the top and a bunch of hair on the side. And so I just thought, that's weird, but that can't be my dad. And he said, "We have to ask my dad when he comes home."

His dad was like, "What's this guy doing in here?" Because back in those days, I used to always have some weird hat or some sort of flop hat. I didn't look like the regular kids in the neighborhood, because I came from a different neighborhood, so I was definitely riff-raff in the house. And he's like, "What's he doing?"

So we talked, but then I said, "Who is that?" I pointed out the picture of my dad, and his eyes got wide. He looked at the picture and he looked at me, and he kept going back and forth, and he just started laughing. And his dad has this big, deep voice and this deep laugh. And he went into this whole thing: "You're Fred Anderson's son! Oh, my god!" And he knew my mom.

There's so many weird coincidences. Prince wound up living over in South for a brief period, but he still had to go to Central [High School]. I think his mom was trying to get him away from me, but he wound up living with me. [laughs] Then they tried again, and he wound up living with his Aunt Olivia. Turns out my mother lived next door to her. So it happened all over again. I went over there to meet his Aunt Olivia, and she said, "Anderson. So you're not related to Bernadette?" I said, "That's my mom." So she said, "Oh my god. Your mom lived next door! Your mom and her sisters."

I figured, I'd kinda got to know her, and I said, "Well, since you know me and you got that car out in the back, can I drive it?" She had this really cool Ford Fairlane, and I was really into cars, and it was just sitting there. She said, "Do you have your license?" And I said, "No, but I can drive!" [all laugh] She said, "Let me know when you get your license."

JM: We are live here on the Current and MPR News. It's Tom Weber, Andrea Swensson, Jim McGuinn, and we're talking to André Cymone, one of Prince's first bandmates, and the guy that helped launch him on the path towards what Prince would become. We're gonna play the song "Dirty Mind." Do you have a story about that song to go into it?

The thing about "Dirty Mind" was it was a song that really kinda pushed us over the top. It wasn't a hit, but when we played it, everything changed. The vibe of that song, a lot of people aren't familiar with that, but we played it, and the energy -- people just went nuts. It was a beautiful thing.

Jackie Renzetti assisted with this feature.