Rock and Roll Book Club: Two Prince associates share their memories

Memoirs by Owen Husney and Marylou Badeaux.
Memoirs by Owen Husney and Marylou Badeaux. (Jay Gabler/MPR)

Owen Husney and Marylou Badeaux both have the requisite press-release blurbs recommending their new memoirs, but really, the only recommendation they need for Prince fans is who they were. Husney was Prince's first manager, and Badeaux was possibly the only person at Warner Bros. who Prince completely trusted.

Of the two, Husney is better-known: he claims credit as "the man who discovered Prince." How, exactly, that happened takes a little explaining.

Prince first began to stake his claim as a solo recording artist in the Uptown Minneapolis studio of Chris Moon. "He came to my studio last year with a band called Champagne," Husney remembers Moon saying in 1976. "After a week or so he absorbed all the information he needed to record by himself."

This conversation took place after Moon waited for two days to play Prince's demo tape to Husney. Moon had been trying to get a record deal, but he and Prince were hitting a brick wall until Moon decided to bring the tape to Husney: a Minneapolis guy with record-industry connections.

Husney earned those connections, he explains in the opening chapters of his book Famous People Who've Met Me, in his years working as a promoter, media buyer, and go-to guy for national artists booking local shows. He had his own musical history as a member of the '60s garage rock band High Spirits, an act on the storied Soma Records label.

In the late '60s and early '70s, he made himself useful for artists like Janis Joplin (he cleaned up her Minneapolis Armory dressing room after some gate-crashers broke a window to get in), Jimi Hendrix ("You're one of us," Hendrix told cool-cat Husney while they toked up together), and Elvis Presley (Husney moved heaven and earth to get the King a ten-foot circular bed for his local stay in 1971).

Husney's professional relationship with Prince was short but crucial. He enlisted his St. Louis Park high school classmate David Rivkin to be Prince's engineer, and that same guy, rechristened "David Z," was the one sitting in the mobile recording truck in 1983 when Prince recorded "Purple Rain" live at First Avenue. Husney asked Rivkin's younger brother Bobby to serve as Prince's driver, and eventually "Bobby Z" would become drummer in the Revolution.

Prince completed his demos at Sound 80, and developed his personal brand: in deliberation with Moon and Husney, he decided that his professional name would just be "Prince." Husney enlisted Robert Whitman for Prince's first professional photo shoot (producing, memorably, the iconic Schmitt mural portrait), and ultimately flew to San Francisco with Prince to record his debut album For You.

Most critically, it was Husney who got Warner Bros. to sign a historic deal with the unknown artist in 1977. The contract guaranteed three albums, and was worth over a million dollars. Husney further helped convince the label to let Prince produce himself. One of the many priceless photos in Famous People shows the first $80,000 advance check, mailed to Husney's office on Loring Park.

Before Prince played a single show behind the album, Husney was gone. The parting was amicable, Husney told The Current's Andrea Swensson.

I saw my role — and I don't know if this came down from the heavens or what spiritual effect, but I said to myself, 'I'm not here as mister manager in effect. I am here to protect this kid.' I know it's hard for people when you say 'protect' — the icon in front of thousands of people — but take yourself back and just picture an 18-year-old kid coming to your door. [...] All I could do is take who and what he was and take that to the level he deserved, for the time that I was with him. And that's why I don't have any remorse. I'm very proud about what was done.

Although Prince had moved on to other managers, Husney continued to work with artists from the Prince camp, like André Cymone. For the record industry, the term "the Minneapolis Sound" was coined in a 1982 Billboard article about the group of artists Husney was championing.

Where Husney exited Prince's camp was almost exactly where Badeaux entered. She was a young staffer at Warner Bros., working in their Black Music Department, a role that ultimately made her a vice-president despite the fact that she was a white Irishwoman from Boston. She grew up listening to all sorts of music, she writes in her memoir Moments...Remembering Prince, and she proved to have a knack for marketing the label's R&B and soul artists.

After Prince signed to the label, Badeaux became the principal day-to-day contact between Warner Bros. and Prince's camp. In that capacity, she was often at Prince's tour stops, promotional appearances, and film shoots. Her work with Prince lasted up until he broke with the label, but one thing you shouldn't expect from Moments is any dirt about the beef that led Prince to write SLAVE on his cheek. All we can gather is that Prince didn't hold any animosity towards Badeaux, who he even tried at one point to hire away from the label.

Instead, as its title indicates, Moments is full of tender reminisces about life behind the scenes with Prince. Most readers will flip immediately to the photos, which include rare shots inside Paisley Park in the 1980s. The parking garage! The candy machine! Prince's office (with bed)! Other photos include the jar of honey Badeaux dreamed up as a promotional giveaway when Prince released the "Scandalous Sex Suite" ("I heard everything from 'honey on the console' to...well, I'll leave it there," she writes about the recording session with Kim Basinger), and a shot of the set list at one of Prince's most infamous promotional gigs.

That would be the six-song set Prince played in 1986, at the very height of his stardom, in the low-ceilinged conference room at Sheridan, Wyoming's Holiday Inn. It was part of an MTV promotion where the 10,000th caller won the privilege of hosting the premiere screening of Under the Cherry Moon in their own home town. That caller was Sheridan resident Lisa Barber, so off to Wyoming everyone went. Badeaux remembers many of the weird details, from an accidental encounter with Custer's Last Stand re-enactors to the sheriff's purple Cadillac.

The best audience for this book are people who like reading feel-good stories about Prince. Badeaux remembers Prince sending her flowers when she was sick, Prince bringing space heaters to warm Badeaux's feet while she watched Graffiti Bridge footage in an unheated area of Paisley Park, Prince penning a handwritten note to a Make-a-Wish child who died just an hour after it was read aloud, and Prince playing a special show at Warner Bros. headquarters to celebrate Badeaux's promotion.

Husney is not so much with the touching stories, but one of the most unexpectedly poignant passages in his book comes when he returns, after Prince's death, to the Edina house where Husney lived during his professional involvement with the artist. He knocks on the door, and introduces himself.

The owners were fans, and stunned to know that he had hung out there. I showed them the Whitman photo of Prince and my dog sitting on their living room floor. We sat in the den, and I told them this was the room where Prince and I watched Roots together. I showed them another photo of Prince playing piano in their dining room. I left them speechless.

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