Morris Hayes on 'Musicology'


Prince's longtime keyboardist and music director for the New Power Generation Morris Hayes remembers the time he caught up with Prince about the 2004 album 'Musicology.' (MPR)
Morris Hayes speaks on Musicology
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Covering musical and personal ground, New Power Generation keyboardist/musical director Morris Hayes and Purple Current host Sean McPherson taped a marathon interview — more than two hours, all told — so we're sharing it album by album. Here's the seventh of ten.


You're tuned to Purple Current. My name is Sean McPherson. I'm sitting with Morris Hayes, an incredibly gifted keyboard player and also an incredibly gifted spokesperson for so many of Prince's musical moments. You seem to be a really astute student of everything that Prince was making and creating, and I want to focus on a record from 2004 called Musicology that definitely garnered a lot of attention for Prince at a time when he was putting out a lot of releases that were a little more obscure. I'm thinking about things like N.E.W.S and Xpectation. Musicology was different. It was a beast of an album, and before the album was released Prince wrote this incredible quote. He said, "I'm really an artist and a musician at heart. That's what I do. Musicology has no boundaries or formats. It is long overdue to return to the art and craft of music. That's what this album is about. School is in session." Can you tell me a little bit about that place Prince was in at that time?

Absolutely. It's funny. I was traveling with Maceo during the course of that time in 2004. I had just got back off the road and was out in my yard, and Prince had built me a house across the street from his, and he saw me. Instead of turning in his driveway he just circled around and came and got me. I hopped in the car and we went over to his house, which I rarely did. I can count on one hand the amount of times I've been to his house. We went over there, and it was funny, because I got in and made some comments about the house. He had had it redecorated or something, and I made some comments about it. And he proceeded to tell me about what he was doing. I hadn't seen him in a while and he was telling me what he was doing.

He told me about Musicology, like, "I got this record getting ready to drop, and I'm going to tell you right now you're going to start hearing some stuff in the media and it's going to be crazy and it's going to be true." He's doing his Prince voice whenever he's up to some mischief. He told me all of these things that he was about to implement, and he said don't tell anybody, but it's going to get real crazy real fast.

And that was basically how he was setting up Musicology the way he was counting records now. He included a record in with the ticket purchase, and the way Soundscan was counting records was like you can't do that. He was like sure I can do it. And they were like we can't count. He said, "You basically created your own game," because Soundscan hasn't existed — "You made something that made yourself relevant, and so I'm doing that too. So I absolutely can and am doing it and you don't get to tell me that I can't." And so they had to basically grandfather his situation into their whole thing, like okay, Prince can do it but you can't.

And it was crazy. I'm watching the news, and everything I'm sitting in his living room he's telling me is like I'm watching it on CNN and everything else, and I'm like going crap. He said that was going to happen. He said there was going to be a backlash, and just like reading the future, he said it, and everything just came down the pike, and in 84 cities or whatever it was later, this thing is going bananas.

His monster tour.

His monster. It was one of his highest grossing tours. It was crazy, like right behind Purple Rain or something. It was crazy. It was bananas, and it was a testament of how much he still was thinking about how he can affect the industry, how he could still be — because Musicology is basically just like he said, a return to the art of music, like biology. Musicology. Like understanding that this is what it's really all about, picking up in an instrument, mastering said instrument and going out and doing that whole thing. And so that's what he was really talking about. And then like he said, just "Call My Name" and some of the other records that was on the thing. It was powerhouse music. It was amazing. And it's just a testament to how he never stopped thinking about how to change and influence the game. That's what I took away from it, from everything he was telling me that was going to happen and did happen.

Chatting with Morris Hayes, Prince's longtime keyboard player, and we're talking about this record, Musicology, that came out in 2004. Again, it was part of a huge tour and part of some incredible changes in the music industry with how he released it. Additionally, I know Prince had more than dabbled in delivering his own raps for a long time and done that. But some tracks on this very funky and relatively acoustic record still stand out to me as this moment where I feel like his non-melodic voice really arrived. I think about "Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance," and this thing where I go it doesn't sound anymore like you're going I'm going to rap just like Chuck D or I'm going to rap. It sounds like I've discovered my own voice. Did you hear that at all?

Absolutely. His own voice, his own flow — it wasn't about trying to keep up with the Joneses and try to figure out what they're — it's just like he was comfortable in his own skin. That's what I take away from it, and — Prince was so musical and just knew his timing was so incredible and just how he delivered things. He got to where he could just see all of that, man, and I would always marvel at the situation because: he could just flip style and just flip the vibe so effortlessly. I remember telling him, dude how do you do it. It's just like it's bananas.

And like you said, it always came down to him as I just see it done in my head. I just see it and then I execute it. I just loved a lot of the style he had in this record. I remember hearing it, just being on the road and going man, he's done it again. There's some really great stuff there. And I just was always proud, because I always said when Prince wins, music wins. I don't care if I'm with him or not, when he's doing well, music is doing well. That's what I always used to say.

Hosted by Sean McPherson
Audio by Michael DeMark
Video by Steel Brooks and Cecilia Johnson
Web feature by Cecilia Johnson

Morris Hayes on Prince's 1995-2010 discography

The Gold Experience (1995)Crystal Ball (1996)Emancipation (1996)Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic (1999)The Rainbow Children (2001)Indigo Nights (2008)Musicology (2004)3121 (2006)Planet Earth (2007)20Ten (2010)

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