Morris Hayes on '3121'

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Morris Hayes, Prince's longtime keyboardist/music director for the New Power Generation, talks about the 2006 album '3121' and the song 'Black Sweat.' (MPR)
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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 eighth of ten.

3121

You're with Purple Current. My name is Sean McPherson. I'm chatting with Morris Hayes, longtime keyboard player for Prince. We're digging into some incredible records from Prince's catalog, and 3121 is one we got to cover. It's a huge success for him and was also an incredible sounding record. I was wondering if you could set the scene for 3121, your memories surrounding that era —

3121, this was at the point where I started transitioning back from Maceo to Prince. What happened was Prince had got this house in LA, and that was the address to the house — 3121 Mulholland, and I think Mariah Carey used to — she used to have the place, but got this place, and that was the address, and it was a cool, funky place.

He used to love to have parties there, and I'd start coming — Támar Davis, who was an artist I brought to him when she was 12, back in the early '90s, was going to school out there, and a girl who was a choreographer for us named Fatima brought her to one of the parties, and they reconnected. He hadn't seen her since she was young and everything, and then I get a call from her saying guess who I ran into out in LA at his house — Prince. I'm like what. And he wants to know if you can come out here.

I had just got off the road with Maceo and everything, and so I said sure. And then he called me, and one of the things I learned about Prince early on was you have to ask him how long, because if you pack for three days you'll be there three months and you won't have any underwear after three days, so I'm like bro, how long am I going to be there. And he's like I don't know. Just be out here. So I say okay. I'm going to pack a lotta stuff. And sure enough, I ended up living in a hotel for nine months. I was at the hotel for so long I could work at the front desk. That's crazy.

From the parties he had a guy named Frank McComb who would come and play at his house, and he had Josh and Cora, who were in Frank's band. And they were playing, and then we came and did a show with Maceo, and then all of a sudden Támar shows up and then he's like man, I'm going to put together this thing. So the next call I got, he said, "Hey, man, I want to get Josh and Cora and then Támar and we got these girls I just met — the twins — and we should put something together. I want you to come out and we go in the studio and do this stuff." And there's this thing, and it's all of a sudden now, this band who was like a house band coming in and play with him was now doing this thing, and then all of a sudden that transitioned into the new NPG at that point.

But the records on that, man, it was an incredible - "3121," the title track, it's just so funky, especially the live version. It just was like "Days of Wild" had been all over again. It had this groove on it that - and the hook was so powerful, and then "Black Sweat," and of course Prince was so good at re-appropriating tracks - he had done this song on the Kama Sutra record called "The Dance." And then he had put it on this record and that's one of my favorite pieces on that record. It's just like it's incredible. He just had all this really wonderful stuff. But it was just a great collection of songs. I think "Black Sweat" and "Lolita." It was a lot of fun to play too, so by the time we got to 3121 Las Vegas we played basically almost that whole record.

You're listening to Purple Current. I'm chatting with Morris Hayes about the album 3121. And I want to focus in on the song "Black Sweat," which is a big sonic departure. It's this very small, exacting drum part with very little high-hat. There's no reverb. It's raw. It reminds me of "Kiss." It has this immediacy. Where do you think that came from after he's had these lush--

I don't know. But once again I go back to the mix. I'm like Prince, this high-hat is so loud. Why is the high hat so loud? I said the frequency on that joker is like — but it was just one of those driving lines, and it was such a groove on it. The video was fun. He just really made it just a fun piece. He was just so good again, and it kind of had that almost James's flavor to it [sings] it was just like that whole thing. So it still was kind of in line with some of the things he did, but it was kind of fun to me. I just thought it was just one of those things, and he coined yet another phrase that people and ran with. Yeah, you got me out here working up a black sweat, man. It was that kind of thing. He was so good at that, so good a taking a line that maybe people would say it and make into something that everybody now associates with him.

Compared to a lot of millionaires, Prince seemed to keep his hand on the pulse of a lot of what was happening, so I'm not surprised that he could churn out terms. That would make sense. He wasn't out of touch.

And that was cool. And no better way than when you do a song that coins a phrase, to just keep it in the public mindset. It's got legs. You've got this term that you just created out of that, and now it's got these whole legs on it. It's amazing. He was so clever about that. I asked him one time, because he could do so many things great. I asked him what do you consider the thing that you're the best at?

He kind of thought about it. He says, "I think for me at the end of the day I'm a songwriter. I'm a poet. Nobody reads anymore. I think for me the biggest thing is my lyrics." I said I agreed. I completely agree because you could pick any era and you may not like the keyboard sound, you may not like the drum sound, whatever, but if you strip away all the music from his lyrics, he's always clever. He was always clever in how he wrote lyrics. He told me he hated bad lyrics. One of his big pet peeves was he just hates bad lyrics. I think just from all that material, Prince was very clever about he formulated words. Because he read all the time. I don't know where he got time. He didn't sleep as it was. And then I guess to get that much data, I just didn't understand it.

You're listening to Purple Current. I'm chatting with Morris Hayes about the record 3121. This is written at a time when Prince is living out in LA after he had also spent some time recently in Las Vegas. I'm hearing a lot of Spanish language on this album that I'm not hearing before. "Te Amo Corazón." Do you think that Prince is soaking up some things in this environment, hearing a little more Spanish in LA than he might be hearing in Chanhassen?

That and the fact — Prince is a celebrity's celebrity, so he's friends with Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek, and a lot of folks. They'd come over for dinner. We would have dinner and Salma would be there, and it just was his circle of friends and influences that was around him. Salma, I think she directed that video "Te Amo Corazón." She directed that. He had a lot of different influences, and Prince was so keen on being able to take any type of scenario.

I remember when I was working on this other record with him just as a point of reference, I was working on this record. We were sitting out in the car listening to it, and he's going through all these songs, and he gets to this one, and I immediately recognized it as being — I know what to do with this, Prince, it's like Curtis Mayfield. He said, "Exactly. You know why? I was watching YouTube and," — him and Dr. Cornel West are like really good buddies, and at this point they're really good friends. And he said he was watching Dr. West on YouTube and he was talking about Prince and some stuff. And he's like, Brother Prince is great, but he's not Curtis Mayfield. And Prince was like oh really. Really? And he told me it wasn't no thing. Dr. West is cool so he didn't take it offensively or anything, but he took it as a challenge. And he goes in and writes this track that's like Curtis Mayfield all day. And I said I know what to do with this. I got you. And he told me the story. And that was just to let Dr. West know like once again I can do Curtis, but can Curtis do me.

That's a trip that you bring up Curtis Mayfield, especially while we're talking about 3121, because I wanted to ask you about the track "Satisfied," which clocks in at 2:50, yet it's a full sexy ballad, full of that Curtis Mayfield decoration. Prince was such a singular artist, but his ears were so big. Was he thinking to do a little Curtis Mayfield?

Yeah. That was that kind of a vibe from that — and of course with his falsetto, it's just like that with the guitar and the way that thing was. I was just like dude. I remember hearing that and going man, you have done it again, like look at this. And it's one of the songs I just love to play. He used to have me do this whole skit on that song, where I had a church lady hat and the whole nine. I put the hat on with the flowers on it like the lady from Hee Haw with the price tag hanging off of it, and I'd be like well, well, well — and I'd do my whole church lady thing, and playing the organ intro to this thing, and then he'd come in singing it. It just had a vibe — that old funk — that soul kind of thing. It was amazing. He even let Maceo play the intro on that. Maceo would come over and play the little keyboard intro, and then I'd take over. It was crazy. I used to love that.

But that's what I'm saying. Like you said, he had these amazing ears, the way he could just like listen to anything and just completely in an instant vibe something that's dope off of that. It just was a talent. He was an anomaly. You don't see that kind of a thing often, and Prince was that. He was a modern Mozart. And for me to be able to sit there and see that, it's just an incredible blessing. I can even put it any other way.

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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