Morris Hayes on 'Planet Earth'

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Morris Hayes, Prince's longtime keyboardist and music director for the New Power Generation, talks about the time Prince left his Hohner at his house. (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 ninth of ten.

Planet Earth

You're tuned to Purple Current. My name is Sean McPherson. I'm chatting with Morris Hayes, longtime keyboardist and musical director with Prince, and we're going through some records, really digging in and trying to get into what was happening at the time of the record. Thinking back, Planet Earth was dropped in July of 2007 and dropped in a really unique way, showing up in a lot of people's newspapers across the pond in the UK. It was a change as far as how the album was released. It was also a change from the sound of the record. It was not nearly as funk-loyal as some of the earlier stuff. Can you tell me a little bit about Planet Earth and that time and Prince's band and in Prince's sphere?

Planet Earth — it's funny because the title track is one of my favorite Prince songs. Prince has a lot of songs, but lyrically in the song "Planet Earth" itself, it was amazing because I think that's Sonny and Michael playing on that track. He had called them back in and he got Michael Bland. Michael is just amazing. And just what he's saying and then the rest of the record and some of the stuff that's in there was just really incredible. It was another testament. But like you said, it was a bit different in terms of like it wasn't that funky-heavy kind of a thing. And it's funny because right before then, that Planet Earth record was kind of like the theme of the tour for what we did at the O2 in 2007. So 3121, Planet Earth, all of that was kind of in the same neck of the woods, and most of that record — I think I ended up working on a couple things like beats or something like this, but it was mostly him just in the studio just kind of doing his thing and just really creating. He had these environments that he had this studio set up at the house and everything, and was starting to cut a lot at the house. So it was like he did some really cool stuff along those — in that era, and there's several things on that record that I just love that I thought was really cool at least.

I don't want to princevault.com you, but I think the song you might have done programming in is "Mr. Goodnight." Does that ring a bell?

Yeah.

In talking with you today, Morris, you've really opened up a lot for me musically thinking about Prince's progression during this era. You've also opened up a little bit of a window into Prince's personality. As a person who didn't know Prince, sometimes when he's talking about "a Spanish man will greet you at this villa and let you in" and things like this, I'm sort of going are you serious? And now I'm getting the sense like is there something almost comical about something so Lothario-esque, like the song "Mr. Goodnight."

Yeah, but that's the thing. And I think that was the party, is he did have a comical side in it, and some of the things he would say was coming from that kind of a place, and that's what I liked about it too. He didn't take himself completely serious all the time, and that he always took the music seriously. But he wasn't afraid to allude to some different things. It made you think about the lyrics and think about what the context of what he was saying.

And I think that was the other thing he always wanted to do, was just keep people into like trying to figure out, like keep their attention so that you just say what is the meaning of this song, because I have to be honest — a lot of stuff just went over my head sometimes, and I was like I don't really know what he means or what he's saying. It's like one of those movies like Dangerous Liaisons. You have to watch it a few times to get it. After about the fifth time you're like oh, I get it. You have to make them love you. Then they can kill you and then they got you. It's that kind of thing.

And I think he was very clever at just making you think. Again, he said nobody reads anymore. Nobody pays attention. And some things you just want to take people on a little trip until they have this moment — ping. Oh yeah, that's kind of clever how he did that. I think that was part of his thing.

You're listening to Purple Current. I'm chatting with Morris Hayes and we're talking about different Prince releases, and focusing right now on Planet Earth. When we were speaking earlier, Morris, you said that you grew up being really into rock, and growing up in Arkansas and getting the best reception on the station that was playing things like Supertramp. I imagine that for you, then, supporting this record must have been kind of a blast because this is a little more of a return to some guitar rock and almost indicative of what was going to come later with 3RDEYEGIRL.

Exactly. Definitely, because he was so good on that front. He would just go through moods. It was interesting because he would have — sometimes bass would be the thing that he really wanted to focus on. But then he got his guitar and got his relationship with his guitar again. And he would go in and out of those eras.

I remember when he left the Hohner at my house so long that I got uncomfortable, like it being there. And I asked him, can I please bring it back to you because it's making me nervous it being here. I know that this is a Smithsonian-grade guitar, and you should have it at Paisley, and you should be playing it. But it was sitting at my house. I had people coming over to my house like want to take a — I'm like no, you can't take a picture of it, because if he sees it, he's going to think I'm over here renting out the guitar for photographs. Do not take a picture of it. Don't touch it. And I finally just said, "Prince, can you get this thing" — that and his drum machine — "can you please take it?" I don't know if this is a trust test or something, but please come and get this out of here.

But he had got this relationship again. Like he would kind of go in and play guitar and wail and make some cool stuff. And it was just like it was great. And by the time he got to "Guitar" and all these things, it was just like rock and roll, and I just loved it because that's the stuff we get to stretch out and have a good time on.

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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