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Bobby Z remembers Prince and the inspiration behind ‘1999’

Bobby Z. (MPR Photo | Nate Ryan)
Bobby Z. (MPR Photo | Nate Ryan)

by Simone Cazares

January 09, 2019

Bobby Z knew Prince for 43 years. The two spent time together growing up in Minneapolis and played with each other for years in the Revolution. Stopping by The Current’s studio, Z shared some of the memories he made with Prince. One of his most memorable ones was working on the essential Prince album, 1999. At the time, Prince and the Revolution were coming to the end of the Dirty Mind tour. While looking for a place to stay one night, they found a hotel sign reading “Free HBO.”

“That was a big deal. Everyone got to their room, turned on HBO and there was a documentary about Nostradamus and the prediction of the end of the world. 1999, 1999 and we’re all blown away by this thing. You could feel it in the hotel rooms, they were just glued to the TV,” Z said. “So of course, like normal people do, the next day the water cooler talk is did you see and, for Prince, he had written this song. So there explains the difference between mere mortals and Prince. We’re all going 'Wow' and then he just embodied the whole thing with '1999' the next day.”

For Z working with Prince was always an adventure that none of the band members could have ever predicted, but as Z remembers, Prince knew exactly what he wanted and wasn’t afraid to go for it.

“Everything with Prince was a puzzle. The songs are puzzles when you play them. They sound very repetitive, which they are, but he had the ability to put something different in every bar and it makes it challenging as you study these and play these continuously,” he said. “I mean you have meticulously theory and with 1999 he really figured it out who his audience was. ‘I’m gonna take The Stones audience and I’m gonna take this Rick James audience and all this stuff I learned over there and I’m gonna make one big audience.” and he did it. With "Corvette" for the rock people and "1999" for the party people.”

But even after all the success and adventures he had what Z will always remember the most will be the early days he spent with Prince, before either of them knew what was to come.

“I often think of the private days. The earliest moments with him were very telling of his talent for me but we were still just kids and doing and seeing movies and going to shopping malls and wandering around listening to music."

Watch our full 20-minute interview:

Simone Cazares is a student at St. Catherine University. Originally from Miami, Fla., she survives Minnesota’s cruel winters by immersing herself in the Twin Cities music scene.

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.