Prince: The Story of 1999 bonus feature: The sound of Prince and Peggy McCreary

Peggy McCreary was Prince's engineer in the early 1980s
Peggy McCreary was Prince's audio engineer in the early 1980s, a period that included the recording of '1999.' (courtesy PRN Alumni Foundation)
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The sound of Prince and Peggy McCreary
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In the early 1980s, Audio Engineer Peggy McCreary contributed significantly to several projects from the massively creative mind of Prince, including Vanity 6's self-titled debut album, The Time's sophomore effort What Time is It and Prince's 1999, Purple Rain and Parade.

The Current's Andrea Swensson connected with McCreary for a fascinating conversation about McCreary's time working with Prince, their professional relationship and their mutual respect for each other. You can listen to their complete conversation using the audio player above, and read a transcript below.

Interview Transcript

ANDREA SWENSSON: I just talked to our mutual friend, [author] Duane Tudahl yesterday, and he had a really sweet quote that I thought was really appropriate. He said, "The sound of 1999 is the sound of Prince and Peggy McCreary."

PEGGY McCREARY: Yeah, it's funny because I've been doing a lot of panels with the four women that came after me. I worked with him for five years, and was exhausted, and was so glad when Susan [Rogers] was coming. It was like "Oh, thank God." And my first impression of Susan is she won't be able to make it. She's too sweet. And she hung in there for five years, and then the last — we were comparing because I got him when he was young and relatively unknown and human. She got him when he was becoming a mega mogul. She got him in those years of a different person, and then Sylvia Massy had him when he was like total rock star, and then Lisa [Chamblee] had him when he was older and more mature and was more human in the sense that he had experienced that big peak, and he had been married and lost a child, and so he was different.

So it was interesting to realize that we had all experienced a different man in different eras of his career. And Susan pointed out — she said, "You and Lisa got the more human Prince." And it was like yeah, we did, because he wasn't quite a star when I started with him, and he was — he had so much stardom, and he was kind of back to being just a person. So it was interesting.

And the fact that they told me so much of what I taught him, which I would've never known. He carried it as far as he could until the technology just wouldn't support it anymore, like there was no tape anymore, so he couldn't do the things that we did with tape, and so he had to change. But Lisa looked down and said, "You taught him so much that he continued to use," and I thought, "Ah!" But I would've never known that. It's not like we chatted about anything.

He wasn't calling you up and filling you in?

No. I was looking at the songs of 1999 because, believe me, I don't remember some of this stuff. It's — what, 35 years ago, and Susan pointed out [that] with sleep deprivation your memory is one of the first things that go. But I was looking at the songs, and the actual hits like "1999" and "Little Red Corvette" he brought in from Minneapolis. I think Don Batts probably cut those, and he brought them from his home studio. And then I think, by the titles, that I had done everything else.

Yeah, I was just looking at all this too, to get ready for our chat today, and it's interesting. You started really working with him basically as this chapter was opening, where he was headed toward this new album, although he didn't know yet it was 1999, and he was creating so much material in late '81, early '82 with you. And all of a sudden this album emerged.

Well, and he told somebody that he didn't expect it to be a double album. It just kept on happening. And during that period he was also writing songs for Vanity 6 and he was writing songs for The Time. So we were doing those albums. I never knew what we were working on. I didn't know what was going on — the album that we were actually working on, until we assembled it. And — because Morris would come in, and that's when we cut "International Lover."

In fact, they're putting out ones where he was talking to me and Morris, and it's really funny, because I had kind of remembered it at the time. I remembered I was loading a tape machine, and he said, "Did you hear that, Peggy?", and I laughed. Because there was never — with him there was never any — as sexual as his songs were, as sexy as his songs were, there was never that banter with us, which you kind of get used to as a woman in the studio. It gets pretty raw and gritty sometimes. And it was never that with him. He was very respectful. So the fact that he even kind of pointed that out was kind of funny, because it was at a part where it said "your seat can be used for a flotation device," or something like that. It was like, "Yeah, I get it. Got that. Got it."

What else do you remember about him and Morris working together in the studio?

[They always had a good time, and I think they would develop Morris's character together, because that was Prince. That was all Prince. It was Morris too, but with The Time, there was a lot of banter, and it was fun. It was like the guys were around, you know, and he and Morris were pretty good friends, I think. Yeah.

It was funny because you never knew who was coming in our who was in town or what was going to happen. It wasn't like he came in and said, "OK, we're gonna work on The Time stuff." We just started working, and then I would say, "Can you give me a title?", and then I would find fill in the track sheets and the legend on the tape box after I figured out who it was going to, because it wasn't like he talked to you about it.

In fact, after Controversy, most people say, "It was great working with you, hope to see you again, goodbye," and there was none of that. I thought I'll never see this guy again because I really kind of got in his face and said, "You know, I can't understand you. You can't just mumble instructions to me. I've got to hear you if you want me to work for you." And I thought I was way to abrupt with him. I'll never see him again. And then they called me and said he's coming in and he requested you. And it was like oh, OK.

And that's when we started working on 1999, and it was just grueling hours. I have never worked so long or so hard for anybody in my life. And I remember we were finished with 1999; it had gone out and we were working on something else, and I was standing next to him, and I said, "Do you like my work?" And he kind of like looked at me like, "Well, you're here aren't you?" And it was like, oh. So that's as much as you ever got. If you were there, then of course he liked your work, but he never said "hello," "goodbye," "see you later," "it was great working with you," "how's' your life," or anything like that.

I usually connect with people, even if it's for a short amount of time. Those three months, we're like family because you see them more than they see their own family. And then they go away and a new [artist] comes in and you either relate or not relate, but you're living with them for the next three or four months, and then [Prince] wasn't like that. I didn't have any idea that we were connected. So it was interesting, except that I dreamed about him and he dreamed about me. I told him one time, "I dream about you" and he said, "Yeah, I dream about you too." So I never really found out what he dreamed about.

Well, it sounds like it made its way into the songs.

Yeah.

I would love to take you back to towards the beginning when you two were working together, but I am really just very curious about this experience that he had opening for the Rolling Stones at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and I was very interested to hear from you that you were working with him right around that time. Could you just tell me again about what you remember about how he reacted to that, what he was like around that experience?

I had experienced some pretty rough times with him when he was in a really bad mood, and it didn't have anything to do with me, but it was usually — I don't want to say "taken out on me," but yeah, you didn't make a mistake on those days or you never heard the end of it. So I remember I didn't even know he was in town, and I had no idea that he was going to open for the Rolling Stones. I would've thought that was a horrible idea, personally, but his managers came running in the studio the next morning and said it was a really bad night: "Just be prepared; he's gonna be in a bad mood, and he was booed off the stage and they threw things at him at the Stones concert." And I went, "Oh my god."

But he wasn't bad. I don't really remember much about the day, except they came running to prepare that it was a really sh***y day. Maybe I was prepared for the bad day, and then it didn't turn out so badly. But I read about it later. He didn't talk about it. It was just one of those days where he was quiet, which were — there a lot of them. You just never knew what was going on. It wasn't like you could say, "You wanna chat?" "You got something going on you wanna talk about?" No. So you just dealt with what the day was, and sometimes he was chatty, and sometimes days would go by and you wouldn't exchange more than a few words, except when it came to music.

It's interesting to me that he had that experience, which was just — clearly it was a pivotal moment for him, and something he'd never experienced before. And then he had to out on the road and support this new record, Controversy, coming out. But then he was already working, it seemed, on the next album, or at least churning through songs that could be on the next album, and the earliest track on the super deluxe edition from the vault that we're hearing, that you worked on, was captured just a couple months later — December 8th, 1981. I'm wondering what you remember about "Rearrange."

I don't remember. Is that the actual title of it?

Yes.

Yeah, see, the thing is, with him is we cut so much that I never saw, and I would come in and start setting up, and they would buzz me in the studio and say, "Pack it up, he's gone back to Minneapolis." So some of this stuff never came out. If I heard it I might remember it, but you gotta remember too that sometimes I would stop him and say, "Can you give me a title?", and he would just throw out anything, because he didn't have a title yet, but I needed it for the record company and for the studio. So I can hear something, and it's like, "Well, it changed titles. I don't remember that one."

I was looking at the list last night of what was on 1999, and I thought, "Oh, yeah, we did that, we did that." So it's all but the two hits, because I always get called about "1999," and I always say, "I didn't cut that. That was cut in Minneapolis." Give somebody else credit for that. I always give Don credit for that, so—

Can you tell me the story of how "Colleen" ended up being one of the titles??

Yeah. That was — I think we were working, because we were working in studio 3, which was his favorite because it was all enclosed. It had a bathroom and it opened right out onto the basketball court. You didn't have to go through any people or anything, so he loved that because it was so isolated. It was kind of nice.

But one night he started to leave, and I said, "Wait, wait, wait, wait. What's this name of this song?" I said, "I need it for Warner Bros., and I need it for the studio." And he just had that little smile on his face, and he said, "What's your middle name?" And I said, "Colleen." And he said, "Write that down." OK.

So it was one of those songs that — I think he tried to revisit it, and it just didn't happen. It was one of those songs that just didn't go anywhere. And he did that a lot, so I always figured once they open that vault and he started getting those tapes out that I'd be on stuff forever. So — that stuff — we cut so much that never came out.

What's that like for you now, to be so woven into the story of Prince in this era that your name is literally on one of the songs?

I know, I know. And I figured that. I really did, because even after I stopped — I stopped because I was pregnant. I got married and started a family. He sent me a platinum record after I was already out of the business and a mom, and so I figured that a lot of the stuff we cut together was on that record. So yeah, I just figured for a while things would just keep coming out with my name on them.

Yeah. Literally.

Yeah, literally. And then we cut that "How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore" — it took me years to find it because it was the B-side to "1999," and—

Tell me that story. This is such a good story.

[Prince] came in one night, and he said, "What do you drink?" And I said, "You mean alcohol?" And he said, "Yeah." And I said, "Remy Martin." And he said, "Okay, order a bottle of Remy Martin and a bottle of Asti Spumanti," and I said, "Oh, Prince, no, you don't want me to drink." And he said, "Order it." So I did. There was a deli that delivered and put it on the work order.

We had a couple of drinks and he started playing the piano, and we cut this song, and I kept thinking I knew I was a little buzzed, and I kept thinking this is really amazing. But it just — it went out on a B-side, and I usually didn't get B-sides. I got the album or whatever, but I never got a B-side. I never got singles.

So I didn't really know if it was that good, and I looked for it for years, and finally the kids and I were at Amoeba Records, and I went upstairs, and there was Prince's B-sides, and it was on there — a cassette with his B-sides on it, and I took it home and I listened to it, and I went, "Yes, it was great." So yeah — I think we did two takes, and they're releasing the other one that we did too.

Yeah, and it's slightly longer, and it gives me chills. I think it's kind of a showstopper on the vault release. It's just so raw and it so unlike all the other material that he was doing — just to hear him alone at the piano. What was that like for you to just be sitting there watching this?

Oh, you know, I got to hear a lot of that. You always had to keep an eye on him because you never knew what he was going to do. You never knew when he was going to say, "Throw a fresh tape, this is a song."

So when he would go out — most musicians would go out and relax and you could go out and get something to eat or go to the bathroom or something — you kept your eye on him because it could all of a sudden be full-on session. So there were times that he would just go out and play the piano, and I loved that. There's a great YouTube video of sound check with him in Japan, and it's one of those things where the camera is kind of going around him, and he's playing "Summertime," which is that Gershwin song.

Oh, yeah.

And it's just like I just kind of melt and get all dreamy eyed, because that's what I remembered, is just watching him play the piano, and I just loved it. He was so amazing on any instrument he picked up, but the piano was something that was very pleasing, and he loved my piano sound. And I can always pick out my piano sound. We had a beautiful Steinway in studio 2 that he liked. We had a great one in studio 3 too, but studio 2 was the one we cut that one on.

Piano in Sunset Sound studio 2
The Steinway and isolation room at Sunset Sound's studio 2, which Prince used while recording in Los Angeles. (Sunset Sound via Facebook)

What did he like about the way you captured it, do you think?

I have no idea. He liked my piano sound, he loved my vocal sound, and everything else was basically flying by the seat of my pants. I got a drum sound in five minutes because he would go out and play the drums, and it was like "Oh, no, oh, no, he's gonna —" and sure enough, he'd say, "Throw up some fresh tape, come on, Peggy." And so you'd throw the board over and patch as fast as you could and EQ as fast as you could and get levels as fast as you could, because he would say, "You're blowing the groove" if you didn't get it down on time.

So, some of the stuff technically, for the sounds, I'm not real proud of, but he taught me so much about if the song is there, it doesn't really matter if it technically is perfect. We mix it for our peers so that we're not criticized, but, you know, most of the public hears what he wants them to hear. He certainly didn't give you time to do much of anything. He wasn't real picky. If it was there, it was there. If the song was there, it was — and I've heard a few here now that, "ooh, there's a mistake" or they'd get off beat or something, but it's the feel of the song.

Right, right.

And I think that's what he always captured. And it was always fresh, because we usually started it in the morning and finished it that night, and sometimes revisited it the next day. Like "When Doves Cry" was a two-day thing because he kind of — he walked it back. It peaked it that night, and then he came in the next day, and he walked it back and started removing instruments because it was way overproduced. And I got to hear that — the original one that he took home that night, and it was like yeah, no wonder I shut down. I had blazing guitars and synthesizers, and he just walked it back — I said he unproduced it until it was kind of down to the bare bones, and then that was it.

Do you think it was fair to say there were points where he was writing a song a day?

Oh, I think more than that. I just think it was just — he would have so many ideas going — I told you about when he dreamed a song.

Yeah. "Manic Monday."

Yeah. I just think it was just always going through him, especially at that time. He was so prolific at that time, and that's why he had two other bands, is because he had more material that didn't really fit maybe with him, so he wrote for other people. He had so much in him that he wanted to get out.

Can you describe a little bit more the process? You said you'd often finish a song — you'd start it in the morning and finish it that night, but walk me through just how he would approach putting a song together in the studio.

Sometimes he would walk in with lyrics, with a lyric sheet, like written on hotel stationery, or something that he had probably thought about that night or that morning or whatever, or dreamed — whatever he did. And then sometimes he would just come in and start playing. Sometimes he would walk in with lyric sheets and go straight to the drum machine and start. And sometimes he would walk out to the piano and start playing, and then walk in and program the drum machine, or whatever, and then we would build from there. And then sometimes he would just go out and play the piano.

I think "Sometimes It Snows In April" was one of those, that he just went out and started playing the piano and recorded it. And it's weird, because I listened to that song and I remember cutting it. It was towards the end of my career, and I was exhausted. But I just remember thinking "that's a beautiful song," and the piano was so gorgeous in it. And then I heard it again, and I went "oh!" It's like you're so exhausted you really can't care, and then, like some of the stuff that I hear later, once I'm rested, — then you can get excited. I mean, it's just like then it kind of moves you, but when you're that tired, you're just literally picking up your cleanest dirty clothes and dragging yourself down to the studio. Seriously. And I was just exhausted working with him because he never stopped.

Which is why you taught him to record his own vocals, right?

Yeah, I did, and everybody appreciated that. I told you in Minneapolis when I did that panel with a lot of his engineers, I told them that I was losing focus, because after 15 hours — and punching vocals, you really have to concentrate — and I was just so tired and losing focus, and would miss a punch and he would get upset with me. And I said, "You know what, you can do this." I said, "I can set you up in here and you can punch yourself." And he said, "Really?" And I said, "Yeah, with headphones, if you don't mind singing in headphones." So that's what we would do, and I would hang the mic over and pull it down, and the engineers all leaned on the table and said, "That was you? Oh my god, thank you. That was the only time we got a break."

I was talking to Susan Rogers in New York when we were walking down the street, and she said, "I remember one of the last things you told me, is that coffee loses its caffeine about a half an hour after you make it. So don't make him a fresh pot of coffee if you wanna go home." And one of the engineers at Paisley said that, you know, like it would be like 2 or 3 in the morning, and he'd say, "Make me a cup of" — he stopped drinking coffee — "Make me a cup of Earl Grey tea." And so they'd go into the kitchen and they'd pull the little tab off the decaf Earl Grey tea and staple — yeah, they'd staple a full caffeinated tag on it so he wouldn't know it was decaf.

Please go to sleep.

Yeah. And even — like I'd say, "I'm kinda hungry. Should we order some food," and he'd say, "You're just trying to make me sleepy so I'll go home and take a [nap]." "No, actually I'm kind of hungry, but would you go home?" He told me the only reason he did go home was because he knew I had to sleep. I was like "Really?" So I'd get to go home for six hours so I could sleep.

And I read about geniuses because he would have this huge period where it was just like no sleep and writing and writing and writing, and then he would have this period where he would call the session at noon, and then he wouldn't show up until like 7 at night, and it's like I'd be there at 11 a.m. because I had to be there early and clean the machines and make sure everything was working just in case they got out of alignment. So sometimes a half an hour earlier instead of a whole hour, but I was there early, and you drink a bunch of coffee in order to get ready for your day, and then he wouldn't show up and wouldn't show up, and you're janked out on coffee and you can't even sleep and wait for him.

He did that for four or five days, and I finally said, "You know what, you're killing me here. I can't do this." Because then he would work until 4 in the morning. And then he would do it again. I said, "What time do you wanna start tomorrow?" "We'll start at noon." I said, "Really? Because this is killing me." And he said, "Well, nobody will wake me up." That's when he was coming down with bodyguards and had the limos and stuff like that. And I said, "I'll wake you up." And he said OK. So he gave me the number right into his bedroom, and he said, "Call me when you're set up down here." So I said, with a real cheery voice, "All set up." And he would come down kinda faded and tired looking, and that lasted for about three days, and then he went home. Like, "Yeah, keep my hours and see how that works."

So he would go through these huge periods where he wouldn't sleep, and he would just write, write, write, and then he would go through a period where there was a lull, and that's what I read about geniuses. That's kind of what they do, is they have this huge peak where they are really prolific, and then they have to rebuild, and that's kind of what would happen. And then he would go back to Minneapolis, usually, and then he would go back on the road.

Wow. That's amazing. It's actually kinda comforting to hear that he did have some times that he was resting, that he didn't just get three hours' [sleep] a night all the time.

Yeah, he'd go home, and I think then he would probably sleep for a few days, and then he would start organizing parties and all that kind of — because I'd get calls from Alan Leeds saying, "We've got a truck and he's going to have a party at First Avenue, and we're flying you out to record it." It's like, "OK."

It was amazing. I never got to go. In fact I didn't get to go to the premiere of Purple Rain because there was a party at the Palace, I think. I think that's where it was, and so I got my dress and my high heels. I was all ready to go to a movie premiere. I've never been to one, and Alan called me and said, "So we got a truck. So after the movie premiere you're recording the party." So I had to spend the premiere in the truck, organizing that for the party. Yeah. I had to take my high heels off to walk around in the truck. I was really bummed. It was like, dang.

I'm looking at some of the dates here, especially on the vault material, and it's really incredible to look at January of 1982. There's at least five or six songs that you recorded with him at Sunset Sound. It looks like he had about three weeks off from the Controversy tour, so he must have just been holed up, as you're talking about, just this daily churning. But I'm wondering if you remember about some of the other songs that were recorded in this era. That was when he cut "All The Critics Love You In New York." Do you remember that?

I just remember — it was one of those songs where I just was kind of going, "Huh." By the time he put his lyric on, then the song kind of came together for me, because that's a big part of it for me. I didn't really pay much attention to the music. I was just concentrating on making sure that he had everything he needed and anticipating every move that he made. But that one, and "Something In The Water" was another that I thought was really interesting music, and then he put the lyric to it, and it was like, "OK, so this makes sense." So — I can't tell you much about it. I just remember once I listened to the lyric, I thought, "Huh, OK, I get this now." So, the weird little synthesizer thing in "Something In The Water" - it's like OK, this makes sense now.

Sunset Sound in Los Angeles
Sunset Sound in Los Angeles. (sunsetsound.com)

And then January 11 must be your birthday.

Yeah, and that song's coming out. Warner Brothers is putting it out. It's like really, that's my song.

Can you tell me that story?

Yeah. So, they called me and it was my birthday, and I thought, "Aw geez, I can't even get my birthday off. And so he comes in he was dressed different. He never wore jeans. He had high heel black leather boots, a white t-shirt — he never wore a white t-shirt — and a black leather motorcycle kinda punk jacket. I was like, "Huh, he looks different." And we started cutting this song, and we started in the morning, and it was a rockabilly song. So the outfit made sense and everything like that.

At the end of the night, it was late. I think it was, I don't know, 11 or 12, and we had started early. And I thought, "OK, well now there's not birthday for me today." So anyway, he starts to leave, and I always made him a cassette of the mix, and I handed him the cassette and I was just cleaning up and doing some patches and stuff like that. And he looks over at me, he walks to the door and he looks over at me and he smiles, and he tosses this cassette over his shoulder, and he says, "Happy birthday," and he walked out. And I just stood there with my mouth open. He didn't even wait for a response, a thank you or anything. It was just that was my happy birthday song, so it's coming out, and Warner Bros. is releasing it, so I can't say I have an unreleased Prince song anymore. Bummer. But then everybody else will get to hear it too. It's called "You're All I Want."

And you still have the cassette that he handed you.

I do, I do.

That's really special.

Yeah, I know, I know. And Susan Rogers was so cute. She said, "Peggy, Prince loved you," and it was like, "Wow, he did?" And she said, "Of course he did. He said you've 'been loved by some incredible men.'" It was like, "Oh, thanks." Prince loved you.

That's so sweet.

I just found out that Elton John - Duane Tudahl called me and said Elton John mentioned me in his new autobiography, and I went, "Really?" [Tudahl] said, "Yeah, chapter nine," and I went "Oh, cool."

Amazing.

Yeah, it was like wow. That was fun.

I'm just so interested in this idea of you just being alone with Prince in the studio so often, and I'm wondering if you have any inkling of why did he prefer to mostly work alone.

I think he needed people, but I think that people like him that are introverts and don't communicate well — you've gotta realize too that he was 23, 24 years old. He was pretty young. He wasn't an L.A. guy. He was a Minneapolis guy. He was a king in Minneapolis, but in L.A., he was just another rock star in L.A.

And I just think that he felt comfortable with me. I didn't talk a lot. I just worked for him and did what he wanted, and he could create, and not have to communicate, which I think was hard for him at that stage in his life. He spent a lot of his childhood alone, just making music. I think music is probably what saved him in a lot of ways. I think he was more comfortable in the studio than anywhere else, but he needed an engineer.

I think it was Lisa Chamblee that said, "You blazed the trail for all of us, because after you there were just a string of female engineers because he liked working with females, and we were trying to figure out why, and I think that part of it is he had some really different ideas, and I never said 'that won't work, technically'. Let's just try it. If it works, it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't. There was no ego. There was no tech-tech stuff that "Oh, that won't work, or the impedance is off", or anything like that. I said, "Let's just try it."

Some of the stuff that he put through guitar pedals, it was like nobody would do that. And then I went out and bought his same pedal board because it's like wow, this is incredible, the sounds that he gets out of these little guitar pedals for some other kind of instrument, and I can't even remember what what we put through it, but it worked.

So I just think that part of it was we were both — I was two-and-half years into my career. It was still new and exciting for me, and whatever he wanted to try was fine, and I had ideas that he would say something that he wanted, and I would have ideas and hook it up for him, and if it didn't work, it didn't work, and if it did, it did.

In fact, I told this story at the AES convention, and it was on 1999, and I said, "I would've never told this story when he was alive because I would never have lived it down." But we were doing cross-fades, which is where you play the two tapes and then you record it onto another tape and you cut it in so that it has that perfect fadeout and fade-in, right? But he had brought a different format from Minneapolis, so he had a two-track quarter inch, and we were recording to half-inch two-track. So I had six machines in there to accommodate whatever we were doing, so the two playback and one record of whatever combination we were doing. But I only had four inputs to the wall, so if we were changing it, I really had to think about what was going on. And so it was late at night. I don't know, it was like four in the morning, and we did this cross-fade, and he said, "That doesn't sound right. I'm just going home. I'm too tired." And I think it was my idea to do the cross-fades. He didn't like technology when it didn't work, and when it was too complex or anything. So I was really trying hard to make this work for him.

And he left, and I was like, oh god. I was just deflated, and I got home and I was laying down, and I went oh my god. So when I had taken the other machine — because it was really hard to figure out exactly what we were cutting into was going be the master and playing back and everything like that. So when I had plugged the machine in, I had accidently crossed left and right because I had crossed my hands for some reason, just in my haste to do this. So I got in an hour before him, and I repatched the machine, and I re-recorded the cross-fade, and I cut it in, and I waited for him to get in, and he came in and listened to it, and he said, "Sounds good. OK," and I went, "oh my god." And everybody laughed because I said I would never have told this story when he was alive because I would've never lived it down.

That's when you get the phone call.

Right, exactly. But now I can tell this story. Because I was pretty new too. I had done a couple of first chair engineering, and with him it was more I was a staff engineer. It was like a lot of engineering, a lot of assisting, you were wearing a lot of hats, but he was the producer, he was the artist, and he was the engineer. We were both doing it. He needed me, but he also knew a lot himself. I taught him the EQ. Sometimes he would just sit back and he'd say, "Get a sound on this," and I would do, and he'd say, "Okay, great. I like that." But as an engineer you're usually sitting in the chair, where I was sitting behind him or beside him. So it was a different working combination than usual. And then when he was recording out in the studio, of course I was the engineer. But when it came in — when he would come in and listen to stuff — and I would do all the technical stuff, but he could run the board.

In fact, David Leonard and I — we were married at the time — we designed a board for his house because we knew exactly what he liked and what he didn't need. He didn't need certain things on the board, but he needed certain things, and we designed a DeMedio API console — a custom console for him — and Dave Hampton told me that it's one of the only ones that was still working at Paisley.

Oh, wow.

Yeah, and that was for his home studio. And David and I were supposed to go to Paisley and be his engineers, and I thought that'd be perfect because he would kill one engineer, which, he almost killed Susan. But it took so long to build Paisley — by the time, I was pregnant and on my way to being a mom — so that didn't work. But yeah, we had designed the board, and Dave said, "Oh, yeah, it's a great board. It's still working."

That's amazing. So that went into that Kiowa Trail house in Chanhassen?

Yeah, originally, and then it came to Paisley, and it was — I don't know what room it was in. You know I've never seen Paisley. Last time I was in Minneapolis they said, "Oh my god, you've never seen Paisley," but it was so jam packed with everything we were doing, I never made it over there. So I'd really like to see it. I guess it's different without him there, but I'd still like to see it.

You were talking a little bit earlier about the vibe of him and Morris in the studio. I was wondering if you could describe him and all these women in the studio. What was it like when Jill Jones was in there, when Lisa was in there, and Vanity later on?

It wasn't that different, because for me it was business, and he was — when we were in the studio it was about the studio. There wasn't a lot of partying or anything like that going on. Most sessions in the '80s were big parties, and people would — especially on Friday and Saturday night — people would come down, and it always made me laugh to see these girls walking around in high heels. The studio is dangerous: It's got cords and different levels, it's got big snakes going through it and heavy doors, and these women are walking around in high heels like — and usually, you know, partying high or something like that.

But with Prince it was — if Jill came down, it was to do a part. If Lisa came down, it was to do a part when we were doing the Vanity 6, and I was aware that he was involved with Vanity. I was aware that he was involved with Jill, and I was aware of the people that he was involved in, but it wasn't what was up front when we were in the studio. I was aware of it, but it wasn't the main focus when we were in the studio. It was business when we were in the studio.

And when we were cutting the music, it was usually just Prince and I. And then they would come in for the vocals or something like that. The Time — it was different because he would do the basic, and then they would play on a lot of it, so they would come in and out. That was fun, sometimes.

Sometimes it was awful, but just because — in fact, I think it was Duane that told me they day he came in with such an attitude, and I could hear him walking, and I peeked out and I went oh, god. And he had no shirt on, he had a bandana tied around each knee and one around his head, and he had two of his high-top pants, two of the buttons undone, and he was walking fast and hard, and I was like oh, god. And he came in, and he had such a bad attitude. And Duane told me that someone — not me — but someone had lost one of the tapes, and he was furious. But it wasn't me, but I was the one that got the brunt of that, and I remember that Jimmy Jam at one point looked over and kind of looked at me like, "Sorry it's you, but so glad it's not one of us to be just ridden hard that day."

It was just like — you know, you just better not even do anything wrong that day. And even if you were doing everything right you were getting — you were too slow or you were too this or you were too that — and it was like I just remember gritting my teeth, going oh god, let this day be over with. And he never apologized. It wasn't like he apologized and said, "Sorry that was a crappy day" or anything. But yeah, you just dealt with it and hoped the next day wasn't like that. And it usually wasn't. But it always kinda left you on that edge of "Oof, what do I need to be prepared for today?" You know. It's like okay, he's in a pretty good mood.

Like one day he walked in and he said — I was all set up and ready to go, and had a full suit on, and a hat and everything. He looked really, really good. And he said, "Let's go see a movie." And I went "Oh, no, go ahead, I'll just be here when you get back." And he said, "Aw, Peggy, I got a limo for us and everything." And I went OK. And he said, "And — and he pulls this black lace handkerchief out of his pocket, and it was a pair of girl's lacy underwear. And he said, "And I got a pair of girl's panties right here," and he stuck it back in.

We get in a limo and we go see a movie, and it an indie movie called Diva. It was all subtitles. But it was hard to — I'm in jeans and he's in this beautiful gorgeous suit, and it's like [I'm in] jeans and tennis shoes, keys hanging on my belt, because that was my job. So I go OK. So we went to see a movie and then came back and worked all the rest of the night. I can't even remember what we worked on.

But he did stuff like that. He was very spontaneous. He had that studio locked out, so it was his 24/7 anytime he wanted. And because he didn't really have a producer and he didn't really have musicians that he was paying, his budget was his budget. He was everything wrapped into one. He did what he wanted. But I think he was most at home in the studio. I think he loved being in that environment, because I know, wherever he was, on tour, if they had a day off he would find a studio in that city. That's what he loved to do.

Yeah. It's so interesting to think about so many of the tracks on 1999 were recorded by just you and him alone. Even — like "Automatic" just has, as you mentioned, Jill Jones and Lisa, but they were only just coming in at the end. Do you think it's fair to say that 1999 is the sound of you and Prince working together in the studio?

Yeah, except for the two biggest hits were not mine. We worked on them, but they were pretty much done by the time. But, yeah, that was us.

He was such a different kind of person in the studio, that I didn't really understand who he was until he took me out on the road for that tour as a Christmas present. He gave me two days on the road of the 1999 tour, and it was New Year's Eve in Dallas, and then the next night in Houston. And I was completely blown away at his performance. I was just literally like weak in the knees. I thought, "Oh my god, I get it now." I never got who he was. The outfits and the attitude and the everything, it was always him. He just got to really exude that onstage.

So, yeah, when I saw him perform I had a whole different level of appreciation for him. Then I got him, and then our relationship changed a little bit for me, because, unfortunately, I respected him, and he took advantage of that. No, I'm not saying "unfortunately," but I saw his talent, and then like for Purple Rain he came in one day and was playing the piano and he said, "I'm gonna make a movie." And I was like okay, you know, it was like whatever. And he gets up and he leaves, and he comes back with a movie.

And then we were doing a soundtrack, which became really involved, and two machines and string players and oh my — in fact, I was telling a story. We were talking about him on this panel and saying that you just had to be ready for whatever creative inspiration moved him at the moment, I mean literally. It was like anytime, you had to be ready for anything, because he could switch gears all of a sudden. So it's midnight, and we're working on Purple Rain, and it's midnight, and he comes out and he said, "Peggy, I need some string players." And I thought okay. And he said, "Now." And I went oh my god, it's midnight. These are like union — I mean, the string sessions I had done were huge organized union sessions. And I thought, "Oh my god, what am I gonna do?" And I had just worked with a band that had a viola player. Her name was Novi Novog, and I thought god, maybe Novi will do it. So I called her up at midnight and I said, "Do you wanna play on a Prince record?" And she said, "Absolutely." And I said, "Do you know a cello player?", and she yeah, and they came down there at like one in the morning and worked till like three or four o'clock, and there they are. It's like OK.

So you just made it happen, and I think that's what he like about us, is there was no attitude. It's like OK, we'll get it done. If it can possibly be done, we'll do it for you. And I think he also liked the fact that women — we're multi-taskers. We can think of food and we can think of what you need, but we can also think of what needs to happen in the studio. We can do it all, and I think that's part of what made him like us, because we could do it all, and it could only be the two of us, and he was fine with that. I think he enjoyed that. I think he liked the solidarity of that for him. He liked the solitude.

it's so interesting to think about too, as you mentioned, going to see him at the very end of 1982, and then it was, I think, a month or two later that "Little Red Corvette" then entered into the top 10 and became a hit, and then by the end of that spring he was in heavy rotation on MTV and really experiencing this moment. Did you experience any kind of shift in being around him, or did you notice anything different as that was happening?

Yeah, of course I did. Then he started coming in with a bit more of an attitude, and when he came in he had a limo painted purple, and it was like "Oh, really?". It was just like "Really?". And he had bodyguards, because when I first started working with him, I think it was him and Jesse Johnson who came running into the studio, and they were out of breath and they were laughing because they had been recognized by fans and chased, and that had never happened to them before. So that was all new, and it was just happening.

And then after 1999, then the bodyguards came, then the kind of entourage, then it became more of a show in the studio sometimes. But sometimes — because a lot of Purple Rain, it was just the two of us. So, you know, you just never knew what you were getting, but you also had a different artist. He was becoming very well-known and he was trusting himself, and he was wearing his title very well. But that's when the motorcycle came in, the purple motorcycle. He rode that into the studio and stuff like that. So it was just a different guy.

When I first met him, he had to borrow his manager's car to get to the studio. After 1999, and, I think, during Purple Rain, he had a purple BMW that appeared. He would have it trucked in from Minneapolis, and just stuff like that — actually, it was a black BMW. It was a beautiful one. He got stopped one night leaving the studio, and I guess in California you can't have the driver's side window blacked out as black as he had it. The front two windows you can't have blacked out, so he was stopped by the police, and they said, "Where are you coming from?", and he said "From the studio," and they said, "Do you do country music?", and he looked at them [incredulously] and he said, "Have you seen Willie Nelson? No, I don't do country music." I think he got a ticket or a fix-it ticket or something like that. But, yeah — "No, I don't do country music."

Prince on motorcycle in Purple Rain
Prince gazes out from his motorcycle to "When Doves Cry" in Purple Rain. (Warner Bros. via YouTube)

Peggy, this has been so wonderful. We've covered all the territory I was hoping to cover today, but is there anything else that comes to mind that you want people to know about who Prince was and what it was like working with him in this period?

He was so talented, and just from his songs — it took me a while because in the studio you've got a real job to do, and it wasn't until later that I could really listen to his songs and appreciate them, because I was so focused on just making the session work. And then when you could relax and listen to his songs, you realized that so much of his heart was in those songs, and where he was. "Sometimes It Snows In April" is just gut-wrenching, of how much he feels. But you wouldn't know that from him how deeply he was feeling, and I think that the music was his outlet for that and for all of his communication. His music was his outlet.

Absolutely.

Yeah, and I think that if you listen to that — I mean I just appreciate him so much. There were people in the studio that would like say, "You really work with that guy?", because he was different. He dressed different — most people schlub down to the studio in a sweatshirt and jeans or whatever — and he was always dressed up and playing basketball in high heels.

And then there were some musicians that I really respected that would take me aside and say, "Oh my god, he's a genius," and I said, "Yesssss!"

Because there were three studios there, there was quite a mix of artists, and a lot of the musicians that I really respected got him and thought he was genius. And I thought he was a genius too. But he was different. He was certainly different: His look was different, and his sound was different, and the way he worked was different. He worked alone. He didn't have anybody to bounce off and tell him he was doing something wrong — not wrong but something — like a producer. His managers tried to, and he said, "They don't play it, they don't play it." They tried to get "Little Red Corvette," they said, because of "in and out around your leg," and "pocket full of Trojans" and stuff like that. And one of the managers — I think was Steve Fargnoli —came in and said, "You know KISS isn't gonna play that because of that," and he said, "Then they won't play it. That's fine." So that was the thing, is he was everything. He was the boss of everything. It was all him, and I really respected that.

I think about that a lot, that his ability to put up these barriers — or 'boundaries' I guess is a better word for it — really allowed him to be, as you mentioned, just so pure and vulnerable in his work. It's because he created that space.

And I'm sure insecure, you know, about if he was doing it the right way.

That was something that I saw in "When Doves Cry," because it was like it got so big and just so produced that I shut down. It was like, "OK, this one's way over the top. And then the next morning — I mean the next day he came in and he started just taking stuff away. And when he was on his own I was kind of out and about and around, and I think we finished "When Doves Cry" at like seven in the morning. And by that time, he had punched the bass out, and he said, "Nobody's gonna believe I do this." And he punched it out, and he said, "Lay it down." And then he left with a cassette. I think it was 7 or 7:30 in the morning, so that was two solid days of "When Doves Cry," which was really different for us.

I remember listening to it, and it just moving me, and I ran up and got the receptionist, and I said, "You gotta hear this song we just cut." And she reminded me after he passed that I had done that. And I went oh, that's right, because she got in at 8, so I was still cleaning up, and I grabbed her hand and said, "You gotta listen to this song." So, I mean, some of his stuff you didn't ever show that you were moved by his music, because he would laugh at you. Yeah. One time I was really into a beat of something. I was bouncing my foot and my head, and I looked over and he went [chuckle] and it was like, oh, OK. So you didn't really ever show him that you were into anything. So you just kind of had to sit there, and it was later that you could appreciate it and show some excitement. Otherwise he'd laugh at you.

That's rough! Peggy, this has been so great. I love talking to you.

And I love Minneapolis. You can really see that he's their native son, and I just love that. Everything is purple and everything is Prince and everything. They're really proud of him, and I'm really proud of him too. I was very fortunate to be a part of his life.

I'm sure we'll get you here, and I'm sure you'll go to Paisley Park and it will be very — I don't even know the word to describe it — but it'll be monumental, I'm sure, for you to be able to see that.

Yeah. I hope I don't lose it.

I lost it the first time I went back.

I'm very sad that I let our connection — it was hard, though, because his management company wasn't with Warner Bros. anymore, and those were the people that I knew. And I didn't know how to reach out, but the last time I saw him I brought my daughter down. She was eight months old, and he held her, and somebody said, "Oh, did you get a picture?" And I said, "You didn't take pictures of Prince." And you didn't have your phone to sneak a picture. I think I have a picture of Sheila holding her, but not Prince. Prince wouldn't let you take a picture.

So yeah, he held [my daughter] and he said he really wanted kids. And I said, "I've always wanted to learn to play the piano." He said, "Do it."

That's so sweet.

Yeah, I know. Breaks my heart.

Me too. Well, thank you so much again, and as you know, the reissue comes out at the end of next month.

And enjoy my birthday song! [laughter]

Everybody!

It was Warner Bros., so I can't really say, "Wait a second." [laughter]

I so appreciate your time and your stories, and I'm sure we'll talk again soon.

Good. I wanna keep him alive, and his music alive. I really do.

Me too, me too.

Thank you.

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