Prince: The Story of 1999 bonus feature: Dr. Fink, 'When Prince sang live, he was just impeccable'

Brown Mark and Dr. Fink jam.
Brown Mark and Dr. Fink jam. (Evan Frost | MPR)
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Dr. Fink: 'When Prince sang live, he was just impeccable'
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While making Prince: The Story of 1999, I got a chance to speak to Dr. Fink — also known as Matt Fink, one of Prince's first keyboard players and member of the Revolution.

You can listen to our complete conversation using the audio player above, and read a transcript below.

Interview Transcript

MATT FINK: Hi, everybody. This is Matt Fink, a.k.a. Dr. Fink from Prince and the Revolution.

ANDREA SWENSSON: One of the things that we're going to be talking about at the very beginning of this podcast, before we get to 1999, is this pivotal moment in all of your lives when you opened for the Rolling Stones. What comes to mind as you think back on those two performances? It was at the Los Angeles Coliseum, October 1981.

Well, just having the opportunity to open for the Stones, being youngsters from the Midwest who looked up to all those guys, was really a dream come true; a fantasy fulfilled, as you might think.

Unfortunately, it was a bit disappointing because of the reception that we received by quite a few of the audience members. I know there were people out there that were more polite, and probably gave us the benefit of the doubt, but then you had these people out there that didn't seem to appreciate what we were about, and so we took the stage, we started to play, and then people were flipping us the bird and they were booing and they were throwing food and bottles and cans and crumpled-up paper cups. We were all nearly pelted with stuff. I know I got pelted, actually, in my head with one of those crumpled-up paper cups. It did sting.

But what was interesting is I thought that the Rolling Stones had more of a '60s counterculture kind of audience that would be more peaceful than this, so I was a bit surprised by that. So it kind of took on that Hell's Angels edge, since they allowed the Hell's Angels to still be their security force, even at that time. So you had this faction of unruly types that didn't really quite get what Prince was doing. So you had a mixed-race group of people up there, mixed gender, Prince was dressed in his trench coat and his thigh-high stockings and high-heeled boots and just looking radical compared to what they were used to, although Mick Jagger used to come out in kind of sexy clothing at times.

But he was white.

But he was white, yeah! So you had the three black front guys and — anyway, you get it, so yeah, it was disappointing. So we got out of there without being skinned alive too badly, but it was interesting.

Mick Jagger, of course, appreciated Prince. He personally asked us to come and do that show, and he begged Prince to come back and do the second show in spite of the first one being as disappointing as it was. Unfortunately, the second show went about the same, but I will tell you that even the Stones fans threw shoes at Mick, up onto the stage. So I just wanted to let you know they just were in general not the nicest people. And I'll never forget what Mick said during the show once there was just a stage full of people's shoes up there. He said, "I ain't a frickin' doormat! What are you doing? What are you thick people doing?" So he was complaining too at the violence and just the rudeness of these people. So yeah, it was really surprising.

We have a little bit of audio from the show—

Oh, great!

…and I want to see what it brings to mind, just to hear — and I believe this is when it kind of turned. This is from the second show, I believe, and it's a performance of "Jack You Off."

[audio from concert, recorded from audience perspective; song concludes and stadium fills with boos amid some scattered applause]

Yeah, there was definitely some booing there at the end, wasn't there? The issue is they weren't ready for that kind of overt slang sexuality, and I think that's what took them by surprise.

They don't want a guy telling you, "I'll jack you off"?

"Jack you off," yeah! I don't think they appreciated — I gotta tell you, when Prince presented that song to the band back in the day — and we all played on that song, by the way — in the studio, and I was concerned, actually. As much as I thought "OK, he's gonna shock — it is the shocker — it's for shock value in a lot of ways," and that's what he was about. I did say to him, I said, "Are you worried that this could have an adverse reaction?" He shrugged his shoulders and [said] "Yeah, that's the point."

Well, there you go.

Yeah, so I went "OK." I was totally into what he did though. I very rarely thought — said to him, "Oh, I think this is bad or wrong — you shouldn't do it." So I like that, too. I think I had an influence with him about people like Frank Zappa and people like that who were also doing risqué kind of stuff, so I think he took a cue from that as well, because I said, "You gotta listen to Frank. If you're doing this you gotta listen to Frank."

So jumping off that moment, and then thinking about that winter — you guys went on the Controversy tour — but Prince was also starting to work in the studio on what would become 1999. Were you involved in the home studio at Lake Reilly?

I would go there from time to time, absolutely. It was intimate, of course. It was in the basement of a house, and it wasn't really a traditional studio where it's built in properly. It was somewhat semi built-in. He had a big mixing console in there, and the usual accoutrements for a studio. But yeah, it was cool for a home studio — it was rare. There weren't a lot of those things around at that time. Not too many artists did that with their homes.

I get the impression he would just kind of call people over to come hang out and see what he was working on.

That's right, yep. So, sure, definitely there from time to time. Not the whole time, of course, but "Come on over and listen to this," you know, and, "Here's a tape. Go learn this." Things like that. Or "Here, hold is note down for me while I do that."

Cool! So, I am very curious to hear what you would say about — how would you describe the 1999 tour, also known as the Triple Threat tour?

Oh, boy. That was an exciting time, because at that point I'd been in the group since late '78, and here was are, it's '82, so four years of just really balls-the-walls hard work, rehearsing and touring and doing all that stuff, and it was all beginning to pay off, which was great because that was our goal: to make ourselves as popular as possible and please and entertain people. So yeah, exciting.

When you're in the bubble, as they say — they call it the bubble — in fact, our manager used to say, "OK, you're gonna be in the bubble now. We're doing everything. You're just gonna get on the bus and play, and that's it, and you're gonna be isolated in a sense, and you're just gonna travel, and you're just going." It's a whirlwind.

Dr Fink in the 1999 video
Dr. Fink performing in the music video for "1999." (via Prince official YouTube channel)

But I just know that he had really come into his own as an entertainer and really learned the ropes by then, and the confidence was there, and his show prowess as amazing. He could just control the audience so well and give them what they wanted. And of course, I just remember that the women in the audience went crazy for him. Lots of screaming. It was like the Beatles. Although early on, I gotta tell you, when we did one of the earliest tours, we played a theater in San Francisco, and this was just for the second album. We had no security at that time, so we were just leaving the show, and we went out the backstage door, and there was like a throng of females waiting — laying in wait for him, and I'm not kidding, we went through this gauntlet of women, and they literally shredded his shirt off of his back — tore it — tearing like piranha. It was unbelievable. I'll never forget that. So then he had to have bodyguards after that.

Shredded!

Yeah. It was shredded. They each got a piece.

It's interesting to think about — the tour was almost halfway over by the time "Little Red Corvette" became a top 10 hit. Do you remember the vibe of being on tour — changing — the audience changing? Was that noticeable?

Well, it's been so long that I'm not sure if I can remember that change so well, but I just know that by that time, in spite of that single becoming so big and MTV, of course, making it as big as it was, and "1999," the song itself, that yeah, the energy level kept getting bigger and bigger from the audience as it went on. No question.

Was there more pressure on the band?

Not really. No. He never had a lot of pressure. The one thing that I can say is that when he would be on tour — any given tour — he really liked to modify the show as we went along. So like we'd do three or four shows the same way, and then we'd be at soundcheck and he would say, "OK, we're gonna add this song, and we're doing this different transition into that song, and then we're gonna add this—", whatever. So we literally were changing arrangements on the fly and playing them that same evening.

Wow. Were you part of the whole review of the video tapes each night and that kind of thing?

Oh, yeah. Yeah, the tour bus right after the show, we watched the show with him for either critiquing or praise.

So if you screwed up you knew you'd have to watch it later?

Oh, yeah. Yep. So if there was a mistake that was definitely noticeable, and he'd turn to look at you, I'd just kind of turn my head and go "What? Who was that? I don't know. That wasn't me." I'd joke with him and mess with him. Yeah, it was funny.

Wow. No pressure.

But then if he did a clinker I'd say, "I just heard you do something, too."

So Prince made mistakes?

Oh, sure, once in a while, but very rarely. Very rarely. He was one of those artists that, when he sang live, he was just impeccable. So you didn't hear flat or sharp notes or missed lyrics or anything like that — pretty rare. But there was an occasional flub, sure, just like he's human.

Since we're looking back through time and putting this documentary together, I'm wondering — thinking of all the vault tracks that people are going to get to hear — this era of late '81 to early '83 — this pivotal moment in Prince's life and career, what do you think this box set is going to be able to tell us about where Prince was in this time?

You're going to hear, stylistically, there's a definite vibe. It's pre-Purple Rain, post Controversy. There's still some of that holdover — what he was doing from Controversy era, but then again he was still progressing into new territory, and even I personally haven't heard some of those extra, unreleased pieces, but I do remember a lot of them, some of which I played on.

But if you just follow it from the beginning of the career all the way to the later part, you hear that progression of experimentation taking place, and how he was always transforming himself into something different with every record, really. There was always something new and original and exploratory. So you can really hear that as well on 1999, and what's interesting is that even in the unreleased material there's some real gems in there that definitely could've made the album, or even been hits during that era.

And it's so cool that they're pretty much fully produced. He didn't really demo stuff. He made full songs.

Yeah, he usually did, although when you listen to some of the stuff, I don't know if they remixed them or not. I have to listen to it again, but I've heard them release certain things that still sound a little rough around the edges. So hopefully they took the liberty to remix some of that stuff.

I have the track listing, and you mentioned just now that you may have played on a couple of these. I just wonder if there's any that come to mind that you might have a story about that you'd like to share. There's a lot! It's like 24 tracks.

The band worked on "Possessed" as a group with him, and we thought about bringing that one back out again to play on tour, so probably next year. Let's see, what else? "Can't Stop This Feeling I Got" — that one for sure we worked on, and that one never saw the light of day — won't see it till now. We worked on that one. Now, "Do Yourself A Favor" goes way back. That's even pre-signing period.

Right. Pepe Willie, right?

Yeah, Pepe Willie, yeah.

What can you tell us about that song?

Not a lot. Just that it was done early on, before he had his record deal with Warners. Let's see here. Those two come to mind at the moment for sure.

I would love to hear more about "Possessed." What do you remember about that — hearing that for the first time and working on it?

I wasn't sure I liked it at first. The word "possessed" kind of bugged me a little bit because the implication is kind of dark. But he wrote it in such a way that it was happy and joyful and a lot of energy, and basically singing about how he's possessed in his music, basically is what the message is, so it's OK, I guess. He's not acting like he's possessed by an evil entity or anything like that!

Similar to "Purple Music," he's talking about drugs in that song, but he's talking about music is his addiction, his drug.

Yeah, and in those days, really, he was so anti-drug all the time. He didn't even like it if he saw me with a drink. He would actually sometimes say, "What are you doing? Why are you drinking? You don't need to drink."

I'd say, "Prince, I'm not a big drinker. It's just one. Maybe two. I'm not gonna be driving, and even if I was, I wouldn't be drunk enough." I'd reassure him that I'm not — "Don't worry, I'm gonna be OK." Yeah.

I love "How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore." I love that. He used to do such a great live version of that on the tour.

I think that's on the live record that is in this package.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Now there's a video — a DVD in the deluxe of the show, which I've seen some of that already, and it's just amazing to me. It all comes flooding back, the memories from watching that. Yeah. I forgot how badass we were!

That's nice. Well, great. We should probably wrap up. Thanks so much for taking the time.

You're welcome.

External Links

The Revolution - official site

Prince - official site

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  • prince 1999
    Prince and The Revolution promoting the album '1999.' Dr. Fink is seen just off Prince's left shoulder. (Allen Beaulieu / Courtesy Warner Records)