The Family’s self-titled Paisley Park album debuted in August 1985, and was the first and only collection from the group on the label. Thanks to the Purple Avengers, a motley group of Prince music enthusiasts and historians assembled by Deejay UMB on Twitter, who, along with Edgar Cruize, created the #PrinceTwitterThread series, we’re showing this album all the love beginning this week. To celebrate, here’s a piece I penned for my #BohèmeRockstar blog in 2015 on the occasion of the album’s 30th anniversary.

The Family

1985 reigns as one of the most pivotal years in my upbringing: I entered the world of double-digits (something my eldest sister, Dawn, did her best to freak me out about on the eve of my 10th birthday), my parents divorced, and my transition from dreamy-eyed Michael Jackson fangirl to not-quite-sure-what-he’s-talking-about-but-I-dig-this-song Prince devotée continued, much to my parents’ chagrin. Between waiting anxiously to see the not-yet-christened King of Pop’s latest videos on MTV and making up cheeky routines to New Edition’s “Cool it Now” record with my friend Alethea—not to mention trying to convince whatever adult had a wallet to pleeeeeease buy me one of those floofy petticoats Madonna had made famous writhing around in the “Like a Virgin” video—Prince’s music had taken firm root in my soul; I could still gleefully sing along to 5 Star’s “Let Me Be the One” and even Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money,” but those songs and artists were permanently displaced when Prince and his cavalcade of related artists became the center of my musical world.

And so it would be that, in a beautifully strange way, I found home when I discovered The Family’s self-titled Paisley Park debut album in my dad’s stereo case.

Now, how and why my dad came to buy this album remains a mystery. I’d already gotten a first glimpse of The Family via BET’s Video Soul, thanks to their video “The Screams of Passion,” so I knew they were the latest issue from Paisley Park’s roster. I also knew my dad had a major crush on Sheila E., whom he’d declared could possibly be my new stepmother, and he’d purchased her Romance 1600 LP (and taken me to see Krush Groove) in reverence to his girlfriend in his head (dad still rides for Ms. Escovedo to this day). But Sheila E. wasn’t a member of The Family, so I couldn’t quite make out why he’d picked up their record. When I finally asked him about it, his response was something along the lines of, “It looked interesting.” At the end of that weekend, I slid the album into my bag and took it back home with me to my mom’s house. I never returned it, and now that I think about it, it’s highly possible that my dad has never heard the album. Ah. Well.

The Family, “The Screams of Passion”

Founded on the heels of The Time’s dissolution, The Family was comprised of former Time members St. Paul Peterson, Jellybean Johnson, and Jerome Benton, and introduced us to sax man Eric Leeds and vocalist Susannah Melvoin (twin sister to Revolution member Wendy Melvoin), who by that point had been a longtime Prince collaborator. Where The Time delivered a more assertive, undeniably masculine sexuality as an extension of Prince’s own musical persona, The Family added a sweet measure of sensuality to the mix without losing the funk. The Time balanced Prince’s often on the nose sexual lyrical content with humor, evoking a vibe wedged somewhere between the Playboy Mansion and a frat house; with The Family, the emphasis seemed to not be so much on the payoff, but everything leading up to it. The band members clad in silk pajamas and lounging around an ornately decorated house in the album’s cover art (Steve Parke) gave the impression that, behind each door of the house, something magical awaited. Granted, I probably didn’t interpret the artwork as such at age 10; at age 40, however, I am pretty sure there was plenty of incense and candles, and probably a silver tray bearing olives and hummus and toast points and caviar, and champagne to sip from Waterford Crystal flutes.

So glam, it’s absurd!

What I do know for sure, though, is that The Family and The Family changed my life: Hours wiled away sitting in front of my stereo, poring over the album art and learning all of Susannah’s parts so that I could expertly execute them in the mirror in my bedroom; lush instrumentation that took me in myriad directions and tapped into a previously unexplored area of my imagination; and later, I would realize, a deeper appreciation for subtle and poetic word play in my own lyrics. When I had the opportunity to interview the band in 2011 for my Artist to Artist column on the [now defunct] SoulTrain.com, I remember this fantastical moment when, in the middle of the interview, I had the realization that I was on the phone with four of my musical idols. These are some of the people to whom I point as a reason I pursued my musical inclinations beyond hobby status; in fact, it is because of Eric Leeds that I opted to try playing alto sax in my school bands from 6th-8th grades. When I saw the band perform for the first time at the Prince tribute at Carnegie Hall in 2013, I could barely contain my exuberance from the moment St. Paul, Susannah, and Eric took the stage (accompanied by Wendy, Booker T. Jones, and The Roots, hot damn). Later that evening, at the after party, I nervously approached the band to introduce myself and tried with every ounce of my pride not to gush. It was awesome and surreal. When I journeyed to Minneapolis last summer to catch fDeluxe in a rare live performance at the Dakota, I could hardly finish my wings and fries (which were quite tasty) for jamming so damn hard. It was a bit disappointing that Susannah wasn’t with the band for that show, and I was more than a little jealous of Timotha Lanae, who filled in for her; after all, I’d been rehearsing Susannah’s parts since 1985! Still, my face was sufficiently rocked the hell off that night, and moreover, I walked away with an even greater reverence for each of the core musicians and their backing band.

St. Paul Peterson, yours truly, and Jellybean Johnson after the show at the Dakota

To the dismay of a growing legion of fans, The Family was over almost as quickly as it began. After one album and only one live performance, the band broke up and its members dispersed into Prince’s other musical incarnations of that era; Eric Leeds became one of Prince’s main collaborators for his experimental jazz/funk fusion project, Madhouse, and was added to the newly-expanded Revolution; Susannah also joined The Revolution and continued her foray as a songwriter and collaborator with numerous artists; and Bean and Jerome effectively rejoined The Time a few years later when the band reunited. Despite the rather sudden dissolution of The Family, their followers kept the faith that someday they’d be together again. In 2009, with a little coaxing from Questlove and Sheila E., four of the remaining 5 members of The Family (sans Jerome) began toying with the idea of reforming and putting out new music. But, as best-laid plans go, there was a rather onerous sticking point: Prince refused to allow the band to resume use of the name “The Family” (they’d briefly christened themselves The Family 2.0 for a series of one-off gigs during that time). And so, from the proverbial ashes of The Family arose a mighty phoenix, fDeluxe. In 2011, 25 years after the release of the first album, fDeluxe gifted those of us who’d been (im)patiently waiting all our lives with their second album, Gaslight, which they quickly followed with a collection of remixes, Relit; a live record, Live and Tight as a Funk Fiend’s Fix; and an album of soul, funk, and R&B covers, AM Static. And all was right with my world.

Just weeks ago, The Family/fDeluxe celebrated the 30th anniversary of the album that rocked the house, which was released in August of 1985. What better time to revisit this R&B masterpiece?

Come. Let’s.

The Family opens with the delectable “High Fashion,” whose pipe organ-esque introduction belies the funk that is to come as St. Paul weaves a tale about a “sexy little girl” who’s “all the way vogue.” Long before Kanye warned us about gold-diggers, The Family hipped us to a day in the life of a woman who dined at Le Dôme, scoffed at the mere notion of cheap liquor, and who desired and accepted only the finest things in life (her brandy was imported every week, ya understand?). And although this well-heeled lady initially offered the 1980s version of “as if!” when our lovelorn hero dared to invite her to dinner at his house, he eventually won her over by flashing his huge wad of cash (nineteen hundred dollars, of which one of his boys had to carry half. Say. What?) and his pimped out ride (a “Rolls Royce limo, custom-painted plaid!”). Boy staaaaaaaahp. What woman could resist all that swag? None. And by song’s end, lover boy and his rich girl purify themselves in the waters of his pool as St. Paul wails about being her “money man.”

“High Fashion” segues into the fresh to death “Mutiny.” With Eric Leeds’ sax front and center, the song is one of the album’s tightest grooves, with St. Paul warning his wayward lover that “no one does me wrong and gets away with it.” With a chorus proclaiming, “Mutiny! I’m taking over/you got to get off this ship/you got to take a little trip” and advising “you should’ve been a little more hip,” “Mutiny” stands as a perfectly crafted f- you tune where I imagine the narrator and his boo thang standing several feet apart in the living room, with him dismissing her for failure to do her part to keep their love alive, rather than lamenting the love gone wrong. St. Paul croons, “Baby, you treated me like some unwanted child.” Ouch. And, as though the offending party deigned to protest, “It’s all over now/I loved you all the while.” Awwww. Tant pis. But the heart and soul of this song is Eric Leeds’ solo at the end. Good. GAWD. While his intricate riffs punctuate the verses and chorus, it’s that tag at the end as a choir of male voices shouts “All the way vogue!” that makes me lose my mind, every single time. 

The third track on the album, “The Screams of Passion,” was also The Family’s first single and a top ten smash. Languid and ridiculously sexy, St. Paul and Susannah’s seductive serenade is classic mid-‘80s Prince in every way—from the gorgeous Clare Fischer string arrangement to the Linn drum. St. Paul and Susannah sing in unison, describing a “gentle autumn breeze that blows whenever we be lyin’ in my bed,” and the scene unfolds in such a way that one almost wonders if it’s actually a vignette from a Disney film, what with curtains dancing a minuet and leaves falling and a robin singing “a masterpiece that lives and dies unheard.” But then, there are the screams, and we’re reminded that this room in the house is for grown folks only. A most (f)deluxe R&B tune, “The Screams of Passion” remains the band’s most notable hit.

Walk down the hall, rap on the next door. The door opens, and you hear “Yes,” the fourth track on the album. A funk-tastic instrumental featuring what could only be Prince issuing a deep howl in the background as Leeds’ sax squeals against a stank face-inducing bass line, the song could have easily appeared on any of the Madhouse albums. This is the jam that gets you right for a beautiful night, and closes out the first side of the album.

Opening up side two is “River Run Dry,” a melancholy tune depicting what remains at the end of a romance. As Paul and Susannah sing in unison, “How long I cry/til the river run dry,” a persistent bass drum supports the strings and vocals until the full beat drops in. The song foreshadows the mellow energy the rest of the album is set to deliver.

On May 4, 2016, at exactly “7 hours and 13 days” after Prince’s passing, fDeluxe released a new version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” in his honor.

As we pass portraits of the beloved we arrive at the end of what seems like a never-ending corridor. To the left, a wall. To the right, a dark staircase, which we ascend to a balcony. It is here we find the song that epitomizes heartache: the original (and, in my opinion, the best) version of the Prince classic, “Nothing Compares 2 U.” With nothing but strings supporting their vocals, Paul and Susannah harmonize through the song that Sinéad may have made famous, but that The Family made iconic. The sparse instrumentation allows the vocalists to truly shine—especially Susannah, who, while featured prominently throughout the album, never has a solo moment on the entire record. “Nothing Compares 2 U” is the closest we get (thankfully, we get to hear more of her on the fDeluxe records). “Nothing Compares 2 U” is neck and neck with “The Screams of Passion” as a standout track on the album.

How best to mend a broken heart? Dance. Heading back into the house, we’re greeted with “Susannah’s Pajamas,” another Eric Leeds-forward instrumental that acts as an anchor after the emotional rollercoaster of the previous song. It also feels like something that would fit perfectly into one of Stewie Griffin’s “sexy dance party” mixtapes, or a groove my mom would’ve put on while we did various and sundry Saturday things around the house back in the day. “Susannah’s Pajamas” never strays too far from its R&B pocket, but it ends somewhat abruptly, as though someone bumped the record player, causing the LP to skip to the end of the song and right into the next.

With the one and only Eric Leeds and Susannah Melvoin at Electric Fetus, Oct. 2016

The not-so-smooth segue leads to the final song on the album, “Desire,” an enchanting slow jam that succinctly closes out the album. A lilting call and response between the vocalists gives way to a light and airy chorus as the lyrics spin a tale of lovers declaring “ecstasy is ours.” As the last room in the house, this one is absolutely where love and legacies are made. The song fades with the sound of waves rumbling. Quaint.

A cult classic in all its glory, The Family reigns as a beloved favorite in many a Paisley Park aficionado’s coveted record collection. For those who missed it back in the day, the album is not available on streaming, but you may luck up on an LP or CD on Amazon. Of course, depending on demand it may cost you a small fortune, but if you’re truly curious and committed to the funk, you’ll go ahead and add it to your cart. And for those who jammed The Family in the ‘80s but had no idea they’d reformed and released new ear candy, you can get your entire life at fdeluxe.com.

Check out The Family’s first and only live performance at the infamous First Avenue in 1985.

–Rhonda Nicole

In celebration of Wendy & Lisa’s brilliant ‘Girl Bros.,’ released 4 September 1998, I decided to re-post a blog I wrote in 2014 about how the album has guided me through tremendous loss and how the music endures all these years later.

October 1998. 

I had just moved to Burbank, and was getting settled into my tiny but wonderful apartment a block or so away from Disney Studios, where I had recently begun a year-long writing fellowship program. Not too long after arriving in LA, I had already identified the wreckastows I would haunt to get my music fix and expand my ever-evolving CD collection. One of the new CDs I picked up—and certainly one that I had eagerly awaited—was Wendy and Lisa’s Girl Bros.

Now.

Anyone who knows me, knows how I ride for Prince. We’ve been down since the early ‘80s, when I was entirely too young to be listening to him, let alone singing along. Ninety-nine percent of the time I didn’t know what he was talking about anyway, although that didn’t assuage my mother’s consternation (honestly, I’m still not sure I understand everything he was talking about back then; a friend of mine and I were just wondering the other day who exactly was masturbating in “Darling Nikki,” and what role the magazine played in it all. But that’s for another conversation, at the end of a very late night). But along with my childhood idolization of Prince came first a fascination with and, shortly thereafter, a deep admiration for Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman. As members of the Revolution, they figured prominently in Prince’s songwriting, composing, arranging, and performance—arguably more so than other members of the band at that time. While I don’t have absolute proof, I have frequently surmised that they were largely responsible for the sweeping arrangements that characterized much of Prince’s work from Purple Rain through Parade; his post-Revolution oeuvre, after Wendy and Lisa’s departure, offers a markedly different musical perspective which seems to make it more than obvious how their sensibilities influenced him. And naturally, you hear his influence in much of their solo work (particularly on 1989’s Fruit at the Bottom).

So it naturally follows then that I would take a keen interest in Wendy and Lisa’s post-Prince releases. With their self-titled debut in ’87, W&L pulled off a relatively straightforward pop album that coincided perfectly with my tween-aged musings. I spent many a Saturday afternoon dancing in front of the mirror in my bedroom, singing along to “Waterfall” and “Sideshow.” “Stay,” which I honestly believe is one of the most perfect songs ever written (the guitar solo gives me chills to this day), spoke of unrequited affections merely hinted at in my lived experience to that point; and when I found a vinyl maxi-single of “Honeymoon Express,” which featured the slick and funky “To Trip is to Fall” on the b-side, I put my young producer skills to the test by recording myself singing “Honeymoon” over the instrumental. Like, background vocals and all (thanks, dad, for the sweet karaoke machine!).  

By the time Fruit at the Bottom dropped in ’89, I was in high school, and it, too, seemed a perfect soundtrack for that era of my life. That cassette, along with the Batman soundtrack, Sign O’ the Times, Parade, and a copy of The Black Album I’d recorded from a friend’s vinyl over one of my sister’s Bob James tapes (oops), stayed in my book bag all school year and in heavy rotation on my Walkman. This incredibly funky album remains the Prince-yist  of Wendy and Lisa’s body of work (“Are You My Baby” and “I Think It Was December” being the most obvious nods), but what made it even more intriguing for me was the fact that it featured all women musicians (Jesse Johnson makes a special appearance on “Satisfaction”).

1990’s Eroica was quirky and a gorgeous sonic departure from the first two albums. Released during the seeming resurgence of 60s psychedelic and protest music (this was, after all, the commencement of the first Gulf War), the album found its way into my collection alongside Sinéad O’Connor’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got and a bunch of Jimi Hendrix tapes I ordered from Columbia House Records. A bit more cerebral and sophisticated, it took me a little longer to fully appreciate the work in its entirety, although songs like “Strung Out,” “Crack in the Pavement,” and “Turn Me Inside Out” resonated pretty quickly. My best friend used “Why Wait for Heaven” at a critical point in his production of LeRoi Jones’ Junkies are Full of Sh*t for his senior directing project, which opened that song up to me in a new way.

In the years following Eroica, while W&L did not release any new studio material they swiftly established themselves as one of the premier composing teams in Hollywood, scoring films like Dangerous Minds and Soul Food, and TV shows such as Crossing Jordan, Heroes, and Nurse Jackie (Emmys and the ASCAP Shirley Walker Award would follow). 

Which brings us, albeit perhaps somewhat anachronistically, back to 1998, and Girl Bros, and what it has taken me 17 years to fully comprehend about the album.

I remember reading in early reviews of Girl Bros. that the album was inspired by Jonathan Melvoin, Wendy and (her twin sister) Susannah’s brother who had died of a heroin overdose in 1996. I’d also heard or read that the song “The Love We Make” from O)+>’s Emancipation was also inspired by Jonathan’s death, and of course in reading the liner notes inside the Girl Bros. CD it was clear that the album was dedicated to him. What I missed, however, in those first listens—from the first track, “Reaching One,” to the final track, “I’ve Got No Strings” (made famous in Disney’s Pinocchio, and which takes on a whole other energy and direction when voiced by an adult woman)—was grief. Because, see, to that point in my life, I had never truly experienced grief. When my maternal great grandmother, Mama Brock, died when I was in high school, I was deeply saddened. That loss mattered. When my maternal grandfather, my dear and wonderful Papa, died on New Year’s Eve 1999, my heart broke. It ached not only because he was gone, but because I watched my mom, my aunt (her sister), my Granni (their mother), and so many of our family members experience that loss. Still, it was a different kind of thing. Great grandparents and grandparents are at an age and stage in their lives when you understand that they will be gone soon, so from my perspective and that generational distance, I could more easily incorporate that loss as something that happens in the grand scheme of things. It isn’t that their deaths did not count as significant, it’s just that they made sense.

28 June 2009.

In one of the most extraordinary twists of fate in the history of twists of fate, Wendy and Lisa performed a rare string of shows in Los Angeles, and as soon as I found out about it I ordered a ticket. Mind you, I lived in Dallas. But my sister, Dawn, was an American Airlines flight attendant, so a quick trip to LA would be relatively simple to pull off thanks to her flight privileges. And wouldn’t you know it, when I arrived at Largo the evening of the show, the seating lottery placed me smack dab in the front row. 

The show was incredible. I think I started crying the moment Wendy, Lisa, Susannah, and their band stepped out onto the stage. Stanned all the way out. 

And then, they got to “Jonathan.” By now, anyone familiar with the Girl Bros. album knew that this song was obviously about their beloved brother, and in listening to it on numerous occasions since getting the album I’d always understood the sadness and loss the song spoke of. But that night, watching Lisa struggle to get through the first verse, and then watching Susannah break down in tears midway through, and then Wendy playing through the song even while Lisa and Susannah wept…that was the moment I began to understand the grief. I remember reflecting that night on how I could not even begin to comprehend what it must be like to lose a sibling. As the youngest of 5, I imagined my sisters and brother and I would all grow very, very old and even more cantankerous together.

And then.

20 December 2009.

My eldest sister, Dawn, died by suicide. And that day, every single song on Girl Bros. became the story of my life from that moment on.

I’d always loved the elegant, lush arrangement of “I’ve Got a Big Bowl of Cherries,” and the melancholy in the lyrics; I’d always cranked “Reaching One” sky high, grooving to the opening sleigh bells and digging the backing vocals and harmonies; I’d always been somewhat haunted by the imagery of “Bring You Back,” as it reminded me of the images evoked in Sinéad O’Connor’s “I Am Stretched on Your Grave.” But after my sister’s death, those songs—and every other song on the album—told an entirely different story.

With each subsequent listen to Girl Bros., the grief reveals itself to me, makes itself plain and clear. It has become kin, in a way. In the five years since my sister’s suicide, I have yet to write the songs I thought I’d write to deal and to heal. And yet, in every song I’ve written since she died—and specifically, most if not all of the songs I’ve written since 2012—there is so much grief hiding in plain sight. The chords I instinctively go to drip with it; the words I choose are heavy with it. Cleverly disguised as songs about romantic love, these songs of mine are all somehow connected to that place in me that is still raw and wide open.

Still, Girl Bros. is not an album you throw on so you can sit with the lights out and slip down deep into darkness (no, for that, you put on Meshell Ndegeocello’s Bitter). What makes it such a glorious experience is that, not unlike grief, which often comes in unexpected waves even long after the initial shock of a loss appears to have subsided, the album embodies the emotional highs and lows that come along with grief. It neither ecstatically uplifts nor completely deflates you; rather, it gives you room to dance, to reminisce, to fall apart, to move forward, to question.  

They say that grief brings with it many gifts, which tend to reveal themselves over time. Girl Bros., for me, stands out because of the many ways it addresses grief, loss, and sadness both directly and through inference. In a similar vein, extending somewhat from the ground broken by Girl Bros. and certainly offering a variation on the theme (replacing grief caused from death with that which emerges at the end of a relationship), Wendy and Lisa’s most recent album, White Flags of Winter Chimneys (2008) offers more space to explore grief and loss. In particular, the opening track, “Balloon,” and the album’s closer “Sweet Suite (Beginning at the End)” possess an emotional heft that explores territory similar to its predecessor. The songs’ dark qualities sit there, quietly hanging, but present. 

As I continue to navigate my own grieving and healing process, music remains my primary source of comfort, and Girl Bros. is certainly my go-to whenever I need a release through song. And for me, that’s all the time.

—Rhonda Nicole

I had the extraordinary pleasure of interviewing singer/songwriter Jill Jones in 2016 as part of my Artist to Artist column for the now-defunct SoulTrain.com–just a couple months before Prince passed, as she prepared to release her album ‘I Am.’ This week, I’m joining a crew of fellow Prince music heads, aka the Purple Avengers, for a special month-long #PrinceTwitterThread dedicated to Jill’s incredible albeit unsung career. So I decided to share our interview here as a reminder of just how truly badass she is. Enjoy!

Cover of Jill Jones’ 2016 album, ‘I Am’

Summer 1987. Just weeks before school ended and I headed down to New Orleans to vacation with my grandparents, I procured my copy of singer/songwriter Jill Jones’ debut album on Prince’s Paisley Park Records. It was to be the newest addition to my growing cassette collection comprised primarily of Prince and Prince-related artists like The Time, Apollonia 6, Sheila E., Madhouse, and later that year, Wendy & Lisa and Taja Sevelle (and of course, The Family’s 1985 premiere on vinyl). 

If right here is where you pause and ask, “Who is Jill Jones?,” let me hip you. She is the platinum blonde in a police hat sharing the keyboards with Lisa Coleman in the “1999” video, and whose voice you hear on songs like “Lady Cab Driver” and “Free” from that album. She reprised her role as Jill/herself in the quasi-sequel to Purple Rain, 1990’s Graffiti Bridge, bringing a decidedly sharp and far more interesting (although not fully developed) contrast to the enchanting Ingrid Chavez’s Aura. She has written, recorded, and toured with our beloved “Vanilla Child,” Teena Marie, Nile Rodgers’ and Bernard Edwards’ pioneering soul/pop band CHIC, Japanese singer Ryuichi Sakamoto, and The Grand Royals. 

Jill Jones in ‘Purple Rain’

Where her first solo album was a soulful, funk-driven 8-song collection that allowed Jones’ vocals to shine through, it was still, at its core, a Prince project co-produced by Jones and David Z. (even including a rather spectacular version of his song “With You.”) The opening track, the absolutely delightful “Mia Bocca,” surfaced a year earlier during the infamous birthday party scene in Under the Cherry Moon (and, years later, gave me one of my favorite lines with which to flirt, “tu vuole la mia bocca.”) “G-Spot,” a “nicety” little tune that is about exactly what you think it’s about, was originally meant for Vanity 6 and then Apollonia 6; and “All Day, All Night” and “For Love” both feature Prince and the Revolution prominently. The album’s third track, “Violet Blue,” is a standout, and the closing song, the masterful “Baby, You’re a Trip,” is gospel-flavored R&B at its finest.

In 2001, Jones returned with Two, an acoustic rock venture with producer/songwriter/guitarist Chris Bruce, who has also collaborated with Wendy & Lisa, Seal, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Doyle Bramhall II. A far more personal and introspective offering that Jones cited as a healing experience after her mother’s death and going through a divorce, the album delivered cuts like “Sleepy Daydream,” “Station,” and “Pissin’ All Over the Sun.” Two’s emotional and lyrical depth, new millennium production values, and distinct sound established a more well-defined, self-possessed musical identity for Jones and seemed to release her from the “Prince protégée” category that far too frequently suggests—even if not intentionally—that an artist can’t stand on their own without Prince’s guidance and influence. And while both albums gained some traction in the U.S., they fared far better overseas, where musical tastes are notoriously more adventurous.

Following Two, Jones was the featured vocalist on The Grand Royals’ 2004 album, Wasted. After that, she all but faded into the background. 

Jill’s eponymous 1987 Paisley Park album. A classic!

During our spirited and incredibly enlightening interview, Jones described her years away from the music business as a time of extraordinary, albeit sometimes extremely painful, growth, even going so far as to try to separate herself from the persona many had come to know: “I had to re-build…I bar-tended. I remember a member of the Wu-Tang Clan came into the bar and he said, ‘You’re Jill Jones!’ And I was like, ‘No, I’m not.’ And I was speaking with a French accent. There was this shame…I had just disconnected and disassociated and pulled myself away. I cut out everybody.”

For more than an hour, we talked at length about everything from our shared affinity for music from other cultures (she’s currently working on a documentary exploring the origins of music and how seemingly disparate musical forms are connected, like the music from the Bedouin tradition and the music of Louisiana); to the socio/political realities African Americans confront still in 2016; to the ridiculous Twitter beef between Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa; Amber Rose’s mission to reclaim and redirect the word “slut;” and why it’s so critical that we support our fellow Black artists: “I have a very difficult time criticizing any form of Black art. I will privately give my [opinion]…but we don’t have the luxury do that to one another. We need to support endeavors within our own community. We have to.”

With her brand new album, I AM (Peace Bisquit)—her first solo project in 15 years, out today, Jill Jones emerges like a Phoenix, having overcome the trials and tribulations that seem to have become commonplace for most artists working in the music business. Still, Jones’ story is unique and truly inspiring, and like so many unsung music creators her journey has proven to be simultaneously cautionary and magical. Jones deliberately set out to record happy songs for the new album, songs with humor and confidence to uplift and empower. 

What an absolute joy to feature the original Jill, Jill Jones, in our exclusive SoulTrain.com Artist to Artist series.

SoulTrain.com: Lets talk about your new album, I AM. How does this latest project exemplify all that you are?

Jill Jones: This project came about because I had reached a place in my life where I was comfortable with who I am. During this time, when you let go of all the other concepts of what someone thinks of you or how you need to be, I found peace with who I was. And I decided I am who I want to be at this point. I got into Kundalini yoga a few years ago and started a serious meditation practice because I wanted to change some things. And then I realized there were some things that I’m not going to change—these are soul experiences that I just have to learn, and they’re not going to change until I finally accept what they are. It had become very easy to focus on the sad aspects of my life—the death of my mother, a divorce. I spent the 15 years after that album not really being comfortable in my own skin, not accepting the parting of my mother, not being involved with a label and having to do everything myself. I became kind of angry about it. 

I went into advertising—which was great for me. I wasn’t pleasant to be around in the music situation because I had so much resentment. I felt music was one of the love affairs of my life that was unrequited, something that always left me hanging. It was like a really bad lover! Then I realized it was me the whole time. Once I went into marketing and advertising—I worked in business procurement for an ad agency—it was a very empowering moment for me to get outside of the little [music industry] bubble. The ad agency wound up being the college I never attended. Once I finally got out of the whole tune of melancholy, and I was raising my daughter as a single mom…there was this whole re-structuring and going all the way down like Persephone into the depths. Rebuilding put me back to “this is who I am.” And I wanted to celebrate that.

SoulTrain.com: Did you miss music? Did you find yourself feeling even more disconnected not doing it?

Jill Jones: I did miss it, but I did cut it off. I wanted to be angry about it, to always have some negative thing to say. I was scared, I was terrified! I didn’t want to be rejected, I didn’t want everybody to know that I was a failure. It was a very interesting time for me. There was so much humiliation. It was like, “What am I going to do, and how am I going to do this?”

SoulTrain.com: You struck a chord with me there, because as an independent artist Im going through a very similar experience and often find myself wondering if Im meant to keep working at it or if its time to walk away. I suppose this is part of the creative journey.

Jill Jones: There are enough things in this world devised to silence us, to squash our voices. The worst thing a person can do is silence themselves. Living with that silence—there is great solitude, and then there’s this cold, barren, isolated silence…but you’ve got to walk through it. You’ve got to keep going.

SoulTrain.com: Of course, a lot of folks reading this will remember you from your years with Prince. You released one album on Paisley Park Records in 1987, which many (myself included) regard as a slept-on classic. Can you talk about that experience a bit, working and recording with Prince and ultimately parting ways?

Jill Jones: [The Paisley Park record] wasn’t the typical pop thing that was going on at the time. It wasn’t that we didn’t try it; you’ve heard those bootlegs of the songs Prince has given to many people to try, like “Misunderstood” and so many other songs. And to be honest with you, they just didn’t work for me. I sounded goofy, and he knew it. There was no conviction. When we recorded together, sometimes I’d sing a pass on something and then I’d say, “Was that OK?” And he’d say, “If I believe it, I don’t care about bad notes. If I believe it, then I’m cool with it.” So we tried those little pop sassy songs that would’ve been on parallel with Paula Abdul and what was happening in that era, and it just didn’t work. There was such a lack of authenticity, it was really difficult to pull that off. When we added strings and lush sounds and rich, rich ambient energies in the first album, even in [the “Mia Bocca”] video it said, “They’re not ready for you yet,” which was added on the fly by [director Jean-Baptiste] Mondino in the voice over. I think, for some reason, that was the energy surrounding me. It just wasn’t the time.

SoulTrain.com: As an industry veteran, youve no doubt you have watched the music biz morph multiple times throughout your career. Youve also been pretty outspoken on social media about some of the less savory aspects of the business. With this in mind, are there certain practices or standards from back in the day that you think the industry could use now?

Jill Jones: The industry has changed so much, and on the other hand, it really hasn’t. There’s still that propensity to keep one sound—everybody using the same writers, etc. If anything, it’s become even more of a monopoly that now is showing you exactly how it takes care of itself. You have the publishing companies who have their writers, you have the singers with their labels, and you see how they all feed and they eat and everybody works together. When that happens, it’s really difficult if publishers are pushing certain select writers. A lot of the singers don’t play instruments—even the writers…so they give them the same songs that will fit A, B, C, and D. Then you have writers like Sia, who actually has fueled the industry for a lot of the major pop acts, and she has to resort to gimmicks. Maybe her image wasn’t as big as, say, Rihanna. But the reality is…the music is being performed by anybody who has the tone and the voice [for those songs]. But what about the people like me, whose tones and voices didn’t fit this little genre? They have to find a different movement, and the industry doesn’t support that. And our R&B sensibilities…what happened to soul music? It’s not being supported. But that comes from the masses, too—going to shows, buying records, being involved. 

In May 2017, I flew from Vegas to LA for one night only just to see Jill perform. It was an intimate set where she shared memories from years gone by and stories behind some of our favorite tunes she recorded with Prince.

SoulTrain.com: With R&B and soul, we hear so often from artists working in that space that theyre feeling really pinched, too. They dont feel supported by the labels, the fans dont necessarily know what theyre listening to because its become so hip-hop-centered. 

Jill Jones: We have this mantra in our industry that “I have to profit somehow, then I’m valuable.”  Then you have the existential thing of, “I need money. I need more money. I need so much money, you can’t talk to me!” That’s what’s driving the creative expression on a certain level. 

SoulTrain.com: Your daughter, Azusena, is an emerging musical artist. What wisdom have you imparted to her as she wades into these dazzling and sometimes murky waters?

Jill Jones: Everything I said to you! [laughs] I don’t mince words. I really believe you have to do a lot of it yourself these days, and you have to have conviction. You have to be self-critical, create things you can live with and that you can feel comfortable with. You have to be so built up and during the period of creating your music, you have to generate your own evolution. 

SoulTrain.com: Lets go back to your early career. But where did this journey begin for you? How did you get your start?

Jill Jones: My mother was Teena Marie’s manager, and my step-father was Fuller Gordy and he worked at Motown. Teena had been signed with a band and [the label] dropped the band, but they didn’t know what to do with her. Her relationship with my mother opened another door; she gained direct access to Berry Gordy and was really on his radar, and he got to know her and her passion. Teena was writing all the time, she wrote all her songs and recorded everyday. The connection with Rick [James] came about because my mom had met him and we had dinners at the house. It was like a great family environment, believe it or not. I started singing background vocals for Teena—she lived in our house, she was like one of my mom’s kids. We started writing songs and when she started working with Rick…I started leaving [school] and going to his house with a bunch of my friends. I’d show up at like 10:30 in the morning, and he told my mom! Rick ratted me out! He snitched! He was like, “You need to be in school, Jill!” [laughs] 

We went on tour with Rick, then Teena was opening for Prince—I think it was 1980, the Dirty Mind tour. That’s how I met Prince. He and I stayed friends, I finished school, then we started working together. CHIC…was that really weird phase where my mom had just died a year prior, and I was in New York alone with my daughter. Nile reached out and I took the gig. That was a great tour, but it was unfortunately the one where Bernard died on the tour. When I got back from Japan, Nile had left a voice message that Bernard had passed away. I’m glad I was a part of that. It was a great show, and he was such a lovely person. 

SoulTrain.com: Any plans to tour to promote the new album?

Jill Jones: Yes, probably initially over in Europe. You know I’m half the time in Germany and half the time in LA. I’m involved in a company that has software that’s a recording process, all in real-time, so I can record with anybody all over the world. It’s a very sophisticated piece of work, so since I’m over there I try to do some gigs while also working on getting this product out in America (it’s in Europe already).

—Rhonda Nicole

On the 5th anniversary of Prince’s passing, I’m revisiting the words I wrote just hours after the news broke in 2016.

Paisley Park, 2021 (photo credit: Rhonda Nicole)

“So here I sit in my lonely room, looking 4 my sunshine…” 

11:01AM, Thursday, April 21, 2016. It’s quiet. I’ve turned off the TV to shut out the annoying noise that is ABC’s The View, but can’t seem to shush the phone calls, text messages, tweets, and Facebook posts. I should get off social media for a minute. But then, FOMO. And we are all experiencing this moment together. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today 2 get through…” this thing called…

What the hell?

This is the piece I never thought I would write. This is the day I never thought would come. And according to the dozens of tweets I’ve just scrolled through, apparently I am not alone. We all believed him to be immortal, not because he was super-human, or even a god (although perhaps he was, at least of the musical sort). But just because he was Prince, the prototype of badassery and “I do what I want.” So, in that case, he absolutely could have lived forever, or at least, outlived the rest of us. 

“But sometimes, sometimes, life ain’t always the way…”

Where to begin? How to encapsulate this unbearable moment and wrap it in rainbows? How do I tell the story, which began for me at 9, when I truly stepped into this musical world that would, throughout my entire life, be home?

“Yesterday I tried to write a novel, but I didn’t know where 2 begin/so I laid down in the grass trying 2 feel the world turn…”

I’ve written so much about Prince. I’ve actually written pretty much that exact sentence before, just last month. To say that his music impacted, influenced, inspired me almost feels reductive, overly simplistic. To attribute my own (significantly less impressive but rad none the less) musical abilities to his work seems trite and cliché, especially since everybody and their mama can spin a similar yarn. Locating a musician who has lived/worked/created during Prince’s lifetime and who was not deeply moved by Prince’s music is the stuff of needles and haystacks. Sure, there are some, and quite a few millennials with whom I’ve spoken who “don’t get it,” but they are far outnumbered by the music creators and music consumers who cite Prince as the G.O.A.T.

“U think ur special, well so do I…”

My first time experiencing Prince live was in 1998, the Jam of the Year tour at Starplex in Dallas. It was a hot summer night and my seats weren’t the greatest, but what a night it was. From there, I would rock out with Prince another 20 or so times over the years, the most recent—and, unbeknownst to me, last—time being his Piano and a Microphone show at Oakland Arena. I drove from Burbank to Vegas in the summer of ’99 to see him at the MGM Grand; that was the night some drunk girl threw up on my shoe, which ultimately led to the usher moving me up just a few rows from the front. A few years later, at the One Nite Alone after party at a club in Dallas, I nearly threw up on Prince’s foot, which was posted up on a monitor as he played; I hadn’t eaten anything other than a bag of peanut M&Ms and there was way too much bass resonating through my body, and I got dizzy. Thankfully, I fled the scene before there was a scene to be seen. At another after party in Dallas, this time following one of his Musicology shows, I was in my zone dancing to the Emotions’ “Best of My Love” when my cousin, David, discreetly mumbled to me, “Don’t turn around, but Prince is watching you.” To this day I honestly don’t know whether he was, but it was a small gathering of folks (a security guard referred to us as “Prince’s people when he led us up to the party) so it’s totally possible. Erykah Badu and her mama, Ms. Queenie, were there, too. I caught a string of 3rdEyeGirl shows here in the Bay Area, one of which happened to fall on the night we got word that one of my best girlfriends, Nefeterius, had died. That night, when Prince played “Sometimes It Snows In April,” I felt my heart fall out of my body. I missed the Purple Rain tour and the Lovesexy tour due to my age and my mama being like “nah,” and would’ve given anything to have traveled to Europe to catch the Nude tour in the early ‘90s. Still, every show was a transformative moment. I was never the same woman I’d been walking into the venue at the end of the night. 

Since 1984, there has not been one moment of my life that has not been/could not be illustrated by a Prince song. I’ve shared with friends over the years, and somewhat more publicly recently, how the song “Purple Rain” always reminds me of my parents’ divorce, in part because of the movie’s and album’s cultural prevalence at the time and also because of the music’s emotional qualities. “She’s Always in My Hair” is my and my best dude, Reiland’s, song. I don’t even remember why or how that came to be, but when ever we hear it we both exclaim, “It’s our song!” Cloudy days in Paris listening to “Moonbeam Levels,” sitting on my bed a few days ago reading and learning the sheet music for “Do U Lie?,” covering “Head,” “Girls and Boys,” “Kiss,” and snippet of “The Rainbow Children,” and “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” with Montrose during our gigs at Brooklyn…So many songs. So many songs. So many songs.

Coming of age listening to “Darling Nikki,” “Adore,” “New Position,” and so many other songs that were way too mature for my young ears, and that awkward moment of realization decades later when you’re like, “DAAAAAAMN! That’s what he was talking about?!?!?” Ha! “Tambourine” means what?!?!?! 

“I never wanted a typical life…”

Smuggling new Prince tapes into my room so my mom wouldn’t know…but she always knew.

Pressing my earphones deep into my ears to hear every detail of a song, and discovering layers upon layers of harmonies and all kinds of interesting stuff happening in the production.

Allowance money spent at the wreckastow. Bill money spent on concert tix. 

Party mixes and slow jam mixes.

Wishing the #genpop fans would stop yelling “Sing ‘Purple Rain!’” at shows because, inevitably, he would. 

Laughing at that girl at the DNA show in San Francisco who said to me in the bathroom, “I wonder when he’s going to play the hits,” to which I replied, “Oh, honey, he’s been playing them all night…”

Wendy & Lisa.

Jill Jones.

Vanity 6.

Apollonia 6.

The Family.

The Time.

Taja Sevelle.

Sheila E.

Elisa Fiorillo.

Carmen Electra.

LiV Warfield.

Andy Allo.

Mavis Staples.

Mayte.

The Revolution.

The NPG.

3rdEyeGirl.

Madhouse.

Mazerati.

The Artist.

“Prince esta muerte…”

He killed off older versions of himself in the video for “7,” embraced an unpronounceable symbol as his name, declared himself dead on the cover art for the Come album, and forced us all to be in conversation about identity and truth. He emancipated himself from what he believed to be a business relationship that had run its course, and showed the rest of us how artists could, in fact, share our work with anyone who wanted it direct from the source. He followed his own path to faith and decided not to perform certain songs anymore because they no longer fit the person he was becoming. He championed independent artists and uninhibited artistry, proclaimed the internet “dead,” and was a master class in brand and self-preservation. He was almost exclusively without rivals, as is evidenced by the lyric from his song “Don’t Play Me:” “my only competition is well, me in the past.” He encouraged us all to love, to dance, to fuck, to pray, to live, to question, to answer. 

“In the beginning, God made the sea/but on the 7th day, he made me…”

Hours have passed since the world first learned that the seemingly immortal Prince had reached the end of this thread, and we’re all still spinning, struggling to make sense of something that feels like a glitch in the matrix. The rumor mills swirl with speculation about the cause of death, the Obamas have expressed their sorrow for such a tremendous loss, and low and behold, MTV is actually showing (Prince) videos for the first time in who knows how long. I am, like so many others, waiting for this part of the dream to end, where we awaken and discover we all just had some kind of bad trip.

“Power 2 the 1s who could raise a child like me…”

I always knew I would meet Prince. When I was much younger, I imagined him showing up at my school (why the hell he’d do that, I don’t know) and taking me on tour straight from class. As I got older and began my career as a singer/songwriter, I figured our paths would cross creatively somewhere down the line. We would write some songs, sing some songs, rock the hell out, formally. In more recent years, I intuited that our meeting would be excessively low-key: A wassup nod, and then we’d sit and have a brief but funny and probably snarky conversation, and that’d be that. I’d try to remember to tell him that I learned about harmony from listening to his music, and to be as un-fan-girl as possible about that detail. Maybe our paths would cross again, maybe not. 

This past February, after his show at The Paramount in Oakland (which I didn’t attend), a relatively small crowd gathered at 1015 Folsom in San Francisco for the after party. When Prince finally arrived, he strolled cooly out onto the stage, and happened to stand right over me. He looked out across the room, and as I tilted my head upward to see him (I was just below the lip of the stage), he glanced down and flashed a smirky smile. I returned the smirky smile, winked, then turned my attention elsewhere. So I guess, in a way, that was our meeting. That was our wassup nod. That was our hello.

“Excuse me, but is this really goodbye?”

The fact that March 4, 2016 was my very last Prince concert is that jagged little pill Alanis spoke about. It was a beautiful night, of course, but it was a solemn and mellow night as well. There is a part of me that wishes it had been a night of working up a black sweat and staggering home with my shoes at war with my feet, but it was quiet, pensive, gorgeous. It was that sensuous last dance, even if we didn’t know it.

Having lost my dad just a little over a month ago, I’m at an even greater loss for words as my thoughts and memories run amok. I want the tributes and the essays and the articles to flood my timeline, and I want to make them stop so this won’t be what happened today. 

“The only love there is, is the love we make…”

Some people scoff at the idea that millions of people would grieve and deeply mourn the passing of a person they never knew in real life. This is often the case when celebrities and public figures die, especially in this age of social media and 24/7 news cycles. And in the case with musical artists, there is always someone waiting in the wings to offer their insights as to how “overrated,” “irrelevant,” “-ist” (sexist, racist, etc) blah blah blah that person was, in their opinion. But it’s in moments like this when we realize just how powerful music is, how it connects us. I said in my piece about Prince’s Piano and a Microphone performance, “music is the tie that binds.” Just as my parents and their generation remember where they were when they learned about Martin Luther King or Malcolm X or JFK, we can recall with laser-sharp accuracy where we were when we heard that Kurt and Pac and Biggie and Michael and Whitney had slipped on through to the other side. And now, Prince. 

Reflecting on the hundreds of songs Prince gifted us with throughout his career, I personally cannot choose just one as my favorite; far too many mean far too much to me and chronicle my life in significant ways, so depending on the day, it could be any number of tunes. But if I were forced to pick just one, it would be “Moonbeam Levels.” Listening to it earlier today, the final verse took my heart and ran for the hills:

“Says he’ll never keep diaries 2 learn from his mistakes/instead he’ll just repeat all the good things that he’s done/fight 4 perfect love until it’s perfect love he makes/when he’s happy, then his battle will be won…”

That’s what his music was. Perfect love. And we, too, are transformed.