Before becoming the Purple One, Prince was part of a high school band known as Grand Central. The teenage outfit, all self-taught musicians, featured two members who’d become key figures in Prince’s early ’80s career: André Cymone, the bassist who helped mold the sound of Prince’s first classic Dirty Mind, and Morris Day, who’d become his foil in the film Purple Rain and a star in his own right as frontman of the Time. Even when Prince was a diminutive runaway, his former Grand Central bandmates recall that he had the famously taciturn persona and autodidact focus that would make him a star. Two days before the anniversary of Prince’s death, Day talked about the formation of Prince’s first real band.
When I met André and Prince and the guys in Grand Central, it changed my focus. Because when I met them, all they talked about was “When I get my record deal…” That’s how I just started to talk. And then that became not if, but when, and that was our mindset. That’s just how serious we were: We just felt destined to do what we were doing. The jobs I worked, I got fired from all of them. And, I kid you not, it was usually within like a two-to-three-week period. They’d look at me and be like, “You don’t want to be here.” Nah, maybe not.
I was going to school with André Cymone and got to know him. Real cool dude. We hit it off and I found out he was in a band, and the band was doing some shows at the school. I went and checked them out and was pretty much in shock at how talented these guys were.
Prince was 14 years old doing Carlos Santana solos, Jimi Hendrix solos to a T. I had just never heard anybody play like that at that age, and I was really impressed with the band as well. So I told Andre I’d play drums. He came over to my house one day and I played drums. I had my stuff set up—big speaker behind me–and I was playing Tower of Power’s “What is Hip.” André was just sitting there looking at me, his eyes were all stretched, and he was like, “Man, I didn’t know you could play like that.” He said, “You should come audition, we’re having trouble with our drummer.”
So I went over there and auditioned on the drums and never left. I felt like I found my circle, my clique, because I never really felt like I had my circle. But when I got in the band, these guys were so serious-minded, that’s all they talked about was making it, writing songs and “When I make it…” and “When I get my record deal…” And so that became my mindset, and that’s when I got really serious about what I was doing.
When I said I got into the band and took my drums over, that was really the first time that we were introduced and Prince was real standoffish, the coldest-cut, wasn’t saying much, and just looking at me all crazy. It was like that, and in time, we bonded.
Before [Prince’s solo] record deal, it was kinda like, “Well we had this band, we were on track, we were recording songs, and they were coming out great.” Then this manager comes in and it was kind of like divide and conquer. He pulled Prince aside, like, “Look man, you don’t need these guys.” I was kind of bitter about that, but he circled back after he got going and helped me get my thing going, so it all worked out well in the end.