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December 30, 2011
 

Trouble in Paisley Park

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Written by: Michael Starkey
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Jerome Benton and Morris Day, The Original 7ven (formerly the Time) Photo by Picture Group, Courtesy of BET Networks

C

ondensate, a new R&B album released in October, sounds a lot like the old Prince band, The Time.  The funky bass, wicked guitar licks, and charismatic cool of the lead singer all recall the earlier group.  In fact, the lead singer of this new band is Morris Day, and the album features the band’s original seven members.  But if it walks like The Time and talks like The Time, that doesn’t mean it can be called The Time.  These founding fathers of the Minneapolis sound are now just another band with a new name trying to find an audience, because Prince won’t let them use their old one.  They’re one of two groups who this year tried and failed to get the Purple Yoda—of all people—to allow them to use their name.  So they’re taking lemons and making lemonade.  They’ve renamed themselves The Original 7ven and plastered “The Band Formerly Known As The Time” on their new album cover and website.

It’s a shame to see them struggle for recognition. They were the most successful of Prince’s associated acts, with R&B and pop hits such as “Jungle Love,” “The Bird,” “Cool,” “The Walk,” and “777-9311.”  Their guitar and keyboard-driven funk sound and Morris Day’s comic cool personality are iconic.

It’s equally difficult to see The Time’s sister band, The Family, in a similar battle with Prince and struggling with name recognition since their new album dropped in September.

The Family was never as a famous as The Time, but the mid-80s, poppy, funk group had some good songs. Prince said, according to reports, that he created the band because he wanted to get “some of that Duran Duran money” by producing a white fronted group. (The Family had some black members.) They originally released the Prince-penned song “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Five years later, Sinead O’Connor’s cover of the tune became the biggest hit of her career. The band counts ?uestlove of The Roots as a huge fan.  Their new name is fDeluxe.

The Family’s Album Cover

Both groups are on tour and getting good reviews.  Unfortunately, the new albums aren’t great (more on that later). But what’s interesting is what they tell us about the turbulent inner workings of one of America’s greatest musical dynasties—Prince and the Minneapolis sound. Prince’s problems with the music industry became public in the ‘90s, when he ratcheted up his demands for more control over his music.  He fought his record company and encouraged younger artists to be careful when signing record deals, leading some to call him a crusader for artists’ rights.  Angela Bassett called him “a warrior who boldly challenged the record industry over ownership of his masters” during the 2005 NAACP Image Awards ceremony.  Cornel West called him a “freedom fighter” at the same event and said that Prince is “never afraid to stand up for the rights of all artists.”  Tavis Smiley has also repeatedly praised him for fighting for the rights of musicians.

But with The Original 7ven and fDeluxe, Prince’s efforts to protect his own rights seem to have him stomping all over theirs.  Mazarati – another Prince protégé group – may be next in line to faceoff with Prince. Rumors are swirling that the members of band are trying to get back together, and if they do, they may want their old name. At issue is who controls the images or brands created within the dynasty—Prince or the acts that he created and produced.  It’s an ironic turn for a man who claims he wants to empower artists and liberate music.

For the past ten years, Prince has been on a mission to gain complete control over any use of his image and his music.  He wants to make sure that nobody uses them without his permission and especially without him making a buck. And sometimes gaining that control means taking it away from his former bands or even his fans.

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n 1993, Prince announced himself dead and reborn with an unpronounceable symbol as his name.  He appeared on multiple TV performances and music videos with the word “slave” written on his cheek.  His main frustration was not being able to release all the music he wanted, when he wanted.  Of course, he was not a slave in the sense of unpaid chattel.  He had a record setting contract with Warner Bros with the potential to earn him $100 million across six albums.  But the contract maintained, as is typical, that

 
 


About the Author

Michael Starkey
Michael Starkey
Michael Starkey is an engineer 9-5, but in his spare time he writes about music and cultural history. His work includes "'Mercy, Mercy Me, The Ecology': Environmental Themes in Black Music" and "Hidden from Sight: African Americans and the Wilderness", presented at the annual conference of American Society of Environmental History, in 2006 and 2007 respectively. He is currently working on a book based on his master's thesis, "Wilderness, Race, and African Americans: An Environmental History from Slavery to Jim Crow." Michael lives and work in New York, NY. He currently resides in East Harlem with his wife and splits his work time between offices in Queens and Manhattan. He enjoys bicycling, listening to music, and playing soccer.



 
 

 
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