Bobby Z on Revolution reunion: We'll know if Prince is coming when he's onstage
Last year, Prince & the Revolution drummer Robert Rivkin, AKA Bobby Z was hospitalized after suffering a heart attack, and his survival was uncertain. After a year of rehabilitation, Z is healthy, and has started a foundation, My Purple Heart, to benefit heart health education and working in conjunction with the American Heart Association.
To celebrate his recovery, the Revolution is staging a reunion concert benefit Sunday at First Avenue. As rumors swirl that his Purple Badness will be in attendance, his most iconic band, Z and the rest of the Revolution (Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman, Brown Mark, Dr. Fink) will reform to celebrate their drummer's health, and the music that put First Avenue and Minneapolis music on the map -- for a fantastic cause.
Here's a portion of Bobby Z's recent phone conversation with Gimme Noise. He sounded healthy, on top of his game, and invigorated about the big show.
Gimme Noise: What are you feeling about getting everyone together and being back on that stage?
Bobby Z: I think it's interesting to people because of the film. That place, First Avenue, Minneapolis and where the movie was made. Everybody has their opinions. Everyone has a Prince story, a Purple Rain story. There's a real affection and ownership of Purple Rain here. Our whole nature and our political state in Minnesota is Purple. We're liberal minded but we're mixed blue and red. We carried our MN flag very proudly when we were marching back then. We were warriors. Wendy and Lisa were transplants, nice girls from LA, but they became proud Minnesotans at that time and they are coming home as victorious warriors for this thing. It's going to be a big thing for them.
Tell me more about Purple Rain. It's thought of as being somewhat autobiographical for Prince. Was it that way within the band too? I mean you were sort of playing yourselves, yes?
We were in a picture that I got off a drum stool and into a character somewhat. But everybody's character was no more no less as crazy as Morris Day there. The characters that developed out of touring were real. There was a real animosity between the Revolution and the Time. It's definitely real in Purple Rain. There was a real tension there and it comes through in the movie.
I agree. It seemed to be a real peak for the band as the Revolution. You had a lot of momentum and steam and then it really exploded like a powder keg with that film.
It was a real masterwork. I mean the guy's a genius. I love him. Prince developed some amazing talents. He would really bring out the best in you and make you go beyond anything you knew you were capable of. With Purple Rain, it was risky. Making a movie is thousands of people and it was a dangerous feat.
I always go back to the concert clip of you guys in Paris, "I Would Die 4 U" and into the marathon version of "Baby, I'm a Star." You guys are firing on all cylinders, and in James Brown kind of style Prince is really pushing the band and the audience. What was it like pulling that off?
Being behind such a powerful machine it was thrilling and exciting and beyond belief. Being able to groove with them was the greatest feeling anyone who wanted to play drums before could have. As the time keeper it was like being a professional offensive lineman. You hike the ball and block the guy and charge on. It was a super high show business level. You had to kick ass. That was his mandate. Kicking ass, taking no prisoners. There was no wasted time. No added fat. We were a powerhouse, ripping off the audience's faces and then leaving the building.
He really pushed you guys each night.
There's no off with Prince. There is only on. He makes you reach levels you've never been. Someone like Prince is born as a natural band leader. He's got DNA of James Brown and different people that influenced him. But with him you have the greatest workings of others but then you have the best instrumentalist of all time. To be the drummer behind a leader like that was a serious job. There's no coffee breaks with Prince.
I can imagine. I'm surprised you didn't have a heart attack back then!
I mean, you're getting my sermon here. I got to say Prince taught me what to do in life. But you know, we toured with Rick James and I realized watching him it taught me what not to do. I've been pretty straight with people in Minneapolis. I love this guy. I fuckin' love this guy. And that's why this show is happening, whether he's coming or not.
So that's what I think a lot of people are wondering since you're getting The Revolution together is Prince going to show up?
He's certainly invited but you never know with him. We'll know if he's coming when and if he's on stage with us. But he is the true benefactor of this show. He's allowing it to happen with us as the Revolution. I can't be thankful enough.
Well, so he's down. That's encouraging for sure. Tell me more about playing in that band. Because especially when you started off as the drummer, you were basically playing Prince's parts that he recorded in the studio. How did he direct you to play those beats?
It's like what they did with the classical guys. Musicians were payed to play things how the composer envisioned it. My job was to play it the way the composer, Prince, essentially composed it. You were always bringing your own style to it and add your own elements to the show. He always challenged you to improve what he did on the records and challenge yourself to bring things up a notch.
You also were playing to some programmed beats and playing different sound effects with the drum pads. That was somewhat new at the time?
Oh yeah, I wish I'd had the technology there is today. We were really pioneering things in that regard. I had the "Model T" of drum interfacing. This was happening on our watch, we basically invented the technology interfacing the drum triggers from the pads and into direct boxes and mixed with real drums. Simmons was just developing their pads too. They came up with some of the same ideas simultaneously. Mine were the prototypes and the first real drum machine and those famous purple drum pads. We routed this kit through many devices. It was really Prince's brainchild. I knew how to execute it but it was that guy's ideas that were overflowing.
That's awesome. Well that brings us to today. How you been the past year since you went to the hospital?
They did a really good job with cardiac rehab. I mean, they asked me if I wanted to run, I said "I just had a heart attack", but they wanted to know where I wanted to get to. They were confident in rebuilding me. I was really affected by it. I thought I wouldn't be able to play the drums again.
Wow, that's scary. It was a real alarm for everyone. What's been different for you since you got back on your feet?
I cut out beef until just recently. For the first six months I was a marine. I am not scared as much now. But I lost weight. Losing weight is the most important thing for people to do. Two things in Bobby Z.'s heart disease awareness lesson: lose weight and don't use the salt shaker. We're ridiculous with the food portions we get and what people eat. What we're forced to see with fast food commercials, we don't eat well.
Certainly diet is always an issue for people who are prone to heart disease I imagine. You been exercising too?
The psychological aspect of it is the driving force. I watch everything I do. I eat healthy and exercise more. I been on the treadmill. I been playing a lot of drums, that's always good exercise. I think people need to realise it's ok if you just go to the gym once a month. You start slow, but once a week can buy you five years. And well, I've cut out martinis.
Haha, I suppose you got to make some of those kind of sacrifices. You seem to be back up to speed now though. Playing again has had to really helped your body and mind?
Definitely, what they fixed is working. Hallelujah! Baruch Hashem, my brother!
Indeed. You've had a lot of support, not just from family and friends but it seemed a lot fans took notice?
I was overwhelmed by the energy and people making a fuss about it. From Prince at Madison Square Garden when he dedicated "Nothing Compares to U" to me when I went into the hospital. I got out and read all the facebook stuff. So many fans. I had to thank them. So what do I do? I got The Revolution! Booked it and worked it. Rehearsals are getting going and it's not just the band, there's some of the same crew from back in the day doing technical work. Rob "Cubby" Colby our old soundman is on board, Matt Larson, our production manager, Roy Bennet is doing lights and my old drum tech, Brad Marsh. He is like my caddy!
How's your feeling going into the show Sunday?
How am I feeling? I am feeling the more I get to share the experience of bringing all these talented people together and put on an amazing show the better I feel! It should be a lot fun.
The Benefit 2 Celebrate Life featuring The Revolution is happening Sunday, February 19 at First Avenue. 18+ 7pm. Check out mypurpleheart.org For more information.
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