fDeluxe's St. Paul Peterson talks about the Minneapolis Sound, working with Prince, and the rebirth of the Family
Shortly after Purple Rain put Minneapolis on the map of the music world, Prince formed a little short-lived band called the Family. They would only record one album and play one sold-out show at First Avenue before disbanding, but their impact is still felt to this day.
Though the musicians occasionally played together in other projects after their split, no one expected to hear anything from the Family again. But that's all about to change this week, as four of the core members of the Family reunite as new band fDeluxe to release their debut album (or second album, depending on how you keep score) at the Loring Theater this Friday night.
The Family was formed by Prince and shuffled together members of the Time (whose leader, Morris Day, had just left the group) and Prince's then-fiancee Susannah Melvoin, the twin sister of Revolution guitarist Wendy. They only released one album as a group, simply titled The Family, before lead singer St. Paul Peterson left the group to pursue a solo recording career with Warner Bros. and Melvoin joined the Revolution, but their record spawned a gigantic hit ("Nothing Compares 2 U" went mainstream when Sinead O'Connor covered it in 1990) and is still regarded as highly influential by musicians like the Roots' ?uestlove.
To learn more about how the Family was formed and what was happening in Minneapolis in the mid-'80s, we caught up with St. Paul Peterson, who filled us on some details over the phone from his home in Edina, Minnesota as fDeluxe were getting ready for this week's show.
Gimme Noise: How did you get the nickname St. Paul Peterson?
St. Paul Peterson: It's a total Prince nickname, he's the one that started calling me that. Right after the record we did in '84 with the Time -- I was in the Time for one record, and after the Time broke up he put us all together in a room and pointed at me and said, 'You're going to be the lead singer for this new band.' At that point, he basically renamed me, or nicknamed me St. Paul.
It really happened just like that, he pulled you into a room and the band was formed?
It's true. Morris Day left the Time. We had just completed Purple Rain, and I had a double-platinum record on my wall at 18 years old, talk about lucky, so we didn't know what was going to go on. He decided. Prince was brilliant at pooling people together, and basically writing a book, so to speak, and we would play his characters. And this book, the Family, that he wrote, was one of his finest records, and the cast of characters that he put together have been my lifelong friends. I don't think he expected that to happen -- nor did any of us. It just worked out that way. I've known and played with Eric Leeds and Jellybean for 25 years, and known Susannah and her musical family for that long as well. It was pretty darn cool the way it all worked out. We like each other, we're friends.
Tell me how you got into that situation in the first place. How did you meet Prince?
I had just graduated in June from Holy Angels, and I was hanging out with my best friend Brett Ward up in Breezy Point, and I got a phone call from my brother-in-law that says, "Get down here, you have an audition with the Time." I'm like, "Huh? Leave my vacation?" [laughs] So I did exactly that. My brother-in-law's first cousin is Bobby Z. I was playing out six nights a week in bars at that point, all throughout high school from 10th grade on, and I'm the youngest of the Peterson family, so we had some notoriety around town. In fact, my brother Ricky turned Prince down to be in the Revolution, even before the Revolution, many, many years ago. So I think he had knowledge of who I was. I came home from vacation, I had to learn -- the rehearsal tape didn't come in time -- so I had to learn 10 songs or thereabouts, to play 'em, sing 'em, memorize 'em, and dance at the same time. You know, this little green kid from Richfield, Minnesota going into this unbelievable African American band -- talk about intimidating. Prince wasn't there. Passed that audition, moved onto a second audition and he was there, and the rest is history, as they say. Evidently, I passed the test. It was fun.
The Family circa 1985
There is so much lore surrounding that era of Minneapolis music. Can you shed some light on that time period, for those of us who didn't get to experience it first hand?
The '80s in Minnesota was pretty darn incredible. You had a lot of bands that were coming out of here. Obviously he was the main guy that was rocking it at that time, but the Minneapolis Sound really started to be a thing. Kind of like the Motown Sound, or the Memphis Sound, or anything like that. So to be ingrained in the middle of that -- I mean, from the time I joined the band, two months later I was in Purple Rain and had a double-platinum record on my wall. So that's how fast things were moving at that point in town. And that was all because of him. He was on fire. I caught him at the peak of the peak of his notoriety. He kind of had it goin' on back then. [laughs] So there's no doubt that everything he touched turned to gold, and people were clamoring to just see and be a part of that in any shape or form, whether it would be as a fan or be lucky enough to be in one of his bands. I mean, the guy's brilliant, and it was an incredible time to be a part of that.
It's actually music history now, you know. My nephew has to remind me who's in my band. He says, "Uncle, do you realize that you were in Purple Rain?" It seems like so long ago... But yeah, it's an honor to be able to say that I've done that, that movie's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I played a very small part of it, but I'm still there, and it's something that I can be proud of and tell my kids about. It was a magical time, it really was. Minnesota was just buzzing with excitement, and everyone wanted to come here to get famous, which was very cool. They weren't clamoring to go to the coasts, to L.A. and New York to get famous, they were coming here to be a part of the Minneapolis Sound.
Did it feel, at the time, like history was being made?
When you're in the middle of it, you're trying to do your best to hang on because things are moving so quickly. And I was right in the middle of it, so it meant rehearsal six days a week, 10 hours a day -- especially during that time, he was meticulous and wanted things perfect and right, and the people that he had hired underneath him -- Jesse Johnson being the person for that time -- he cracked the whip hard on us. Basically, I was all set to go to the University of Minnesota, and I just changed colleges and went to the Minneapolis Sound College of Prince and Jesse Johnson instead. It was the smartest decision of my life. It was an incredible time.
How long has a reunion been in the works for the Family, now fDeluxe?
Sheila E has this foundation called the Lil' Angel Bunny Foundation, and she had called me and said 'I'm doing this thing, I'm getting a lot of people back together. The Revolution's getting back together. Carmen Electra will be there, Apollonia 6, and we want the Family to come.' And I'm like, wow, really? I had been playing with some members of the band around town here doing some of that stuff, so I'm like 'Sure! Sounds like fun to me.' So I called Susannah and Jerome [Benton]. They flew us out and we got to rehearse for a whole hour and had to go out and do this show. And the chemistry was stronger than ever between us. It felt like 25 years just disappeared, or 20 years at that point. The chemistry was incredible. We got off stage and went 'Wow, what just happened? That was fun. Do you want to do this?' And I thought, yeah, let's finish what we started.
The Family's first reunion for charity back in 2003
So we were ready to possibly do something with that at that time, but Susannah found out she was pregnant, so she went into Mommy-dom there, and that was totally cool, but it went on the back burner again.
A few years later ?uestlove from the Roots, who's a huge fan of the Family -- the original record is one of his top 10, he says that all the time in Rolling Stone and SPIN and all these magazines, he's probably our biggest fan -- he said, 'Hey, will you come and warm up for us at the Grammy party that we throw every year?' We were like, 'Yeah, we'll do it.' So a few years later we did that, and then we started to get serious and I started making my treks out to California, writing this record. Because of the long-distance situation between Susannah and I -- we're the main writers -- it took three and a half years. Next year it'll be four years of working on this record. And she's done. The ship is about to set sail. So that is how it alllllll happened.
What was it like writing music for a band that was previously controlled by Prince?
First of all, it was a learning period. I've had solo records out and I do a lot of co-writes, but I haven't been in a band situation, being the lead writer, ever. Susannah and I had been friends for years but never collaborated musically. So we had to learn each other's language. There was a growth period in there of finding out how to interpret each other, let alone finding out how to go in a certain direction. We didn't ignore who we were in the past, because that's ingrained in who we are. It's as if -- you know I channeled everything from the Peterson Family to all my influences playing with Prince to the Time to the Family to my personal family to Loggins, to my love for Stevie Wonder and hard-edge be-bop, and basically had to bring all that to the table. So it was an incredible discovery period for both of us, and we think we came up with a record that is eclectic, cool, accessible, funky, jazzy, all these elements that people will recognize, but it's definitely advanced 28 years with all the salt and pepper we've brought to the party, from our own personal careers over the last many many years.
Was there a challenge in taking a band that existed in the mid-'80s and making it sound contemporary?
Well, the good news is that we didn't stop in our tracks and go, [switches to a joking, dopey voice] well, we were really great in the '80s and that's wonderful. We just kept rocking. In my mind, I'm still 20 years old, hungrier than ever. And I guess I can speak for the rest of the band -- we're out doing this for real. This is not just something cute that we'll be done with after Friday's concert. We're as hungry as any other person out there half our age. And we're realistic about it, but we're also really proud of what we've done and we're going to see it through.
Has Prince heard the record?
I don't know. I don't think so. It's not for lack of offering. He's a difficult man to try to get a hold of. He's the reason we're all together, so out of respect I want to play him the record, but he's tough to find. So I would love to be able to say yes to that, but I don't know for sure. We had a meeting a couple years ago and I told him what's going on, and he's like 'Good luck with that.'
Have you had an ongoing relationship with him?
I don't know if you know the backstory, but I left the Family, so he wasn't really pleased with me. But I think there is a respect there for musicality. I wouldn't call it a relationship. I think it's an awareness at this point. I hope one day that it can escalate back into a relationship.
Is the Loring Theater show your first public appearance as fDeluxe?
We did the Minnesota Black Music Awards, we played at that in July. But that was six whole minutes. [laughs] This, as a concert, is the first full show we've done since 1985. We did one show at First Avenue, and I mean Janet Jackson was there, there were so many people in the house that night. There's snippets on the internet, if you go to YouTube they're all over the place. You'll see some interesting hairdos and costumes.
The Family performing "Nothing Compares 2 U" back in 1985
But yeah, it's our first full concert. We've worked really hard to get to this point. And now the ship is ready to sail, she's all polished up, everything is in place, and now we just need to crack the bottle of Dom Perignon over the bow and slip her into port.
How did you decide on the Loring for the show?
My nephew works at the Loring, Noah Paster. We were looking for a cool, funky venue that wasn't too big, wasn't too small, and that people could party in that had a history and had a vibe. The Loring is exactly that. That is such a great theater.
fDELUXE play a CD-release show for Gaslight on FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, at the LORING THEATER. $25/$30 at the door. 7 p.m.
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