Prince was famously protective of his music and image. While he was known for shutting down unauthorized uses of his music, there were certain items he'd let stand or even personally approve.
Since 2006, Prince tribute band Chase & Ovation has operated with the blessing of Prince himself. C&O frontman Tommy Chase, a lifelong Twin Cities musician, had a long history with Prince. He was babysat by Prince's mother, Mattie, and he worked with the Purple One on the set of 1990's Graffiti Bridge.
With the changed climate since Prince’s passing last month, Chase & Ovation are aware as ever that the music and the message need to prevail. The band released an emotional statement about their future a week after Prince's death.
"As difficult as the upcoming shows will be to perform," it reads, "Chase & Ovation will indeed honor all dates and has begun accepting opportunities to showcase his music around the world. Thank you dear brother, Prince! The band and I will do all we can to honor all you left us here with!"
At Friday's C&O show at Medina Entertainment Center, Chase expects many things: love, laughter, and grief. He chatted with City Pages ahead of the gig to talk all things Prince.
City Pages: What was your relationship with Prince?
Chase: I opened this particular show at the end of 2006. Prince attended that show and it completely racked everyone’s nerves. I was able to get something that meant the world to me: the thumbs up to continue performing his music when I was certain he was going to shut it down.
But we paid reverence to his music; it wasn’t about me putting on a purple jacket or the white Edwardian shirt and the sunglasses or a wig. It was about paying reverence to some of the greatest music ever written. And I think that’s what separated us from other Prince tributes, where he has served cease and desists. Everyone knows how closely he guarded his music.
He allowed us to perform not only for the last 10 years, but for the last six years this December he’s allowed me to perform monthly in his favorite club, Bunkers in Minneapolis.
CP: How has your perspective of doing the tribute changed?
Chase: As far as the show, nothing has changed. But the significance has changed tenfold because now it’s not just a tribute to his music and to him, but a tribute to everybody his music touched because we’re not going to be able to go see him perform it live. To me, it’s more important than ever, though I thought about retiring from it.
CP: What do you expect from Friday’s crowd?
Chase: I’m hoping people will be able to use the experience for whatever they need to get out. Some are not past the grieving process. Frankly, most of the world is not. From my perspective, it appears most are still in denial. It still doesn’t seem real that he’s not here. I think we’re going to see a lot of laughs and a lot of smiles and there will be tears shed. That’s OK. We’re all going to be under the same roof for the same reason.
CP: Have you been getting requests since his passing?
Chase: In the first week after his passing, with the exception of bandmates or family, I wasn’t taking phone calls because I knew what some of them were going to be. It physically made me sick. In fact, in my statement I gave strong consideration to never doing it again. At about the 10-day mark, I began hearing from friends and family who essentially said now is when we need this more than ever.
CP: What made you decide to keep going?
Chase: Within 24 hours I was well into triple digits of voicemails and emails. Our website crashed. As I began poring through these emails, I found that the common denominator was people asking for us to continue. I did some soul searching and I agreed that now, more than ever, is the time where it’s needed.
For example, there was an email yesterday from a gentleman I’ve never met. His daughter is six and he had never been able to take her to a Prince concert. He had been promising her that he would. I just got choked up. Now that he is unable to deliver on that promise, he will be bringing her to see to Chase & Ovation and that means the world to him.
CP: Because he didn’t play live very often, many people didn’t get that chance.
Chase: That’s what our show is all about. I’ve seen him 200 times, having spent as much time at Paisley as I did since 1990. Knowing what kind of performer he was when I put this together in 2006, I knew that if I didn’t deliver an arena-caliber show the audience would eat me alive. Prince would have put a stop to it.
There’s only one Prince and there only ever will be. To me, it was about paying reverence to the music and playing it note-for-note as he does it. I do my best vocally. I’ve been told if you close your eyes it’s a virtual impossibility to detect a difference. It’s about the reverence to his music, which is so powerful.
CP: How did you get started on this project?
Chase: My first paid performance came when I was 19 playing in a rock band. From that day forward, it didn’t matter what type of music I would play, people would say, “Hey has anybody told you that you look like/sound like Prince?”
Then move forward to 2003. After working on the set of Graffiti Bridge in 1990, in 2003 I was hired to go out on tour as a lead guitar player and backup vocalist for Brown Mark, who was the bassist for Prince and the Revolution in a band called Cryptic. Being in the Prince umbrella again the comparisons were made.
As time went on Cryptic disbanded. One day somebody sent me an email where I got that question again and I thought, if I could get his permission perhaps I should play a set or two of his music.
CP: How did that conversation with Prince go over?
Chase: I brought it up with his people first and the conversation was, “There’s no way that’s going to happen.” I just said I need five minutes of his time. It eventually resulted in him coming to First Ave on opening night and personally giving me the thumbs up. With a big smile he gave me permission to carry on and, quite frankly, I wasn’t certain that was going to come.
CP: How does Chase & Ovation try to honor Prince’s legacy as a performer?
Chase: That’s an impossible question. If I were trying to sell someone on the idea, I would say we’re the closest thing to it. I truly believe we are, but Prince is untouchable in his performance. To mention myself in the same conversation as him, I find that impossible to do.
CP: You go for aesthetic?
Chase: Absolutely. People know when they leave the show it’s not something they’re going to forget. If you’re going to a Prince tribute show, or Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder for that matter, you better have your show together.
CP: Are you planning anything different or memorial focused for Friday? Different songs or speeches?
Chase: Every show has been like that for 10 years. It’s not just the reverence to Prince’s music and the person, but there’s a message behind our show.
I truly believe and now understand that this is why Prince allowed this show to go on: Because, although we’re the ones performing it, the show is about the people who are there. The discussion I had with him is about unconditional love for all being, regardless of what walk of life we come from, we all came to the same place for the same reason.
CP: You want it to feel authentic.
Chase: Absolutely. What a weird position we’re in because there are folks at the fabric store now, getting the purple jacket and white shirt and saying, “Hey, we’re a Prince tribute band.” The agents are not liking it at all.
CP: Do you know who is in control of that situation?
Chase: Right now it’s up in the air and we’ll see what happens going forward. I would like to think, that when all of the dust settles, that his music will be honored by, cherished, and protected. It can’t be watered down.
Chase & Ovation
With: Guest Kalliah & the Black Water.
When: 8 p.m. Fri., May 20.
Where: Medina Entertainment Center.
Tickets: $10; more info here.