By Carla Sanchez Taylor (RiPple PuDdle)The term ‘revolution’ has an etymology that can furthest be connected to the movement of celestial bodies. The legendary musician, Prince, fearlessly collected star musicians to lead the movement of popular music into the future. His band of eccentrics, The Revolution, came to embody a synergistic capsule of time, the crosswind of culture and the unique location that held it all: the city of Minneapolis.
I got a chance to speak to long standing Revolution bassist, Mark Brown (better known as BrownMark), about the formation of the group, the long ties to their original sound, and what they are up to now after the passing of their great friend.
Carla:How was The Revolution formed?
BrownMark: I remember the day Prince came to me and said ‘Mark, what do you think about being separate entities?’ He gave me a few names and then he mentioned The Revolution. I remember looking at him and saying ‘The Revolution? That’s hot. Prince and the Revolution.’ He said ‘yeah, I like that. I like the ring of that.’
He had bounced this idea about revolution in his music, specifically in the song Party Up, when he references ‘revolutionary rock n’ roll.’ Be he didn’t call the group The Revolution until 1983. Wikipedia says we were formed in 1979, which is not true. I did not join The Revolution. I joined Prince’s original band. We became The Revolution.
Carla:How was Minnesota the perfect breeding ground for your sound?
BrownMark:As musicians in the area, we were a very close-knit family so we started developing a localized sound that was pretty powerful: a combination of rock n’ roll mixed with R&B. We only had one black radio station back then, KUXL. The only time we got to hear real R&B music was on that radio station at sunrise.
We grew up on Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Peter Frampton but we livedin the record stores. We couldn’t wait for the newest R&B record to come out. We would never hear about it from the radio, we would hear about it from the music store and from each other.
Around that time, I think Prince was fifteen or sixteen years old, he started a band called Grand Central Station and man, they were monsters. The Time was also doing their thing, but they were called Flight Time. I had my own band called Fantasy. So really there were bands all over the area but Prince was the one that broke out. He had a long enough vision to go into the studio and start recording. He broke free from the bonds of, what I call, the Chitlins Circuit, playing local, small time clubs. He was able to get a national record deal.
But Detroit broke Prince. They really put him out there in the black community. And then the next thing you know, there’s a nation-wide explosion. At that time, he began to handpick every one of us. We became the ultimate mixture of all that he was looking for in a group and I think that’s where our sound came from. The combination of all of our personalities, our musical exposure, our influences were so unique at that time period.
Carla:It’s an exceptional thing to have that mixture of individuality within a group. Did it all just snap into place?
BrownMark: I think Prince wanted a band and it started coming together around the time of Little Red Corvette. You’ll notice his sound changed around that time. That’s when we became official. Before that, we were just the band that backed him up. He no longer controlled what we did and I think he liked to entertain that. He gave me total liberties on the bass. We would start a groove and then he would present his own idea. We’d start jamming on it, and then I’d totally flip the bass; I’d put the Brown Stink on it. Everybody did his or her thing and Prince didn’t challenge that. He welcomed it. He let us come in and be who we are and because of that, it started forming a very different sound. And the sound was so powerful that he embraced it immediately. He started hauling recording equipment to every studio. He captured everything we did. This sound, it bonded us. To this day, we are such a strong unit because, personality wise, we love and know each other like a family. When we get together, our creativeness hasn’t changed. We’ve only become more seasoned. We’re all better players than we were thirty years ago. We’ve evolved.
Carla:The Revolution, and Paisley Park seemed shrouded in mystery. I think that’s what made Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Story so successful. He used his observational comedy to give us a glimpse of what it’s like to be in Prince’s inner circle.
BrownMark: When you get rid of the fame aspect, we are just people. Prince was a star basketball player in high school. He was really good at sports. But he really loved basketball…and Ping-Pong. He would challenge people to basketball games. And yeah, sometimes he would play in his heels. The funniest part about that story is the pancakes. He didn’t have the biggest menu to serve you but he liked feeding people. If you were at his house, Prince would make you a bowl of soup or he’d make you some pancakes.
Carla:He seemed like a centrifugal force. With his passing, is it difficult to reconnect as a band without having Prince as the unifying component?
BrownMark:When you build a space shuttle, you have to have a team of engineers. As long as each one stays in their place, then the parts come together and the thing reaches space. It’s the same with us. The shuttle has already been built. We’re not recreating it; all we do now is duplicate and add a little sparkle.
But let’s face it; no one will ever replace Prince. That was a one of a kind, unique artist of our time, like Mozart. And even though it’s been very difficult, we’ve learned ways to bring the energy, and the audience is a big component in that. Also, many of us did backing vocals for Prince and had our own record deals after the dissolution of the band so we have experience filling in. But most importantly, we wanted to get across that we aren’t trying to replace him. He can’t be replaced, but we still have the songs.
You know, I’ve heard the stories. I read and communicate directly with the fans through Facebook. Thousands and thousands of emails come in and they tell me stories about what we did for them. ‘I was going to commit suicide until I heard your music and it changed my life.’ ‘You made me pick up an instrument and it gave me a different vision of life.’ When you start hearing stories like that you just say to yourself ‘wow, I can’t believe music has that kind of power.’
We had gone back to Prince a few times to see what his thoughts were about taking it back on the road and he was open to it for this very reason. The fans wanted it but unfortunately he passed before we could actually bring that to light. What makes it hard is that we have a strong love, a strong bond for Prince’s family, his fans, we call it The Purple Fam. They don’t have a clue of what really goes on behind closed doors to make this happen. The politics are just rough. And that makes me sad that anybody would want to interfere with bringing that type of healing and joy back to peoples’ hearts. In that sense, it’s bittersweet but hopefully one day it’ll all get cleared up.
We are the closest that anyone is ever gonna get to what was and I just hope that we’re able to continue to bring that to the world. We all need it, and I never realized it until we did our first three shows, how badly Prince’s family needs healing because he was just…gone. He disappeared and that hurt everybody whose lives he touched.
BrownMark is on tour nationwide with The Revolution through August 2017. Due to the critical success of the tour, more 2017 tour dates will be added to the calendar in the coming months.
If you’d like to hear more stories about the early days of Prince and The Revolution, check out Mark’s podcast, The BrownMark Show, on iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-brownmark-show-podcast/id1165557327?mt=2or Stitcher http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/the-luxarium/the-brownmark-show.