Prince’s legendary band, The Revolution is out on the road celebrating the life and music of The Purple One. The Revolution: comprised of guitarist Wendy Melvoin, Brown Mark on bass, “Doctor” Matt Fink on keys, Lisa Coleman on keys and Bobby Z on drums. Collectively they played on on the 6th best selling album of all time, Purple Rain which has sold more than 22 million copies worldwide. This lineup also played on the next two Prince albums: Around the World In A Day and Parade before disbanding.
The Revolution are making a stop at The House of Blues on May 18th. Doctor Fink is one of the longest contributors to Prince and he has appeared on, or written songs for at least seven Prince albums, starting with 1980’s Dirty Mind through 1988’s Lovesexy.
NEO Music Scene recently chatted with the good doctor to discuss his career and his upcoming appearance at the House of Blues.
Greg Drugan: How has the tour been going so far?
MF: So far the tour has been wildly successful! There’s been a great response to what we are doing. The Revolution hasn’t done much together since Prince disbanded the group. Now that we’re back out performing for the fans, they’re loving every minute of it. It’s been real positive.
GD: Besides last year, when was the last time you played with The Revolution?
MF: 2012. We did a special event for the Minnesota Heart Association where our drummer, Bobby Z set that up and organized that event to raise awareness for heart disease. He had an issue with a heart attack in 2011.
GD: You were one of the first members of The Revolution to work with Prince, how did you end up meeting him?
MF: Bobby Z and I are two of the founding members of Prince’s what’s left over from the first side people that he hired in 1978. When Prince’s first album was released in 1978 he was putting a band together to do some live dates and introduce himself to everyone. I was actually aware of Prince in ‘77 when Bobby was an assistant to Prince’s manager at that time. Even though Bobby was a drummer, he was doing other things for his manger. Then he said “Oh by the way, I’m a drummer. Maybe you should hire me!” (laughs) So Bobby was given an opportunity, and because Bobby was his assistant, he relied on Bobby to bring on other musicians.
I knew Bobby because we grew up in the same community. He wanted me to hear Prince’s demo tape because I think he was thinking about me being a keyboardist and he wanted me to meet Prince. When I heard the initial demo tape that was being shopped for a record deal, I was extremely impressed. I said “Wow, who’s band is this?” He said “It’s not really a band, it’s just one guy. He was writing and producing and doing music in the studio.” I said “The only person that does that is Todd Rundgren!” Then he said: “ Yeah, and he’s your age!” At the time I was only 19 years old so I think Prince was 18 years old.
So in ‘78 after they had auditioned a lot of people for the band and they had hired the majority of the group, they just needed one more element, which was a keyboardist and I was given the opportunity to audition in October of ‘78 and that’s when I was hired.
GD: When did you start playing music and were you in the high school band?
MF: I studied piano at a young age because my parents wanted to expose me to all that and wanted me to learn music. Both my parents were into music and both were theater majors at the University of Minnesota. They rubbed elbows with Peter Graves from Mission Impossible, and Robert Vaughn from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and few other famous artists. They both could have moved to New York or L.A. but they decided to stay here and get involved in the theater scene in the Twin Cities.
I did some acting on my own around town. I studied music and dance at their school then I had piano lessons from private instruction. Later I asked my parents at the age of 14 if they could hook me up with a great jazz pianist teacher. So they said ok and they switched me up from the classical and I went to jazz. That’s how I learned improvisational techniques which is instrumental in helping you write. My parents were instrumental in helping with that. Kinda like Prince’s father who was a musician and band leader himself who exposed Prince to all of that growing up. Then you have Wendy and Lisa whose parents were part of The Wrecking Crew which is a very famous group who recorded great records. So, when you have that in your bloodstream at a young age, it tends to rub off! We all had that in our DNA and it really lent itself to the great chemistry that we had in The Revolution.
GD: You mentioned jazz but who were your musical influences; artists in particular?
MF: My earliest memory of music and artists was what my parents exposed me to. From jazz to classical. I was exposed to all the greats like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Sammy Davis Jr. All of those people from that era. Then go to the classical music side like Beethoven, Mozart, Bach. Name all of them and they were played because my father was a ravenous music aficionado. My mom was more into the pop artists of the day and a lot of Broadway musicals.
Then when I was six years old, February 9th, I remember the day because I had just turned six on February 8th. It was our Sunday night pilgrimage to the television to watch Ed Sullivan and it was the Beatles debut. February 9th, 1964. I remember because I was more concerned with playing with my toys that I just got for my birthday. My parents said “Matt, get in here quick. You have to see this band.” Here I am, I’m six years old and they made a huge impression on me.
Later on, I rediscovered all the music that came before that which was ‘50s rock and roll era. I kinda missed that because I was born in ‘58 and was a little too young. I was hearing it subconsciously because it was on the radio. But I went back and listened to all of that Elvis and Little Richard. When I was nine, I went to the store and bought the Sgt. Peppers album the day that it was released.
GD: How did you come up with the doctor idea as your stage costume?
MF: He (Prince) always likened me as a quirky guy and he always liked my sense of humor. He wanted my to to use that quirkiness so the first character I used was a guy in a jail suit. When we debuted on American Bandstand in 1979, I was in a black and white jailers outfit, which I hand-picked and Prince liked the idea. It also went with the black and white keyboard. It was also was influenced by Jailhouse Rock.
We went on tour with Rick James later that year and he had a song called “Bustin’ Out of L 7” and he came on stage wearing a jail outfit. So Prince said to me after three shows that Rick is wearing a jail suit on that one song and he’s the headliner so I think you better change your image. So I had to sit there with him and brainstorm and come up with another outfit and we came up with the doctor. So that’s when it changed, right there on the spot and we kinda put it together.
GD: It definitely works, because when you see the old videos you think “Hey, who’s that guy in the scrubs?”
MF: Yeah! It’s definitely a great stage persona.
GD: After working with Prince on a couple of albums, could you feel that something big was about to happen with Purple Rain?
MF: By 1999 we knew we were picking up steam. Having a double platinum record was really great and we knew he was on a roll. Then he came to me with a movie idea and let me know that it was seriously going to be considered and the odds were good that we were going to do a movie. I thought that’s pretty ambitious. I thought it was a great idea to try it but all of us in the band wondered if we were big enough to do this? Do we have the popularity and it’s a extremely risky endeavor unless you sell five million records.
I wanted him to succeed. It was a really risky endeavor and they played it right and it was successful. For me, I believed in it all along. I knew he could handle it even though he had no real acting experience because he had natural ability.
GD: What was it like on the movie set? Were the concert sequences shot in order or how did that happen?
MF: Not everything was done in order. I remember the scene where we were in the dressing room and that was actually built on set. The dressing room in First Avenue was about half that size and you couldn’t film in there properly so you had to build it so it could work better. The Hollywood set was very real looking and they made it look authentic. It was very long days. I did a lot of collecting of women’s phone numbers who were extras. I found my way into meeting people, which helped pass the time. (laughs)
GD: What was your favorite Prince tour that you were on?
MF: Oh my goodness, favorite Prince tour? They were all a great experience. In the early, early days you had to sacrifice. I would be Bobby Z’s roommate and share a hotel room. As time went on, you got your own hotel room. Then by Purple Rain, we were flying first class and staying in top notch hotels. It depends on the level of success. We worked very, very hard and no one worked harder than Prince.
GD: Recently, more backing bands like the Crickets and the E Street Band have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; what do you think The Revolution’s chances of getting in are and have you guys talked about it? To me, when you think of Prince, you think of Prince and The Revolution.
MF: None of us has looked into it as I know of yet. One can hope that the people at the Hall of Fame will recognize us at some point. I really don’t know. It’s the kind of thing that maybe in a quiet way you could lobby for it, by some people. Only time will tell if that will happen.
GD: A few years ago, I read that Prince was thinking about getting The Revolution back together. Do you know if this was for an album or a tour, or is that even true?
MF: Well, it’s somewhat true. He was thinking about it and he did mention that to several of us including myself. We wanted to know when because I was down for it. He couldn’t really give us a firm time frame because he was already into the Third Eye Girl project. He just said in due time, it was going to happen.
Then the Third Eye Girl drummer became pregnant and he was forced to take a break from them. That’s when he decided to do the solo piano gigs. I thought to myself that this would be the right time to due The Revolution. Maybe it was going to happen after the solo tour, maybe it was going to be later this year or next year. Unfortunately, it never came to fruition.
GD: The Revolution incorporated so many elements not only musically, but you also were multi-gender, you mixed cultures as well as style; what do you feel is the legacy of the band?
MF: We were, and still are a representation of a cross section of American society. One of the tenants of our society is equality amongst the races of genres. We don’t like to see all of this division in society. There is so much divisiveness. I would like us to be part of an example for people to see that men, women and different races and religious backgrounds can get along and work together in a great way and be human beings. Not worry about what religion you came from or what race you came from as a way to judge people.
GD: You guys are playing Cleveland next week, what can fans expect from your show?
MF: They are going to hear Prince songs just like the record! They are going to sound like they did in the ‘80s but only better. You are going to hear the authentic sounds and authentic arrangements. We have one of the best soundmen. He worked with Prince for over ten years and he knows this music like the back of his hand. Everyone’s telling us how great the sound is. Expect to be blown away. Not just from the great mixing but from the authenticity that we’re bringing.
GD: I’m very excited to see you guys, I missed the Purple Rain tour in ‘84 so I’m looking forward to seeing The Revolution next week. Matt, thank you so much for your time!
MF: Thank you so much, sir!
Be sure to catch The Revolution at the House of Blues on Thursday May 18th. Get your tickets at www.ticketmaster.com