January 1979: Prince Makes Live Debut

A ticket to Prince's first show.
Photo Credit
Minnesota Historical Society

Four dollars at Minneapolis' Capri Theatre (or $4.75 at the door) would have earned you a seat in front of rock history on Jan. 5, 1979, when Prince put on his first-ever solo concert.

The Twin Cities prodigy had already earned a lot of local hype with 1978 debut album For You and the dazzling (and true!) claims that he'd played just about every instrument on that record. Of course, for a live performance, the 20-year-old artist would need a band to match, and he spent the winter putting an ensemble together.

From the outset, Prince was committed to a band that could combine rock and R&B - and planned to integrate his act to do so. "I always wanted a band that was black and white," Prince told Rolling Stone in 1983. "Half the musicians I knew only listened to one type of music. That wasn’t good enough for me." His players were childhood friend and bassist André Cymone, drummer Bobby Rivkin (christened "Bobby Z"); two keyboardists, Gayle Chapman and Matt Fink; and a second guitarist, Dez Dickerson, whose love of white rock bands like REO Speedwagon made him stand out from Prince's playing.

After finalizing the line-up by Thanksgiving 1978 (and practicing incessantly - Bobby Z later told a biographer "We rehearsed until we could do it in our sleep"), Prince booked a trio of gigs at the Capri, the north side of Minneapolis' oldest venue, built as a movie house in 1927. The gigs were earmarked to benefit the venue, and some 300 people (of a 507-seat capacity) attended. One patron was Jon Bream, a critic for the Minneapolis Star. His review of the night anticipated the body of work that would dazzle audiences worldwide in the years to follow, praising his "grand Mick Jagger-like moves and gestures. He was cool, he was cocky, and he was sexy.”

Unfortunately, the second show, held the next night, was plagued by lower attendance (thanks to subzero temperatures) and technical glitches. Adding insult to injury, that was the night representatives from Prince's then-label, Warner Bros. Records, came to town; they passed on funding a national tour and instead suggested he hit the studio again before hitting the road. Of course, that ended up working out: 1979's self-titled Prince earned His Royal Badness his first pop hit, the bouncy "I Wanna Be Your Lover."

As for Prince's live band, the line-up would change into the '80s, though Bobby Z and Fink would be present for the birth of Prince and The Revolution and the blockbuster sound and vision of Purple Rain.

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