Catching Up with André Cymone
by Ron Worthy
While preparing for our Q/A with Minneapolis legend, André Cymone, I reflected on how much this brother has contributed to my music life. I remember first seeing him next to Prince on the American Bandstand performance of “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and the now infamous first ever television interview with Dick Clark. Later that year, I saw Andre in the insert to one of the my top 5 Prince albums, Dirty Mind. There he was, flanking Prince’s left shoulder with Bobby Z over his right. It wasn’t until later in the 80s that I would actually see the video to Dirty Mind and, much later, learn about the amazing Loring Park Sessions project that would involve all three men.
Prince’s First Interview on Television with Dick Clark on American Bandstand
In 1980, I lived in Washington, D.C. and we certainly did not have cable so the only way I could have seen Prince on T.V., outside of that Saturday afternoon AB performance, would be late night on shows like Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert or Saturday Night Live. In D.C. at the time, most of my classmates and I were into Rick James, Michael Jackson and the earliest sounds of hip-hop and, of course, classic soul and R&B. However, as the 80s progressed, I became firmly entrenched into the Minneapolis sound so that by Junior High School, I was all in. Anything from the Twin Cities that was played on the radio was immediately embraced. Associated artists like Vanity 6 and The Time were staples of the airwaves and, by the mid-late 80s, they would be joined by the likes of Jesse Johnson, The Family, Madhouse, Jill Jones and Taja Seville among others.
Dirty Mind Inner LP Liner
Although André Cymone had been a fixture in those early years, his first two albums, 1982’s Livin’ in the New Wave and 1983’s Survivin’ in the 80’s, were mostly under the radar in my hometown. At the time, these records were competing against monster albums by Michael Jackson (Thriller), Prince (1999) and a slew of British new wave artists like Depeche Mode, Duran Duran and countless others. It wasn’t until Donnie Simpson played “The Dance Electric” on WKYS that I fully took notice of this brother’s talents as a front man. That track, from his 1985 LP, AC, was written by Prince and sizzles with a driving Linn Drum and deliberate vocal intensity that stood out among other songs.
André Cymone – The Dance Electric
In 1986/87, the music World enjoyed one of the most amazing times ever. Although there were many notable albums released (e.g. Prince – Sign O’ The Times, Michael Jackson – Bad, Keith Sweat – Make It Last Forever), one standout LP was by former Shalamar lead singer, Jody Watley, and her self titled album, Jody Watley. That monster effort produced classics like “Lookin’ for a New Love,” “Still A Thrill,” and my personal favorite “Don’t You Want Me.” Having grown up listening to Jody on BBQ and wedding staples like “Second Time Around” and “Night to Remember,” I was instantly in love with this new version of Ms. Watley. Having been blown away by the updated sound, I rushed to Douglas Records in Downtown D.C. and copped that $6.99 cassette and popped it in my Aiwa portable cassette player and rode the X2 bus back to my house on Capital Hill. As was the norm back then, I immediately read the liner notes only to see again and again, “produced by André Cymone.” It then dawned on me that this was the same cat from “The Dance Electric” and early Prince. How amazing!
During André Cymone near 27-year hiatus from the music business, I dove deep into Prince music and personal story and, through listening and reading countless books, articles and interviews, I soon realized how much more important André Cymone was to the Minneapolis sound than I had previously realized. Not even close to being a protegé, he was a friend and musical partner to Prince during his important formative years having served as a band mate in early groups like Grand Central/Champagne and 94 East. They become friends through a mutual love of and talent for music and André’s family even provided him with a place to live during a difficult time in his life. In fact, they would learn that their fathers had been in the same band and that Prince and Andre played together as kids even before their first “official” meeting in the 7th grade on the North side of Minneapolis. How much closer can you get? Needless to say, they were brothers from different mothers.
Fast forward to now and we find André Cymone enjoying a major resurgence with the release of several projects over the past four years including the critically acclaimed The Stone, Black Man in America EP and his latest project, 1969. Complete with a new rock-tinged sound and social conscience messages, these albums remind us of his amazing musical gift and sheds light on issues that are very personal to him. Finally, since Prince’s untimely death last year, André has been an integral part in many celebrations and interviews where we have been able to learn more about his early bands and life in Minneapolis as Prince’s best friend.
We were able to connect with him on his newest album, 1969, as well as some of his recent work with the Revolution and New Power Generation. André Cymone will be performing this Friday, August 4 at the Bowery Electric (327 Bowery, New York, NY, 10003) with supporting artists Tomás Doncker & True Groove All Stars and Kellindo Parker. Tickets are $10-$12 and the show begins at 7:00 PM BUY TICKETS HERE. You need to be there. We will!
Check out our conversation below:
soulhead: 1969 definitely feels like a throwback, breezy, funky rock record that sounds like it was a lot of fun to make. Whereas Black Man in America was very topical, it seems like California really influenced the sound. Is that accurate? Other than that, were there other artists that influenced the sound on this record? At points, I can definitely hear echoes of Lenny Kravitz, Jimi Hendrix and even a little Thin Lizzy?
André Cymone: It was an absolute blast to make this record, 90% of it was straight band to tape recording. The inspiration for making this particular project was because in 1969 I found my true love in music and I asked myself “now that I know what producing means and I can write and produce anything I want, what kind of record would I have made back then and that’s what this record represents.
I can’t say I was influenced by Lenny Kravitz but probably some of the artists that influenced him might be the connection. James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, The Beatles, The Monkees, The Byrds and The Rolling Stones were all some of my childhood influences and “Black Man in America” was inspired by what’s goin’ on right now in any Black community and what was goin’ on in 1969 in any black community; police brutality, total disrespect, the feeling that as a person of color the deck is stacked against you in almost every way. It’s painful to see such unfair treatment go unpunished and it’s painful to witness the de-evolution of our society and culture. Every single day there’s a new clip of a Black man or woman just getting beat down with no hint of compassion or care.
soulhead: Given your sound has evolved over the years to the point where it is now firmly rock for the most part, does it feel strange to revisit songs from your earlier years like song from Livin’ in the New Wave or Surviving’ in the 90s.
André Cymone: Evolution is a good thing for me, but I think as an artist you should feel free to musically travel through time. There should be no boundaries unless it’s about being trendy but that’s not my thing. My thing is artistic freedom so it’s never a problem to sing a song from my past and get back to where I am today. Tomorrow I may make a big band album or a straight funky soul project that’s what keeps it interesting and fun for me as an artist. Stay tuned.
soulhead: The last time we saw you was on your tour for The Stone, which was great. How do you feel about returning to NYC to perform your new material for 1969? How do New York audiences differ from other areas?
André Cymone: New York has an energy unlike any other. I think as a performer and an artist you always look forward to performing in the Big Apple. It’s kind of a bare slate, meaning there’s a high bar and, if you want respect or love, you gotta earn it, because there are so many clubs and so many truly great artists from around the World that if you can get love there you can get love anywhere.
soulhead: We know you just performed at the Turf Club in Minneapolis. What was it like to be back performing in your hometown? Did you visit your childhood home on Russell Avenue?
André Cymone: It was amazing! It was sold out so it was packed, which was great. The energy was amazing and the crowd was just beautiful. People came from all over not just America but the World. I also did a free show the following day at my old high school football field. It was outside, the sun was shining, the sky was blue and the people were beautiful and we just had fun. Yes I did swing by my old house on Russell. I gave my a band a little Andre/Grand Central history tour.
soulhead: Since April 21, 2016 when our World would change forever, we know you have been called upon for many Prince tributes and related events. How have you been handling the grieving process? Have these events been cathartic or just difficult? both?
André Cymone: it’s been a bittersweet experience, I know what it means to his fans to want to try to find some form of closure. I mean his passing came out of nowhere and still really makes no sense. For me personally it’s been super hard. We had so much history, I’ve come to realise people who were close to him through a good part of his professional career have no idea how close we were.
soulhead: Can you talk a little about the last time you spoke with Prince?
André Cymone: the last time we spoke he invited my wife/manager and another manager and myself to see him perform with Third Eye Girl in Anaheim and they were amazing. He found a way to keep me there for the after party which was great and we got a chance to catch up and hang out it was beautiful. I had not idea it would be the last time we would communicate but it was definitely special and I will always cherish that experience.
soulhead: Over the past year, we see you have performed with The Revolution and even with Dez Dickerson. What was that first rehearsal and performance like after not having played together for so long?
André Cymone: Dez is an absolute professional, he understands that performing music is mean to be fun and spontaneous so it was a treasure and a pleasure when he asked me to join him in Austin, he also invited Micki Free who made it so much more special. It was at SXSW, The first rehearsal was just fun, filled with laughter stories and camaraderie.
soulhead: Tell us a little about the time you spent with the New Power Generation recently overseas?
André Cymone: The shows were amazing, the band was tight, his fans are simply the best but to do his songs without him for me was tough. I mean many of the songs were conceived after I was long gone so at first it was cool but it caught up with me and it became really hard because I just kept thinking of him and what he would do, say or think.
If you haven’t already, check out André Cymone’s new 1969 LP:
Ron Worthy is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of soulhead.com. He is a passionate audiophile who has been DJ for over 25 years, studied classical music and has played 4 instruments. He loves discussing all things Prince, Hip-Hop, and Funk. He shoots a mean game of pool, digs comedy, eating fried fish sandwiches, making crab cakes and drinking micro-brews from all over the World. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and cat. Check out some of his work for soulhead.