by Ron Worthy
In 1985, Prince Rogers Nelson was a king. He had just released Purple Rain and to many of my friends, he was was consistently surpassing Michael Jackson as our favorite artist and pastime. Where MJ had been blowing up the proverbial spot for years, Prince’s music seemed to fit more with our mid-teen sensibilities. His grooves were funkier. His look was edgy. His songs were sexier. And he had ladies…oh the ladies.
On top of all of that, Prince‘s squad and affiliated groups and sound was DEEP and included The Revolution, The Time, Vanity AND Apollonia 6, Sheila E. This is not to mention related artists like Andre’ Cymone, Wendy and Lisa, Morris Day, Jesse Johnson and later Mazarati, Jill Jones and many more.
So this was the backdrop that led to my first introduction to The Family, arguably one of his most important side projects. Fronted by one of Prince’s closest love interests (they were engaged) at the time, Susannah Melvoin (Wendy from The Revolution’s twin sister), the band also included several of the former members of The Time including Jerome Benton, Jellybean Johnson and co-lead singer, St. Paul Peterson. The band also featured the incredible saxophone and flute playing of Eric Leeds, who would remain a staple in Prince groups for years to come.
I recall walking into Kemp Mill Records in the Georgetown section of my hometown of Washington, D.C. It was a Saturday and I was on my way to Commander Salamander, the popular clothing store that sold punk and goth wear that was popular at the time. Although I didn’t get my hair sprayed green like many of the kids visiting the store, I did stop in periodically for one of the free buttons. But I digress.
As I walked into Kemp Mill, I noticed they were playing an album that sounded like Prince. I asked the cashier who the artist was and she responded “This is a new Prince project called The Family.” The song that played was “River Run Dry” which is still one of my favorite tracks. Haunting, mysterious and driven by a great beat, the song intrigued me with its lush strings and layered vocals. Later that day, I was listening to WKYS (93.9 FM) and “Screams of Passion” came on. I was hooked. The radio DJ announced the artist and it was the same as I had heard earlier. I had to learn more.
It was an unmistakably Prince sound but without Prince’s lead vocals. Instead, the male lead vocal was skillfully delivered in a style that was familiar but also new. That singer, St. Paul, really carried the album well and delivered remarkable performances particularly on “Nothing Compares 2 U”, “High Fashion”, “Mutiny” and one of my favorites “Desire.” Although it would later surface that Prince had added St. Paul and Susannah’s vocals later after the actual recording sessions had been completed, the final product was stellar and really helped bridge the gap between the sound of Purple Rain and Parade.
With all of this in mind, it was truly an honor to be able to connect with St. Paul Peterson about his most recent project “You Got 2 Love.” The track is unmistakably Minneapolis funk and shows this brother has still got it AND has much more to offer. Having released many solo projects, providing support as a touring and session musician and re-igniting The Family as fDeluxe, St. Paul has never wavered in his passion for and devotion to music. So, to quote L.L. Cool J “don’t call it a comeback” because St. Paul has been here for years and continues to shine.
Check out our convo below:
soulhead: Since the mid 80’s, you have mostly been known as the voice of The Family/fDeluxe. What lead to your decision to venture out on your own to create a solo work?
St. Paul: I have always made solo records, one on MCA in 86 and Atlantic in 91, and then Blue Cadillac in 96.
I also released Everything in early 2000s, so I have done quite a few solo projects. It had been a significant amount of time since my last solo effort, and simply felt inspired to write again!
soulhead: “You Got 2 Love” is a really funky number with a lot of MPLS sound flourishes. When you were making the music, what elements of the “sound” did you feel were the most important to include?Check out St. Paul’s new track “You Got 2 Love”
St. Paul: Most important element to me is, “is it funky?” Everything else just falls in line after that. Some choices were a tip of the hat to the old school Minneapolis hey days, such as the decision to use the old Linn Drum sounds. It just felt right.
Everything else laid down is just what we felt belonged in the track.
soulhead: Over the years, you have produced a number of solo projects. How did your preparation for this project differ from those past efforts?
St. Paul: There are no schedules, limitations, deadlines or pressure. That helps with the creativity.
soulhead: You have been fortunate to have experienced life as a front man as well as a session player. Which do you prefer?
St. Paul: Interesting question. When you’re a sideman, your job is to make the featured artist look and sound their best. Simply a different approach. There usually is less responsibility being a sideman.
That said, being a front man is rewarding, demanding, and intense, but the most fun I have.
soulhead: What are some of your favorite groups on the current Minneapolis scene today? How has the scene evolved over the past 40 years?
St. Paul: I love Nooky Jones, Cory Wong, Dylan Salfer, Pho, Brian Snowman Powers, and Alex Rossi to make a few. The scene hasn’t changed that much in my opinion. Minneapolis still seems to be a hot bed for talent, musicianship, songwriting and production. Must be that -20 degree weather.
soulhead: When you first started as a musician, technology, tastes and everything seemed to be a lot different than it is now. How do you feel about current music industry developments like streaming, etc.?
St. Paul: I love technology when it comes to recording. Streaming is a tough issue, simply because it changed the way we monetize our talent. I think it brought live performances back to the forefront, especially with “seasoned” artists like myself. That’s a GOOD thing (if you know how to play!)
soulhead: Do you have any advice to musicians starting their careers today?
St. Paul: Same advice as I have my students. Develop a work ethic that separates you from the other 50 million people who want to be successful. Be tenacious, work on your craft, be patient, and keep the faith. Also, try to stay true to who YOU are. Artists can get lost trying to be who they aren’t.
soulhead: When was the last time you spoke with Prince?
St. Paul: Spoke with him the September before he died. He invited Eric Leeds and me to Paisley to play with our instrumental funk/fusion band Leeds/Peterson Music (LP Music for short) for his album release party. He came and hugged both Eric and me at the end of our soundcheck, and said he might join us on stage that evening.
Ron Worthy is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of soulhead.com. A passionate audiophile who has been a DJ for over 25 years, Ron studied classical music and plays 4 instruments. He loves discussing all things Prince, Hip-Hop, and Funk. When he is able, he shoots a mean game of pool, digs comedy, loves 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.