Jim Walsh has been a Prince fan since the ’80s. So in 1993, when he went to Pioneer Press as a music critic, it was an opportunity for him to focus his work on the music legend. The result of 11 years of covering the artist has produced Gold Experience: Following Prince in the ’90s, released in January of this year. The book focuses on the life and music of Prince.
In the early ’80s, Walsh spent a lot of time at the First Avenue nightclub because he himself was in a band, and was the friend of the band booker and manager of the club at the time. “She would always alert me to the unannounced and announced Prince shows, so I was a big fan in the ’80s and bought his records and saw him all the time,” Walsh recalls. “He was just sort of a local legend right out of the gates.”
When he went to the Pioneer Press Walsh was dedicated to his coverage of Prince. “He was very prolific at the time, and he was at war with Warner Brothers over his artistic freedom.” It was during this year that Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol in response to the label’s refusal to release his music at a faster rate. “It was the dawn of the Internet and he really saw the future of the independent recording artist.”
Walsh’s first interview with Prince came just before the release of Emancipation, a three-CD recording, the third of three works released by him in 1996 (the soundtrack to Girl 6 and Chaos and Disorder being the other two), and his first recording after his break with Warner Brothers. The interview took place over the course of a couple of hours at Paisley Park.
“He didn’t let me record it,” Walsh said of the interview. “I had to take notes with a pencil he provided me with, and I had to scribble… We had a really nice conversation about life and music.”
Over the years, he interviewed Prince during press conferences and once via fax. “It was hilarious because his Paisley Park people asked if I wanted to do it and I said sure. And I shot him like, I think it was like 35 or 40 questions, and he answered about 25 or 30 of them and it’s funny… He used the eye symbol and the Prince symbol and I have that at home.”
Before starting Gold Experience, Walsh was finishing Bar Yarns and Manic-depressive Mixtapes for the University of Minnesota Press. The book involved compiling his columns from three decades of music writing, which left him in archival mode. “Then Prince died and I just — I freaked out,” he says. He was unable to locate any of the columns that he had written during the ’90s because of the Pioneer Press’ archival system, which he describes as basically “nonexistent.”
“The Internet doesn’t start recording things until about 2001, so I couldn’t just dial up all these things I wrote about him, all these late nights at Glam Slam and Erotic City [nightclubs] and Paisley Park, just these things I did as a daily newspaper reporter covering him.” Walsh had to use newslibrary.com, a website that archives old articles, buy his old news clips and reproduce them for the book.
He spent weeks meticulously going through articles at a furious pace. “I really felt like he and I are the same age, and life is short and I didn’t want these stories to go with me…because I think they are important in the scholarship of Prince. I think people will study him for years and listen to him for years and I wanted to make sure that my little notes on his genius endured.”
Gold Experience is presented in a real-time fashion, bringing the reader back to the ‘90s in an effort to better understand the “dismissed” part of Prince’s life because of his war with Warner Brothers, a time where he scrawled the word “Slave” across his cheek in response to his experience with the recording industry. This war, even after Prince’s death, continues.
His music is now shared through online music sources Pandora and Spotify, though he publicly stated that he was not supportive of Spotify. “It’s disconcerting that way,” Walsh says. “He lived to get his music out… and certainly he lived to get paid.”
But at odds with getting his music out was his desire to have more control of it than industry moguls were willing to relinquish. “He was very much a champion of African American recording artists’ rights in terms of the history of people getting screwed that way. He always talked about that and that was what he was fighting for. He very much had that in his purview.”
Spotify having access to Prince’s music could be seen as both a blessing and a curse. “He wanted his music heard and now it’s all over the planet — God love you, Prince, it worked. It happened.”
Of all his previous work, Walsh is proudest of Gold Experience. “He was a very multi-hued artist and I think this gets at it,” he says. “There are a lot of great quotes from him and just performance reviews and record reviews that I’m glad I put down for prosperity.”
Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes readers’ responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on Gold Experience: Following Prince in the ‘90s, visit www.upress.umn.edu.
Vickie Evans-Nash is a contributing writer and former editor in chief at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.