Former Prince bodyguard recalls memories in debut memoir

Courtesy of Lil Gater's Publishing Wally Safford in front of a Prince mural

Since his untimely passing on April 21, 2016, many books have been written in an attempt to chronicle the life, legacy, and career of the artist known as Prince. With a career that spanned four decades, capturing the mystique, essence, and magic of the artist was nothing short of a tall order.

For former bodyguard and bandmate Wally Safford, constructing an honest account of Prince and his rise to superstardom required behind-the-scenes access to one of music’s most mysterious and iconic stars.

Written in collaboration with former Ebony magazine editor Dr. Margena Christian, “Wally Where’d You Get Those Glasses?” is a 172-page memoir that chronicles Safford’s years with Prince, as well as other legendary acts such as The Commodores, Teddy Pendergrass, and Earth Wind and Fire.

Released in late 2019, the book’s title derives from a song originally in Prince’s fabled vault and offers a glimpse into the Purple One’s world during the height of his career.

Safford, who is the brother-in-law of famed Detroit concert promoter and “Purple Rain” star Billy Sparks, was inspired to write the book after reflecting deeply about his time with Prince and his own life and career in and outside of the entertainment industry.

“I wanted to write this book because I wanted to do my memoirs, “said Safford. “I wanted to talk about me growing up in Detroit, especially during the ’67 riots. I also thought about my career in music and Prince just happened to be the icing on the cake.”

Safford’s career into the entertainment industry began in the 1970s when he worked as a bodyguard and assistant for The Commodores. This time would be followed up by stints with Teddy Pendergrass, Parliament -Funkadelic, and Earth Wind and Fire, who would serve as a connector to Prince.

“Bob Cavallo, Joe Ruffalo, and Steve Fargnoli was a management team that represented Earth Wind and Fire. They also represented Prince. I knew them from my days touring with Earth Wind and Fire, so I was able to blend right in with the crew,” explained Safford.

“When I first met Prince, I knew he had that ‘it’ factor. It was something special about him that was different and also on point,” he said.

Prince, who was notoriously aloof and guarded, developed a liking for Safford and would bring him into his inner circle. Along with his brother-in-law Sparks, and other associates, Prince would dub the group “The Purple Gang” named after the 1920s Detroit crime syndicate.

“’The Purple Gang’ consisted of myself, Billy Sparks, Mitch James, Greg Brooks, and Nur and Abdul Muhammad,” Safford recalled.

“Nur and Abdul were Elijah Muhammad’s nephews. Many people don’t know this, but Prince had members of the Nation of Islam watching his back early on. We did security for him and were also responsible for things related to promotion like putting up posters and creating a buzz. Prince really believed and trusted in us.”

Courtesy of Lil Gater's Publishing

While Prince is synonymous with the Twin Cities and the Minneapolis Sound, he also had a deep connection and rich history to Detroit. Safford shared first-hand accounts of that unyielding bond between Prince and the Motor City.

“Detroit was like a second home to Prince. He used it as a testing ground for a lot of his material,” Safford recounted.

“I remember one show in Detroit where he opened for Rick James and tore the stage up! The people in Detroit were like, ‘Prince belongs to us now!’ He also had a birthday concert at Cobo Arena in June of ’86 and afterwards, he called up the radio station and spoke to The Electrifying Mojo, who broke a lot of Prince’s records in Detroit and played a role in his success there. Prince once said, ‘If you can make it in Detroit, you can make it anywhere.’ And that’s why he was so beloved in the D.”

Safford would later transition from a bodyguard to a member of Prince’s band where he would serve as a dancer. He can be seen throughout the 1987 concert film “Sign O’ the Times.”

When thinking about his fondest memory of Prince as well as his legacy, Safford reflected on his musical output and their times spent together working.

“My fondest memory of Prince was during rehearsals where he would be cracking jokes and horse playing around. You’d be in rehearsals for hours and he would spend a majority of his time working on one song and playing around with it in different grooves. Eventually you’d hear five or six different versions of the same song. To me, his greatest work came out of rehearsals.”

He continued, “A new Prince album can come out every year from now until the year 3000. You see it with his upcoming release ‘Welcome 2 America’ where he discussed the things that are going on today. It’s important that we keep his music alive so that the younger generation knows who Prince is.”

Wally Safford’s memoir, “Wally, Where’d you Get Those Glasses?” is available for purchase online and at most major retailers. His podcast, “Wally’s All Access” is also available on all streaming platforms.

About Marquis Taylor

Marquis Taylor is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He welcomes reader responses at mtaylor@spokesman-recorder.com.

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