Tampa, Florida (WTSP) - We're getting a rare inside glimpse at what it was like to work with Prince from a drummer--and a Columbia native--who's played for Patti Labelle, Justin Timberlake and Chaka Khan to name a few.
John Blackwell Jr. smiles big when he thinks back on the invitation of a lifetime when Prince asked him to jam with him at the superstar's Paisley Park estate in suburban Minneapolis. Blackwell says Paisley Park has a recording studio, sound stage, living quarters and even a basketball court that Prince got a lot of use out of. He says, "If he didn't do music he could have been a NBA player."
Blackwell says he'll never forget while walking through the facility they walked across the basketball court and Prince picked up a basketball and shot it several times sinking every single shot. Blackwell says what was more impressive, "He was in high heels. I'm not kidding."
Blackwell was playing with R & B singer Patti Labelle at the time and his visit with Prince was an audition of sorts. Prince was so impressed that 8 months later he asked Blackwell to join his band where he played for 15 years.
Blackwell grew up in Columbia, graduated from Keenan High School, and is from a large family of musicians. He's a graduate of Berklee College of Music and says Prince was a musical genius. He was self taught and could play all his instruments as well write and perform songs. He says Prince would often carry a notebook and an old fashioned cassette player when he'd come up with a tune in his head.
He says Prince would come in and say, "Hey John play the beat and I'd play the beat. He'd say play the bass and he'd play it and he'd tell the keyboard player...play the keyboard and then it would become a song and he'd say keep recording and I'll tell you when to stop."
Blackwell says they'd do that 9 or 10 songs in a row and then Prince would say, "Okay. I'll see you tomorrow. We'd come back tomorrow and the songs would be finished. Completely finished."
Blackwell says he'll miss everything about Prince. His humor and his talent but most of all his friendship as a father figure guiding his career and pushing him to be better. He says, "If I had any more tears I'd be crying right now." That was my brother. I mean he was there for me where I lost my daughter, my mom, and dad."