Prince and reed man Eric Leeds teamed up to create two albums under the moniker Madhouse

Madhouse, for the relatively few paying attention, was one of those riddles wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

by Miles Marshall Lewis

Eric Leeds in the Madhouse promo photo (original photo B&W).

 

The DJ at Le Réservoir spins nothing but 1980s vinyl loaded with LinnDrum beats and synthesizers for Parisians packing the smallish dance floor, but nobody minds. The NPG Party is the only fête in town where gorgeous French women gladly fall into step with the mechanized drum programming on Sheila E. rare grooves like “Too Sexy” and “Shortberry Strawcake.” The infectious blend of funk-rock, new wave, and R&B music once known as the Minneapolis Sound prepares everyone for tonight’s main event: Rad, featuring saxophonist Eric Leeds.

You see, Rad is an alumna of the New Power Generation, class of 2004. And Leeds famously spent years in the Revolution during the mid-’80s. Both groups have flanked Prince, architect of the Minneapolis Sound, stretching back over two decades (the Revolution from 1983–86; various lineups of the NPG from 1990 to now). So Rad—born Rose Ann Dimalanta—will be preaching to the converted this springtime Sunday night, having played keyboards in the NPG once upon a time.

 

Originally published as “Syncopated Strut” in Wax Poetics Issue 50

 

Rad, a petite forty-year-old Filipina in a sleeveless sequined top with white slacks, stands center stage behind her bank of synths at the stroke of nine. Fronting a five-piece band, she powers through many original funk numbers from her own records for over an hour before dipping into the catalog of the man whose genius has been the purple elephant in the room through her whole show.

“Mutiny! I said I’m taking over,” Rad sings, atop James Brownish staccato horn blasts from Eric Leeds. “You gotta give up this ship. You should’ve been a little more hip.”

Tall, lanky, and bespectacled, suited in all black, fifty-seven-year-old Leeds eyes trombonist Greg Boyer (another NPG alum) as a quick signal before blowing the house down. Leeds approximates his own original solo from “Mutiny,” recorded back in late 1984 for the eponymously titled album of Prince protégé band the Family.

Known intimately by the dancing crowd at Le Réservoir, the Family is most familiar to the general public for “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a ballad brought to the top of worldwide charts by Sinéad O’Connor in 1990. Nominally an R&B quintet, the Family stands tall in Prince lore for introducing live horns into the one-man-band’s musical output. The Family secretly features Prince undercover on every instrument except Eric Leeds’s saxophone and flute. The group was predictably short-lived, but not before inspiring Prince to create another pseudo band with himself secretly playing every instrument except Leeds’s sax and flute.

That band was the jazz-fusion outfit Madhouse. Drummer Billy Johnson strikes the opening fill to “Six,” and the crowd goes wild. At the lip of the stage, a dredlocked fan starts acting out with a French brunette, throwing up goofy Egyptian hieroglyphic hand gestures and shimmying around. Because if you paid twenty-five euros to see Eric Leeds play an intimate Parisian nightclub, Madhouse’s “Six” is the song you’ve been waiting all night long to hear. Sax and keyboard variations on one sinuous musical riff center “Six” in a funky, rhythmic groove; “Six” reached number five on Billboard’s Black Singles Chart in early 1987, the age of Beverly Hills Cop’s hit instrumental, “Axel F.”

 

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Madhouse, for the relatively few paying attention, was one of those riddles wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma that Churchill talked about. Every piece of the group’s cover art—two albums, three singles—featured only twenty-one-year-old Maneca Lightner, credited as the “Madhouse cover girl,” dressed in sexy polka-dotted outfits with a Yorkshire terrier. Lightner, it so happens, was dating Prince casually at the time. Warner Bros. Records released the band’s first album, 8, through Prince’s Paisley Park Records label on January 21, 1987, and the album credits made no mention of the band members. Those same credits claimed that 8 was recorded at Madhouse Studios in Pittsburgh, a studio that doesn’t exist.

The riddle-mystery-enigma went even deeper. Minnesota’s Star Tribune reviewed 8 the day after its release and presented Madhouse as the brainchild of Atlanta keyboardist Austra Chanel. The group, according to an official bio from publicist Howard Bloom, consisted of Chanel, drummer John Lewis, bassist Bill Lewis, and Eric Leeds. As you might gather by now, neither Chanel nor the Lewis brothers existed either, but nationwide newspapers and magazines began echoing the misinformation.

Warner Bros. delivered Madhouse’s 16 album on November 18, just ten months after 8, with bass player Levi Seacer Jr. and keyboardist Matt Fink added to the lineup, real-life musicians from Prince’s recent touring band for his Sign o’ the Times album. Stranger still, that two-month European tour featured Madhouse as the opening act with a slightly different lineup, essentially the 16 assemblage but with longtime Prince associate Dale Alexander on drums.

Prince was already infamous for this kind of playful deception. By 1987, he was notorious for writing effortless hit singles for others using flimsy pseudonyms. Nobody believed Christopher (of the Bangles’ “Manic Monday”) or Alexander Nevermind (Sheena Easton’s “Sugar Walls”) composed anything. Beginning with the Time and continuing with Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, Sheila E., the Family, and Jill Jones, Prince was also legendary for writing and playing most everything on his protégés’ records. Madhouse marked the last time in Prince’s career that he ever would. (Subsequent Paisley Park acts—the Three O’Clock, Dale Bozzio, Tony LeMans, Taja Sevelle, Good Question, Carmen Electra—were, for better or worse, largely left to their own devices.) Never again would Prince go to such absurd lengths to pretend he had nothing to do with an act he wrote and played almost everything for.

Fans collect near the soundboard of Le Réservoir after the show, where Rad stands behind a table posing for photos, selling CDs, and autographing them. To the side is Eric Leeds, with his own display of solo albums: his début Times Squared, Things Left Unsaid, Now & Again. No Madhouse.

 • • •

Detail of "Madhouse 8" back cover with Maneca Lightner, Prince’s then girlfriend, photographed by Richard Litt.

Detail of “Madhouse 8″ back cover with Maneca Lightner, Prince’s then girlfriend, photographed by Richard Litt.

“ ‘Susannah’s Pajamas’ was among the tunes we recorded on the first day,” Eric Leeds says, describing the very first instrumental he recorded with Prince, at a warehouse on Flying Cloud Drive in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, in July 1984. “Prince already had the basic tracks done, so I was overdubbing. He had no particular melody line in mind for the tune, so I just treated it as a long solo. Mostly it was just an ad-lib that became the ‘melody’ of the song, so to speak.”

You can chase Prince’s jazz ambitions and the origins of Madhouse down several avenues. Son of jazz pianist John L. Nelson, Prince was born with improvisation, syncopation, and swing in his blood. (Prince Rogers Nelson was named after his dad’s local Minneapolis ensemble, the Prince Rogers Trio.) Then, his instrumental compositions date back to “God (Love Theme from Purple Rain),” recorded in February ’84 and released as the U.K. B-side of “Purple Rain.” Two years later, the Parade era’s slight piano meditation “Venus de Milo” and sublime rock ballad “Alexa de Paris” (B-side of the “Mountains” single) were more excursions into jazz territory, but they arrived a year after two significant Eric Leeds collaborations on The Family. “Susannah’s Pajamas”—originally entitled “Mazarati”—and “Yes,” also recorded in ’84, laid a notable foundation for Madhouse.

“ ‘Yes’ was recorded several months later [in October],” Leeds continues. “Prince had the track done; I believe Wendy Melvoin played some guitar. He basically left it entirely up to me to do what I wanted. I created the melody and overdubbed several sax lines to make a section [and] played flute. The final version is edited from the original track, which was quite a bit longer. To be honest, I never cared for the mix or the edit, as it didn’t make much sense to me musically. Also, several of the harmony lines were, shall we say, underrepresented. So the final mix doesn’t really reflect what I had in mind when I recorded it. Obviously Prince heard it a bit differently.”

 • • •

Eric Jeffrey Leeds was born on January 19, 1952, into a middle-class family in Milwaukee. His father, Herbert, ran a Gimbels department store and later founded the Leeds Business Counseling retail-consulting firm; his mother, Dorothy, had been a lieutenant in the navy during WWII. At the age of fourteen, his family relocated to Pittsburgh, and Eric began studying under blind saxophone prodigy Eric Kloss.

Signed to Prestige Records, Kloss had previously recorded with famed Miles Davis rhythm section musicians Jack DeJohnette and Chick Corea, among others. Influenced by the hard bop style of Ray Charles saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman, Leeds played funk, R&B, and jazz fusion in Pennsylvania clubs throughout the late ’70s and early ’80s with a local eight-piece band called Takin’ Names.

When Bruce Springsteen kicked off his Born in the USA tour from Minnesota in June 1984, the state’s premier rock star paid a backstage visit. The meeting with Springsteen and the late E Street Band sax man Clarence Clemons may have inspired Prince to add live brass to his own band, a theory Leeds once shared with Prince biographer Per Nilsen in Dance Music Sex Romance: Prince – The First Decade.

By then, former James Brown tour manager Alan Leeds (Eric’s older brother) had started setting dates for the upcoming Purple Rain tour, having joined Prince’s team a year earlier. Prince expressed his need for a saxophone player; Alan passed along an audition tape Eric had already submitted to Sheila E. to join her band that spring. And on November 15, as the Purple Rain tour passed through North Carolina, Prince asked the thirty-two-year-old saxophonist onstage with the Revolution for “Baby, I’m a Star.” Leeds soon became a fixture on the tour, in just the right place at the right time for the creation of the Family.

“As far as the Family thing, there’s a whole story as to how that band came about,” Alan Leeds says, in a telephone interview from Minneapolis. Former Time members Paul Peterson (lead vocals), Jellybean Johnson (drums), and Jerome Benton (percussion) were grouped with Revolution guitarist Wendy’s twin sister Susannah Melvoin (Prince’s fiancée, on lead vocals) and Eric Leeds for the Family. “It was an outgrowth of the fact that the Time was breaking up. Prince finally threw up his hands and said, ‘I’ll show those motherfuckers.’ Eric had been a part of the extended family, and it was like, let’s put him in [the Family]. That’ll give it an identity, because we don’t really have saxophone in our other groups. And Eric was probably the most mature, experienced musician of the whole bunch.”

 • • •

Madhouse 16 (Prince)

If Clemons nudged Prince in the direction of adding Leeds to the Paisley Park family to begin with, none other than Miles Davis seems indirectly responsible for Madhouse and the steps that led up to the 8 album.

Prince composed both “Father’s Song” and “God (Love Theme from Purple Rain)” as incidental music for his blockbuster film—recall the song playing during your hero’s foreplay with Apollonia, cupping her breasts in his netherworldly bedroom—and most pre-Madhouse instrumentals resulted from such movie scoring.

“Certain melodies and things, I guess he decided justified being a B-side or an album track as opposed to just incidental film score,” Alan Leeds says. “Alexa de Paris” and “Venus de Milo” came straight out of scoring for the French-based Under the Cherry Moon in July 1985, the farcical romantic comedy destined to bomb horribly twelve months later. He recorded the moving piano ballad “An Honest Man” strictly for its opening scene—a song Prince’s gigolo pianist character Christopher Tracy plays while seducing a wealthy lady on the Riviera—and never released it.

Over the years, Prince has written other instrumentals that remain hidden in his legendary Paisley Park Studios vault of backlog material: “Wet Dream’s Cousin” for Vanity 6; “And That Says What?” for an aborted Dream Factory album; plus “Tibet,” “Susannah’s Blues,” “Soulpsychodelicide,” “It Ain’t Over ’til the Fat Lady Sings,” and a couple others. But on December 26, Prince completed “Can I Play with U?” for Tutu, jazz legend Miles Davis’s first album for their mutual Warner Bros. Records label.

The abridged history of Miles Davis and Prince goes something like this. Miles started talking to the media about his love for Prince’s music circa Around the World in a Day (1985). Miles’s camp asked for a Prince tune for Tutu. Prince wrote and sent “Can I Play with U?” with Eric Leeds on sax. Miles overdubbed his trumpet, returned the tape…and their collaboration wasn’t the greatest. Prince and Miles never worked together again.

(Postscript: You can hear thirty seconds of “Can I Play with U?” on the CBC radio documentary box set Miles Davis: The Man with the Horn. Miles also added Prince’s sprightly “Movie Star” to his set list in 1987. One such performance features on the Miles Davis: Live in Berlin DVD. Finally, Miles also appeared on “Sticky Wicked,” a funky, Prince-penned Chaka Khan track from 1988.)

What with the presence of Eric Leeds, the scoring of Under the Cherry Moon, and the Miles Davis flirtation, these were jazzy times at Paisley Park. “Prince was at a point where he was really interested in jamming with his musicians,” Alan Leeds says. “From that would come discussions about music. Eric, Wendy, and Lisa [Coleman] were turning him onto records.”

Prince began listening more closely to Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and John Coltrane, and whatever he absorbed seeped its way into his music. “They would just turn the tape on and play,” he continues. “It was really quite improvisational. Out of that came some riffs. Somebody would come up with a lead line or a melody, and Prince would say, ‘That’s good, keep playing that,’ and they’d improvise on it. Those were the Flesh sessions. The Flesh stuff was really hot, and I think the Madhouse idea grew out of that.”

Curiouser and curiouser. On December 28, days after finishing “Can I Play with U?” for Miles Davis, a four-hour jam known as “Paisley Jam” almost led Prince to form yet another band called the Flesh. The Flesh was the beta version of Madhouse, a jazzy freestyle jam band with Eric Leeds, drummer Sheila E., and bassist Levi Seacer Jr. playing together for hours at Sunset Sound Recording Studios in Hollywood at the end of 1985. A second session went down on December 30. Hours of tape resulted in “Madrid,” “U Just Can’t Stop,” “Run Amok,” “12 Keys,” “Mobile,” “Slaughterhouse,” “High Calonic,” and “Breathless.” The following week, Wendy, Lisa, and Jonathan Melvoin (Wendy’s brother, on percussion) joined the Flesh for a so-called “Everybody’s Jam,” a record seven-hour-straight jam. This was parsed into “Finest Whiskey,” “Voodoo Who,” and “U Gotta Shake Something.”

Less than a month after the so-called Flesh sessions began, an album was compiled.

“It was like, ‘Yeah, we should call this the Flesh! That’ll be the name of the band!’ ” Alan Leeds recalls. “It’s one of those things where you’re all excited for about three days, [then] you move onto something else and it just goes away.” By January 22, 1986, a mixed and edited The Flesh included the twenty-minute “Junk Music” as an opener, with tracks entitled “Up From Below,” “Y’all Want Some More?,” and “A Couple of Miles” planned for side two. (The latter track was a Miles Davis–inspired tune composed the same day as “Can I Play with U?”)

In the end, The Flesh was reduced to thirty seconds of background music in Under the Cherry Moon (at 36:16, if you’re curious), a brief snippet of “Junk Music.”

Common knowledge says, if you search “control freak” on Wikipedia, a picture of Prince appears. If you’ve got even passing familiarity with Prince, it won’t come as much surprise that he’d shelve the democratic jazz-fusion of the Flesh for the controlled one-man-band approach of Madhouse. The move fits with his disbanding the Revolution to avoid creative differences with Wendy and Lisa; or allowing his classic material to stay unremastered because of animosity against his former Warner Bros. record label; or refusing to let a young-gun producer like Questlove (for example) modernize his sound for the twenty-first century. Prince is determined to make even detrimental artistic choices based on his being able to run shit.

  • • •

“I remember it started with him calling me one afternoon and asking if I would like to come over to his house and ‘play some jazz,’ ” Eric Leeds remembers, reflecting on that fateful Friday. “I think he said his father was there also, though by the time I got there, his father had left. Prince had some tracks already recorded. We sat at the piano and worked out the melody lines, which were mostly his, and the harmonic changes for the solos. Then we went in the studio, and I started playing. We recorded the entire album over the course of three days.”

Done from September 28 to October 1, 1986, at the basement studio of Prince’s ranch-style mansion in suburban Chanhassen, Minnesota, Madhouse’s 8 was in stores by January ’87. Eight instrumental tunes—entitled “One,” “Two,” “Three,” etc.—made up the thirty-eight-minute album. Portuguese eye candy Maneca Lightner adorned the sleeve wearing a two-piece, 1950s-style polka-dotted swimsuit with a red wide-brim sun hat. Picture the buxom Lightner on a beach, hand on her hip, between a sandcastle and a Yorkie begging on its hind legs for the red ball in her other hand. On the jacket’s flipside, she lifts her doggie for a kiss. They saved the back shot (you knew there’d be one) for the single, “Six,” Miss Lightner standing on the sand with her booty facing photographer Richard Litt’s camera.

“I honestly don’t remember, because that was my first time in L.A.,” Lightner says now from Los Angeles, trying to remember the location of the shoot. “Most beach areas look alike, and I’m sure they told me back then, but I can’t be certain. If I had to guess, I would have to say somewhere in Malibu, but I’m simply not sure.” Richard Litt confirms: “The first shooting was in Malibu, and the following day, I shot in a studio in downtown Los Angeles. The dog was rented from an agency.”

Imagine the surprise Prince’s demo tape stirred up for Warner Bros. execs in the ’70s when they realized the teen wonder was rocking every instrument Stevie Wonder style. 8 carries the same shock. Jazz, even the fusion derivative of the mid-’80s, is rooted in improvisation. Jazzman Prince layering his piano and keyboards on top of his own bass, on top of his own drums, continuously reacting to himself as a stranger from a musician’s point of view, is Prince earning his musical genius reputation.

“I did all the sax and flute, and Prince played everything else,” Eric Leeds confirms. “Much has been said about his insistence on not letting it be known that he was involved with the project. His motives are his own, but as I remember it, he wanted the music to be related to on its own merits, and perhaps was concerned that if it was released as a ‘Prince jazz album,’ it would draw more attention to the idea that Prince would play jazz than to the value of the music itself.

“The jazz community can be pretty brutal in its regard for the idea that a pop musician would have the arrogance to consider himself a jazz musician. By the ‘jazz community,’ I mean the writers and critics. Ironically, many jazz musicians that I know really dug the album and were convinced that Prince was behind it from the very start.”

Saxophonist James Carter, cause of the greatest buzz in modern jazz since the début of Pulitzer-winning trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, remembers 8 fondly. “Man, Madhouse brings back memories of a high school talent show in which we performed ‘Six’ as an instrumental,” says Carter, recalling his Northwestern High days in Detroit. “I always dug Eric Leeds’s sparse baritone sax work throughout the piece. Prince lays down one of the funkiest grooves in D minor; Eric jabs like a boxer.”

You could visit certain hipsters in 1965 and be guaranteed to find John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme in their living rooms. Fast-forward to ’73 and we’re talking Head Hunters by Herbie Hancock. Aside from being landmark albums in jazz, the records were badges of cool for their time (and even now), tchotchkes that revealed as much about the buyers’ sophistication as their tastes in music. Believe it or not, 8 became one of those records in 1987.

The album 8 didn’t even go gold (marking 500,000 copies in sales). Anyone owning a copy in the late ’80s was either 1. a Paisley Park fanatic, or 2. a young somebody searching for an entrée into contemporary jazz, introduced to Madhouse by a diehard Prince lover. Even now, mere mention of Madhouse’s 8 works as a password into a Skull and Bones–like secret society, separating true Prince followers from the wannabes.

For a jazz album without any vocals, 8 is a vividly describable record. For starters, Prince is a sexy beast on the drums. These aren’t his trusty LinnDrum beats; these are all-the-way-live crash and splash cymbals, toms, bass, snare, and hi-hat drums. But it’s the little idiosyncrasies that turn 8 into a charming, descriptive record. The Beatleseque quirks in his music were always equally as responsible for Prince’s cult following as the music itself: backwards guitar solos, hidden messages revealed by spinning the vinyl counterclockwise, self-referential in-jokes. 8 contains enough of these eccentricities to keep things patently Prince.

“Two,” for instance, is a mid-tempo number (no pun intended) that slowly builds up to a climactic keyboard solo at the end. But the entire song runs over a comical conversation you can never quite hear clearly. “My theory behind playing the saxophone is very easy,” someone says at the beginning. “Blow in one end.” Later on, the same joker questions, “Can I get sued for plagiarism? Everybody shut up and listen to me. Where’s the melody?” You have to strain to hear punch lines like, “That’s why I get paid by the note,” until the tune ends gently with the delayed tsss of a cymbal. What the hell were they talking about? We’ll never know.

A series of eleven phone-conversation samples runs through “Five.” Prince starts a leisurely funky drum pattern that builds in speed and gets measured out by drum-machine handclaps. Meanwhile, snatches of “Five Star Restaurant, can I help you?,” “Hi, Mom, this is Jimbo,” and “How ya doin’, sexy?” keep floating by, sometimes accelerated Kanye West–style, sometimes slowed to a drawl. In less than two minutes, the drums hurtle to a climax and the song finishes with the loud voice of an irate dad: “Hello, son, what took you so long to call?”

Then there’s the orgasm. “Six” segues into “Seven” with some unaccredited ecstasy from Vanity, a snippet from the unreleased, heavily bootlegged Vanity 6 gem, “Vibrator.” Loading her body massager full of (ten!) fresh batteries, Vanity pleasures herself for nearly two minutes at the song’s close; Prince cuts and pastes some of her peaking at the end of 8’s “Four,” and as the transition from “Six” into “Seven.” (He used it again years later for the Come track, “Orgasm.”)

“Eight” begins with the repetitive, electronically altered voice of Prince saying what sounds like “hum” over soothing synthesizer atmospherics and flute from Eric Leeds. The title track builds for about eight minutes with saxophone and keyboard solos, until finally ending with two minutes of calm, Brian Eno–like ambient chords. Prince later lifted the closing emotional tones of “Eight” for the introduction to “U Got the Look” that December. Warner Bros. released Sign o’ the Times two months after 8, making the “U Got the Look” opening recognizable right away to ardent fans, another of his in-the-know nudge-winks.

  • • •

“So 8 had been released; they had hired the band to tour,” says keyboardist Matt Fink, via his home in Minneapolis. “They had a keyboard player by the name of Billy Carruthers, a wildly talented jazz keyboardist. And maybe three weeks before the tour was supposed to launch, he made the decision—I don’t know why—to not be in the group. They were gonna cancel Madhouse being a warm-up act at that point. So I spoke to Eric and said, ‘Well, what do you guys think if I were to step in? Do you think that would work for you?’ ”

Madhouse’s 8 peaked on Billboard’s Black Albums Chart at number twenty-five, and the band—that is, the “band”—was slated to open for Prince on the Sign ’o’ the Times tour kicking off May 8 in Stockholm. Eric Leeds handled several magazine and radio interviews perpetrating the membership of Madhouse as some old acquaintances from Atlanta: pianist Austra Chanel, bass player Bill Lewis, and drummer John Lewis. But Prince charged Leeds with formulating a real Madhouse to support his European tour after 8 scored some commercial success. So the saxist put together Billy Carruthers, bassist Levi Seacer Jr., and drummer H. B. Bennett as the true Madhouse. Two weeks into rehearsals, half the band needed replacing.

“We [then] formed a working Madhouse group of myself, Matt Fink, Levi Seacer, and Dale Alexander on drums, an old friend of Prince’s,” Leeds recalls. Minneapolis drummer Dale Alexander’s funkier beats proved a better fit for Madhouse than the jazzier approach of Bennett, a member of Leeds’s old Takin’ Names outfit from Pittsburgh.

“Madhouse was the opening act on the tour, and we also played several club dates in Europe,” Leeds says. “As we continued to work as a group that summer; we added new material to the book. ‘Sixteen’ was one of them, composed primarily by Prince and myself.” From early May to late June 1987, Madhouse typically opened the Sign o’ the Times tour with “Two,” Three,” and “Six,” and “Mutiny” by the Family. The quartet, shrouded in black hooded robes, occasionally added “One” to its brief set list, along with “Nine,” “Eleven,” and the manically energetic “Sixteen.”

“They used to get a volunteer female from the audience to walk onstage before the show and hold up the numbers to the songs, like in the rounds of a boxing match,” Matt Fink says. “She’d walk out in skimpy clothes—shorts, high heels, and a tight shirt—and cross the front of the stage, hold[ing] the number one, the number five. It was very cute.”

  • • •

The 16 album took shape as Madhouse rolled through Paris, Milan, Berlin, and several other European cities. Prince chased his jazz jones jamming on the Charlie Parker chestnut “Now’s the Time” with Matt Fink, Eric Leeds, drummer Sheila E., and the rest of the Sign o’ the Times band regularly during the tour. That core quartet later made up the Madhouse band of 16, recorded in one week at Prince’s home studio and the newly opened Paisley Park Studios from July 30 to August 2. The thirty-seven-minute album hit stores three months later, on November 18.

Wearing a skintight yellow polka-dotted dress, ankle-length red gloves, and red high heels with a raspberry beret, 16 cover girl Maneca Lightner leaned against a Depression-era car gripping a Tommy gun. A bank features in the background. (Lightner robs a bank in the video for “Ten,” flanked by future NPG dancers, the Game Boyz.) The album 16 failed to chart in Billboard at all, but the music was just as quirky and distinctive as its predecessor.

To wit: Frank Zappa’s fictional vocalist Suzy Creamcheese, aka Pamela Zarubica, is sampled on the very first track, “Nine.” In-between jazz-funky snatches of “Chopsticks” and “The Sound of Music” is the voice of Creamcheese laughing out the word “bizarre,” from Zappa band the Mothers of Invention’s 1969 “Our Bizarre Relationship.” (Check for her on “Bob George” and “Lovesexy” too—bizarre, indeed.) Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather is another 16 staple. Lines from actors James Caan, Salvatore Corsitto, and Jack Woltz are sampled for “Thirteen,” “Eleven,” and “Sixteen,” respectively. More of an instrumental funk album than a jazz record, 16 included Sheila E. and bassist Levi Seacer Jr. (“Ten,” “Eleven,” and “Fifteen”) as well as Matt Fink (“Sixteen”), but Prince and Leeds dominated. “I thought Prince’s drumming on ‘Sixteen’ was among his best recorded drum work,” Leeds says.

  • • •

“My personal opinion about Madhouse is, it’s truly a fusion of jazz, R&B, and funk instrumental influences,” Matt Fink concludes. “It doesn’t strike me as being the kind of fusion jazz that people like Chick Corea or Herbie Hancock did. It was kind of a new fusion. Eric brings in that real jazzy, almost beboppy horn stuff, and brought in the funk. They got innovative by using sampled sounds and things from specialized sound effects. But when you really listen to the music, it’s more of a funk-oriented thing to me, like funk jazz.

“Do you agree?”

 
 
 

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13 Responses

  1. It was such a pleasure to read such an in-depth, thoroughly researched article on Madhouse. Thank You, Miles Marshall Lewis! Madhouse has finally been given the reverence it most certainly deserves.

    Being a diehard Prince fan for over thirty years and counting, I’ve come to the conclusion that, if records could fight, THE battle for me for Prince’s best side project would be Madhouse 8 vs. Jill Jones’ Jill Jones: Madhouse 8 for its insane musicianship and improvisation from both Eric Leeds and Prince, and Jill Jones’ for the wonderful strings from Clare Fischer (RIP), Jill being able to scream in key, and just some extraordinary songs (G-Spot, Violet Blue, All Day, All Night, etc).

    De Angela L. Duff
  2. Great work. “Hum.”

    Craig Belcher
  3. Great in depth article about one of my favourite periods of Prince’s music. Im off to dig out ’8′ and ’16′ tonight. Well done

    Traite Walker
  4. This is a gigantic piece. Hats off!

    Oh, Miles and Prince actually played together in 1987-1988 New Year’s Eve concert.

    And there are bootlegs of Prince’s first forays into instrumental music, incredible tracks where he played all instruments at the age of about 18. These demos never made it to Warner Bros executives, but they’re mind-blowing.

    – Cooperone
  5. Great article – thanks!

    I’ve always thought that N.E.W.S from 2003 (with Eric Leeds, Rhonda Smith, Renato Neto and John Blackwell) was really badly reviewed when it came out – lots of talk about smooth/lite jazz etc. – but it’s not and is actually a great record. Lots of deep grooves and some great playing from Prince and nice keyboards from Neto.

    – Jean K
  6. Great, great article – more like this please.

    – Rog
  7. great article. one thing has me confused though. the Prince and Miles Davis thing. according to the article, they just did one song together. but there’s a bootleg going around of a whole album (unfinished) of what is supposed to be (and sounds like) Prince and Miles that i’ve had on cassette for years. i think the rumor was that someone stole the tape out of Prince’s car, or something. anybody know what i’m talking about? if that’s not them, who is it?

    DJ Scribe
  8. Really great article, indeed ! Needs to dive again in all these records/productions from back in the day. Right now ! ;)

    – Julien June Misserey
  9. I am deeply honored to be featured on the first line of this great article! Yes, i was the DJ who played that night at Le Reservoir, and as a Prince admirer for more than 25 years, i always love to spin the best and rarest of the Minneapolis Sound and those 80′s beats!

    DJ Calhoun
  10. Dude, I picked up 16 back in the 90′s at a used record store and my wig was split. Music, like, real music! 8 has had some time to grow on me, and both with the couple cuts I coped from 24 back when it was threatened to be released in the 90′s are on my “Rainbow Children” play list. And I thought I was in a Twilight Zone episode because most folks have never heard of Madhouse. “What? That’s not Prince”

    Great background on how the music was made, the cover girl and the man and his madness. It’s stuff like this that keeps the music alive.

    Moe

    – Moe Pop
  11. Great article……Only one big error though, the video was for Ten, not Thirteen
    Video for Madhouse–Ten
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXAMiS7ESHA&feature=player_embedded#!

    – arivalscientist
  12. ‘Ankle high gloves’ lol. But seriously good read, not sure if 8 was revered as highly as Coltrane etc back in 87 but the music has stood the test and is still exceptional today. Excellent article, thanks.

    – The Rock
  13. […] he played some of the drums from “Four,” a song by the Prince jazz fusion side project Madhouse. “It was some African communication drum thing — I’ma see what type of language […]

    21 Things You Probably Didn't Know About D'Angelo | Sharing Interesting Stuff, Updates News & Free Tips

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