When and where did you first meet Prince?
David Z: I met Prince in Minneapolis when he was fifteen. To make a long story short, I did the demo that got him signed to Warner Bros. Records. First, he recorded with Chris Moon, then he got a new manager named Owen Husney, and he brought him to me. We did the four songs that got him signed. Those songs ended up on his first record: “Soft and Wet,” “Baby,” and a couple other songs. This is when I first met him. He was very young back then. We didn’t know if he was going to become a star or anything. We did it because the music sounded good. His first album didn’t really sell, and his second album did a little better, then he started to hit his groove, and that is when things started to pick up. I met him before he was signed to the record label. I was twenty-nine or thirty when I met him.
Susan Rogers: At the time, I was in Los Angeles working for Crosby, Stills & Nash. I was their studio technician. I had been a Prince fan, and a fan of R&B and soul music since I was a little kid. So I was aware of Prince. He was my favorite artist, and I followed his career. I saw him a couple times in concert. I saw his Controversy and Dirty Mind tours. I was just a big fan. I heard through the professional grapevine via other technicians in Hollywood that Prince was looking for an audio technician. And that’s what I was at the time. This was in the summer of 1983. As soon as I heard about the opportunity, I applied for the job. Westlake Audio was assigned the task of finding Prince a technician. So I went to Glenn Phoenix, the head of Westlake Audio, and he knew me because my boyfriend worked for him at the time. I said to him, “Glenn, I want that job! I want that job!” He interviewed me, and he told me, “Yeah. You’re perfect. You’ll do.” Then they sent me over to Prince’s management, and Steve Fargnoli interviewed me and he said, “All right. I think Prince will like you, because he likes working with women.” I was fully qualified for the job as well. We discussed what my salary would be and they said okay, and off I went. I was hired before I ever met him. I went out to Minneapolis and began working for him. I first met him on the job.
Westlake Audio sent me and some other people out to Prince’s house, and this was his old house on Kiowa Trail in Chanhassen, Minnesota. Ultimately, he painted it purple, and eventually he gave it to his father, John Nelson. This was the summer of 1983. Prince just wrapped up his 1999 tour. He was planning the Purple Rain movie and album. They sent me out to his house with some new equipment. We delivered a new API recording console and a few other odds and ends. The first time I ever laid eyes on him in person, he was actually in a towel and wearing a shower cap. [laughs] It was by accident. I was out in the driveway. We were unloading equipment off the truck, and I needed to use the restroom. Prince’s secretary named Sandy Scipioni said to me, “Oh. Just go in the house. Go in the front door.” I walked through the front door, and this little figure came flying past me around the corner and down the stairs to the master bedroom. It was Prince. He was wearing a towel and a shower cap, because he just got out of the shower. [laughs] I was saying to myself that this is not good, because I didn’t want him to think I was trying to embarrass him. He didn’t even see me.
When I first went to work with him, I spent my first week installing a new console and repairing a tape machine in the basement of his home. So, if you can imagine a split-level house, the master bedroom was down a half flight of stairs. It was somewhat underground because the house was on a hill. If you entered the front door from the street level, it was a one-level, but his bedroom was about a half-floor down. Across the hallway from his master bedroom was another bedroom, which became his recording studio, where, surprisingly, he did a lot of the tracks for the 1999 and Purple Rain albums. So I was in that bedroom studio taking out an old console and rewiring a new console and repairing the tape machine for about a week. I could hear him upstairs. Directly above me were the kitchen, dining room, and living room, and his piano was on that floor. I could hear him working on parts for “Computer Blue” and “The Beautiful Ones.” He was working out parts on the piano right above me. He was waiting for me to finish the installation so he could begin recording. I finally finished it, and I still hadn’t met him face-to-face yet. The only person I’d dealt with was Sandy Scipioni.
So I called Sandy, and I said, “Sandy, I’m finished. Let him know that he can use the studio now.” She called him, and he came downstairs to see me. It was kind of late in the evening. It was after a long workday. He gave me some instructions, and I told him the room was ready to go. This was the first time I talked to him, and as he was about to walk back upstairs, a little voice inside of me said, “Don’t let it start like this.” As he was going back upstairs, I said, “Prince.” He stopped and turned around. I stuck my hand out for a handshake. I said, “My name is Susan Rogers.” It was just instinctive for me to do that. I just moved 2,300 miles away from home and left everything to come there. I didn’t want this guy to start telling me what to do without me telling him my name. We shook hands, and he thought it was kind of funny. He was trying not to laugh, and he said, “I’m Prince.” [laughs] I think he kind of liked that, but that’s how I met him and started working for him, but things got off to a slow start though.
I remember shortly after that he had Jesse Johnson and Morris Day come over to the house to start working on some of the Time’s stuff. The three of them were talking about music, and I was being quiet, very respectful, and doing what I was told and trying to fit in. I was a white girl from Southern California, but they didn’t know that I knew all their references. I knew every obscure record they were talking about. I listened to the same music. At one point, Morris mentioned Frankie Beverly and Maze and One Way featuring Al Hudson. They mentioned a particular song that I knew, and I was like, “Oh!” because I loved that song. I remember all three of them looked up, and I looked at them, and it was a form of silent communication. It was like, “Yeah. I know what you know.” We had the same frame of reference. After that, things changed. I felt like I hadn’t gained full entrance into the club, but I, at least, came closer to the inner circle. Not all his employees listened to the same music they did. I knew many of the same cultural references and that helped me a great deal in that position.
By knowing the same cultural and musical references, how did that experience assist you in the recording process and capturing the overall sound for Prince?
Susan Rogers: I think Prince was grateful that, not only did he have a woman engineer, but a woman that knew what he had listened to growing up and had a similar value system. I joined him as an audio technician, but he knew that he could mold me into becoming the engineer he wanted because we liked the same things. At the very least, it helped that I knew the music of James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, and Parliament-Funkadelic. I knew what he was going for. I think he felt a little bit more comfortable with me, knowing that I enjoyed the music that we were making, and that I wasn’t just sitting there secretly wishing we were making acoustic folk or rock music. What we were making was what I wanted to hear.
Going into the making of Parade, Prince was coming off a stellar year in 1984 with Purple Rain, and another successful album in 1985 with Around the World in a Day. This album became the last one he released with the Revolution. Can you describe his new focus, direction, and sound with this album?
David Z: Well, the Parade record was the soundtrack for his second movie, Under the Cherry Moon. Honestly, I didn’t have a lot to do with many songs on the album, although I mixed them for the movie. The only real song I did anything on was [the smash hit] “Kiss.” On all the other songs, Prince was doing everything himself. We were at Sunset Sound Studio in Los Angeles. He was working in Studio 3 like he usually did, and I was working in Studio 2. I was producing a group for him called Mazarati. He was giving us songs every once in a while. We did a few of his songs that were meant for the Time. He wasn’t with them anymore. He gave me a demo of him playing an acoustic guitar with just the first verse and chorus of “Kiss.” We didn’t know what to do with it because it sounded like a funk song. We programmed the drums, and I did the guitar part, which I [triggered the sample of it on] a hi-hat on the drum set. It’s kind of technical. I put it through a delay unit and altered the delay from the original signal to the delayed signal to halfway. It created a rhythm which was really funky. No one could really play that rhythm because it was very difficult, but then I played the acoustic guitar and gated it to that, so it made that funky rhythm that everyone hears today.
I was producing a group for Prince called Mazarati. He gave me a demo of ‘Kiss.’ We programmed the drums, and I did the guitar part. After we did the song, I came back the next morning and the tape was gone. Prince said, ‘It was too good for you guys, so I took it back.’
We did the song for Mazarati, and they sang it an octave lower. We had a lot of stuff on there. There was some bass and a full piano part. After we did the song, I went back to the hotel and came back the next morning and the tape was gone. I asked my assistant, “Where is the tape?” [laughs] He replied, “Prince took it.” I went into his studio and he had already sung the song and played that James Brown lead guitar on it. “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” had the same beginning, but he said, “It was too good for you guys, so I took it back.” [laughs] What was I going to say? I was promised a co-producer credit on the album, but you know how that goes. But I created this rhythm track that he made into his own song. It was great. No one else could’ve sung it like he did. This is how this song came together. I think it was an afterthought, because the album was already done. He added “Kiss” at the last minute because he liked it so much. We already listened to the rest of the album, so I knew it was done and mixed, but that’s what happened with this song. This was really the only thing I had to do with the Parade record, except when Under the Cherry Moon was made, I mixed the whole record for the film.
Susan Rogers: There was the artistic pressure to change and grow. He hit a homerun with Dirty Mind because it was the right aesthetic. He hit a home run with 1999, and he really nailed it with Purple Rain. The pressure on an artist to do that again is very great, because you have to make the right work of art at the right time. He liked the whole black-and-white aesthetic at the time we were recording this album. He was trying to do a new movie, and he was thinking more globally. He was thinking about the South of France and Europe. He was thinking about increasing his profile, but it was such a gamble. He was such a smart and intuitive guy. He got it nearly perfect with his Parade record. The movie Under the Cherry Moon wasn’t a hit, but the album was a very, very strong album. What people were hearing was an attempt by a man who was very successful but wasn’t willing to cloak himself in the mantle of success and just rest on his laurels. He was still trying to come up with something new artistically. He was trying to get new sounds and looking for new lyrical statements. He was still reaching for something.
It was a more collaborative atmosphere on Around the World in a Day than Parade. Most of the songs on Parade were done by Prince alone. The song “Mountains” is a shining example. The genesis of “Mountains” was done by Wendy and Lisa. The three of us did the basic track in London on our own. Prince sent Wendy and Lisa to London, and he rented a flat and bought them some studio time, and he sent me with them, so we could do some recording. We did the tracks for “Mountains” and “Power Fantastic.” We brought them back to Prince, and he added the lyrics and finished up the tracks. So there weren’t really collaborations on the Parade record. It was more of a solo endeavor. He had Wendy and Lisa collaborate quite a bit in terms of playing instruments and singing, but he was telling them what to play, with the exception of “Sometimes It Snows in April.” That song was a true collaboration. For “Sometimes It Snows in April,” he put Lisa on piano and Wendy on guitar. He gave them the chord changes and the direction, and he let them do what they did best. But the other songs on the record pretty much reflect Prince alone, other than “Mountains.” Sign “O” the Times was a little more collaborative with Sheila E., and Around the World in a Day was more collaborative with the band; but Parade was pretty much a solo expression for Prince, now that I think about it.
What about the two songs his father received credit for on this album?
Susan Rogers: His father’s inclusion wasn’t really an artistic inclusion. The truth of the matter was that he wanted his father to get a little bit of money. Prince’s father inspired him in many, many ways, so Prince would give his father songwriting credits on songs, in order for his father to get some royalty checks. His father may have played something on the piano that Prince then turned into a song. I’m not saying his dad wasn’t an artist or a piano player or an inspiration in his own right, but those songwriting credits were sometimes a little bit of a stretch. I recorded John Nelson a couple times, and he was a jazz piano player, but he tended to ideate and riff and move from one theme to another. He didn’t have a lot of cohesive ideas in his music, but that’s not to say that Prince didn’t take some of those ideas and some of his chord progressions and turn them into melodies. I think John Nelson is where Prince got a lot of his genius for melodies.
Can you describe the studio atmosphere that existed during the making of this album?
David Z: Prince had two rooms booked at Sunset Sound. It was kind of like a beehive. There was activity everywhere. There was a basketball court outside. When everyone took a break, we’d go outside and shoot baskets. We’d go in one studio or another. I don’t think Mazarati went into Prince’s studio very much, but he’d come over to see how his project was going. It was a very creative beehive back then. I think that is what he was trying to create with Paisley Park when he built it. Everyone was interacting, which was really great because it inspired our creativity. There were other people in other rooms making music. That is really important for creativity. I think sitting at home alone making a beat is a little stifling. Music is supposed to be made with other people. There was friendly competition back then.
Susan Rogers: It was pretty quiet. He didn’t narrate his process. He would come into the studio with an idea for a melody or lyric, but he wouldn’t say it. He’d like to have all his instruments set up and ready to go before he arrived to the studio. He would either give me instructions by phone or leave a written note in the studio saying, “Here is what I want set up.” He would describe whether or not it was going to be live or acoustic drums or a drum machine, or what kind of guitar sound he wanted: distorted or clean, or which keyboard he wanted set up. What that meant was, when he walked into the studio, he wanted to be able to go from the drums to bass to keys to guitars and move through each instrument expressing his ideas. As I recall, he did most of his experimenting midway through the songs. So, he would come in with a pretty good idea of what the basic rhythm track should be, then he’d spent a good bit of the time in the middle, experimenting with different guitar and keyboard sounds. After that, there would be a pause where he would stop and go out to his car with the tape to write lyrics, or he would already have the lyrics, and we would keep on going, and he would sing the song and do all the background parts. Then we would spend the rest of the time mixing and adding the final instrumentation.
Sometimes, he would call Eric Leeds to play the saxophone or Wendy, Lisa, or other people to come in to do backing vocals. For the most part, he was doing nearly everything himself. He would move through it as if he had the song pretty much fleshed out in his head, as we were going along. No one had any way of knowing how much of that was true. I could tell when he was experimenting, because he’d try one song, then he’d skip it and go to another. But it’s pretty safe to say that he had a very high capacity to imagine songs and be able to craft them. Any time an artist creates a work of art, there is art involved, which serves as inspiration, but the rest of it is going to be craft. Ninety percent of it will be craft. It’s impossible to say, when he came into the studio, how much of it was art, like how much of his inspiration started in his alone time versus how much of the art came to him, as he was in the process of making the record. I have a little bit of a hunch, but no one will ever know for sure. Some tracks we did just to dance to. Those are ones where he clearly didn’t have any songs in mind. He was just laying down a groove. Then he’d come up with some stupid lyrics, and those were tracks that didn’t end up on the album. For other tracks that were more important, I got the sense that he would come in with a strong idea. In another words, he would’ve done the creative part on his own—the actual thinking part. What I would do with him during that time period was the craft of actually making it come into reality.
Did Prince have a set time where he would come into the studio to work?
Susan Rogers: Any time he could, which meant if he was awake and not in a business meeting or on a date, he was in the studio. If we were on tour at the end of a set in an arena, he would come off the stage and take a shower at the hotel and change clothes. Then, sometimes he’d play an after-party, or if he didn’t, we would go into the studio to start recording. Every chance he had, he would be in the studio. When we were doing the Under the Cherry Moon movie, there was a mobile truck on the movie set, so when the French crew were taking their two-hour lunches, he could be in the mobile truck recording. Studio sessions were frequently twenty-four hours long. Twenty hours was a fairly typical day. Twelve hours would feel like a day off. [laughs] But we would just keep on going and going until the song was done. Sometimes, we would go to bed at six o’clock in the evening or at six o’clock in the morning. We’d sleep for a few hours, then take care of some business and go back into the studio. We really lost track of time. We didn’t know if it was day or night, but it didn’t matter. It was a cycle of sleeping, eating, and recording in the studio. That’s what we did all the time.
Where does the Revolution enter into the creative framework for this album?
Susan Rogers: The band was never in the studio before Prince. Everything would start with him. It also depended where we were. About fifty-five percent of the time, we were in Minneapolis, because that’s where he liked to be, it’s where he lived, and we had a rehearsal space. I had recording consoles hooked up to the rehearsal space. So that meant the whole band could be there rehearsing, and I could be recording what the band was playing. It wasn’t the typical recording studio, but it allowed Prince to record ideas, as they came to him, with the whole band in rehearsal. We would lay down tracks that way. In those cases, a record would start with the whole band playing, then he would send the band home. He and I would do the vocals and overdubs. Sometimes, he’d have Wendy and Lisa stay around or Eric Leeds to finish certain parts that he needed done, but he liked to work by himself. Most of the time, in Los Angeles at Sunset Sound and many tracks at home, [the process] would start with just him. The only time he would bring in Wendy and Lisa was when he needed their special touch. Lisa played piano in a way that he didn’t. Wendy played guitar in a way that he didn’t. Often, he would bring them in for backing vocals. Most times, it was just he and I. He would play everything, so they weren’t always involved in the records.
How much of the recording took place in Europe?
Susan Rogers: We did a little bit of work in a couple studios in the South of France. We had this mobile truck where we did a few pieces here and there, but all the pieces we worked on didn’t end up on the album. We did songs like “Splash,” “Sexual Suicide,” “Power Fantastic,” and a few things there. He didn’t get a chance to devote his energies to the Parade album until he finished the movie. He did a lot of ideation, and he got a lot of inspiration when he was in Europe, but he didn’t really start recording until we returned home when he could get into Sunset Sound in Los Angeles and at his home studio in Minneapolis. That’s where he liked to work and where his ideas really flowed. We worked at Advision Studios in London for a day or two, then we worked in that Advision truck in the South of France. But the real work was done at Sunset Sound and at home in Minneapolis.
What were some of the similarities and differences between recording at Sunset Sound and at his home studio in Minneapolis?
Susan Rogers: As far as the signal path went, it was pretty good at home. We had really good equipment at his home studio in Minneapolis, but Sunset Sound is one of the great studios of the world. When we worked there, we had everything. We had every tube microphone, the greatest equipment, and a maintenance staff. We had everything that money could buy. Sunset Sound was the pinnacle. It is legendary. When we worked at home, we had good equipment, but we didn’t have the same support we could get at Sunset. When Prince worked in Minneapolis, he had a different kind of freedom. The vibe was different between the two studios. As far as the auditory path, it was the same at both places.
What was some of the equipment you used during your recording sessions?
Susan Rogers: At Sunset Sound and Prince’s home studio, we had custom recording consoles made by a guy named Frank DeMedio. Frank designed this console for Studio 3 at Sunset Sound. It was basically an API design, but it was customized by Frank. Prince liked it so much that he had Frank build one for his home. So we used that API DeMedio recording console at Sunset and at home. At Sunset Sound, we used Studer tape machines. At home in Minneapolis, we used an MCI tape machine because it was reliable and I could fix it. I was out there by myself, and there were no other technicians around. We had the nice outboard gear he liked. We had an EMT reverb unit and a Telefunken U47 tube microphone in both places. He liked those mics a lot. We had all the usual stuff other studios had. We had harmonizers. He loved the Lexicon Prime Time [Delay] and Lexicon 480L Reverb. The equipment itself wasn’t unusual, but the way he used it was definitely unique.
Take me through the studio setup. Where did Prince typically record, and where were you situated during the recording process?
Susan Rogers: He liked to move quickly in the studio. Typically, the drums would be in another room in the studio. The control room is where the console was located. The drums had to be on the other side of the glass. Because Prince played every instrument, he liked to have his guitar running direct in the control room. He liked to have as many keyboards as possible in the control room. He wanted to have the piano miked up all the time, so that any point he could jump out and play acoustic piano, as opposed to electronic keyboard. He liked to have his microphone in the control room, because he wanted to do his vocals by himself. After we would lay down the bed track of drums, bass, and the basic rhythm instruments, the next thing he wanted to do was his vocal. So he would do his vocal when the song was about halfway done. To do his vocal, I would set up his vocal path; meaning, in the control room, I would set up the microphone he liked on a boom stand, and then I’d route it through whatever preamp and compressor or limiter. And both of us liked using the [Universal Audio] LA-2A, and he’d be all set up and ready to go so he could record his vocals alone in the control room. All he had to do was switch tracks if he wanted to punch himself in and out of record. So the engineer [and] I, or whoever was working with him, would leave the control room, and he would do his lead vocal alone. Then we would come back in, and he’d do his backing vocals and the remainder of the overdubs, sitting in the control room behind the console. Often while he was playing keyboards or guitar, I would be playing the console, shaping sounds, EQing, compressing, adding reverb, and adding delay, dialing in the sound. By the time we finished the final overdubs, the song would be nearly ready to go. Then we would mix it, and we’d print it, and it’d be done.
This was different from how most artists worked. In a typical day, most artists could spend twelve hours at the studio. In a twelve-hour day, most artists could do two or three parts, because it took artists so long to come up with ideas; but if an artist is able to get a couple guitar parts done in a day in a studio, that was a good day for every record maker during the golden era of record making. But Prince, in the same amount of time, could do half a song in twelve hours. In twenty-four hours, the song would be done. It would be mixed and everything. We worked exceptionally fast, sometimes to our detriment. Prince wasn’t a perfectionist, contrary to popular belief. He was not a perfectionist. He would’ve never been able to put out that much stuff if he had been a perfectionist. He was prolific. He wrote a lot. Pound for pound, that guy had more ideas than any popular music maker ever. So what Prince needed was not perfection, because that would’ve slowed him down. What he needed was facilitation. He needed someone to facilitate the working process so he could get his ideas out really fast, which is why in the ’80s I was a very useful person to him, because I wasn’t going to get hung up on the details of engineering. I was just going to help him to get it done. Prince was one-of-a-kind. There was no one like him. He was a true genius.
Let’s delve into some of the singles released from this album.
David Z: For “Kiss,” there was only nine tracks used for that song. There was twenty-four tracks, but we only used nine. The drum pattern was out of a machine called the Linn LM-1 drum machine. We had a kick drum on one track and everything else on the other tracks: snare, toms, and hi-hats. There was one bass track. The instrument I used was: I gated the hi-hat through a delay unit to make a rhythm. I put the acoustic guitar through the gate and triggered it with the hi-hat. So what it does is, it slows down the track, only when the hi-hat is hitting, then it shuts down the guitar track. And it shuts it off, when it’s not appearing. That resulted in the rhythm that became infectious on the track. The piano part I stole from a Bo Diddley song called “Say Man.” The background vocals I stole from Brenda Lee’s song called “Sweet Nothin’s.” Prince put a lead guitar on there, which was beautiful, and he sang it. Then, while we were mixing it, he said we didn’t need the bass or piano part, so it became this bare-bones thing. I reached over and snuck the piano in some places. In the end, I don’t think we used all nine tracks for the song. We didn’t put any echo or reverb on the song. There was some reverb on the kick sound that actually filled up the bass spot, so we didn’t need the bass anymore. The song was very different from anything else he had done to that point in his career. When he gave the song to Warner Bros. to make it the single, I received a call from the A&R there and he said, “Prince really fucked up.” I replied, “What?” He said, “Yeah. Prince fucked up. We’re not going to release that. It sounds like a demo. There is no bass, no echo. There’s nothing. It sucks.” I hung up the phone, and I was so brokenhearted. I was really down. Luckily enough, Prince had enough pull because of Purple Rain. He told Warner Bros., “You’re going to put that out, or I’m not giving you another single.” So they had to put it out, reluctantly. A year later, all they were trying to do was to find songs just like “Kiss.” It was cool for me to be involved musically with the creation of Prince’s song.
Susan Rogers: On “Kiss,” we were at Sunset Sound, and [Revolution bassist] Brown Mark had a band that were friends of his that he was bringing up through the ranks. They were called Mazarati. They were a local Minneapolis band. I think Prince signed them to Paisley Park Records. While Prince and I were working in Studio 3 at Sunset Sound, Prince booked time for Brown Mark and David Z in Studio 2 across the courtyard to work with Mazarati on their album. They needed another song for it. So Prince and I stopped what we were doing, and Prince took an acoustic guitar, which was something he almost never did, but he picked up this Ovation acoustic guitar and he banged out this song really fast. We put it on cassette. It was really a demo recording, which is also something else he never did. It was him doing the basic idea for “Kiss” on acoustic guitar. We sent the tape over to Studio 2. David Z and Brown Mark came up with this great track, and the guys from Mazarati did the backing vocals. David Z came up with the famous chords for the song. They brought the track back, and Prince freaked out. He loved it so much. He was laughing when he said, “I’m taking that back! I’m taking that back!” [laughs] We took the tape back. It sounded great. They did a great job. Prince put his lead vocal on it, and we did the overdubs. Kudos go to Brown Mark and David Z. It was Prince’s song, but it was another collaboration for sure.
On “Anotherloverholenyohead,” I loved this song so much! It was one of the many songs that he banged out so fast. The unusual guitar sound on it came from this weird instrument made by Roland. Roland tried to make a MIDI guitar. It was horrible. Prince had an early one. It was really crap, because it wouldn’t track well. He would play a certain thing, but the sound that came out wouldn’t track your hand movements. It was really unpredictable. It was impossibly difficult to play. But he was able to coax enough sound out of it that we were able to get the lead line for that song. He came up with that beautiful piano part at the end of it. It was a really nice track.
“Girls & Boys” came together very quickly. It was a very strong song, and it was obvious that it was going to be one of the singles released from the album. It also featured the same Roland MIDI guitar thing as well.
Can you take me through your process of mixing the songs from this album for the 1986 movie Under the Cherry Moon?
David Z: To mix songs for a film is different than mixing them for an album. To mix for a record, you mix left, right, and stereo. For film, you mix left, center, right, and then surround. Back then, we were using something called a Dolby box, which routed some of the sound to the surround speakers in the back of the movie theater. Anything you pan left to right is going to be shadowed in the surround speakers a little bit. It’s kind of a different kind of mix because we had to have eight channels. We premixed down to an eight-track machine. We had drums left and right. The guitar parts were on two tracks. The keyboard parts were divided on two tracks. The background vocals were divided on two tracks. The lead vocal was on one track and the effects were on two separate tracks; so when we went in to mix the movie, there was only eight tracks that were like submasters. Then you can mix it in a theater setting. We mixed it at Todd-AO Studio back then. It was a movie theater that didn’t have any seats in it. We mixed music on one board, dialogue on another board, and sound effects on the other board. There were three sets of people working to combine all the elements. It was pretty fun.
During the mixing of the movie, I walked up to the mix studio one day, and I had to walk through the movie lot. At that time, I saw Prince talking to somebody. The person’s back was towards me. As I got closer, I was holding these big, heavy reels of tape, and as I walked up, I saw it was Michael Jackson. [laughs] I was in awe. Prince said, “David, do you know Michael?” I replied, “No. I don’t.” Michael said, “Hi, how are you?” I shook his hand. But I was still carrying these heavy tapes, and I didn’t want to interrupt their conversation. I said to Michael, “It was nice to meet you.” As I turned to leave, I heard Prince say, “Michael, he’s too busy to talk to you.” [laughs] That was his sense of humor. He said it so I could hear it. It was funny. I don’t know what they were talking about. After they were done talking, they both walked into the movie mix studio with their bodyguards. Prince had that guy named Chick, and he was huge. Michael had his bodyguard too. The mix and movie were looking and sounding good. Prince was happy.
There was a Ping-Pong table set up in the middle of the big screen and the board. This was a huge, movie-sized theater room. Prince was very competitive, and he loved Ping-Pong. He asked Michael, “Do you want to play Ping-Pong?” Michael replied, “I don’t know how to play, but I’ll play.” So they started playing Ping-Pong in front of us while we were working. I was in the process of mixing, and it was really distracting. It wasn’t just two regular people playing Ping-Pong. Everybody looked at each other, and we were like, “That’s Prince and Michael Jackson playing Ping-Pong!” At one point, Prince asked Michael, “Do you want me to slam it?” Michael replied, “Yeah. Okay.” Prince slams the ball and Michael drops the paddle and puts his hands in front of his face to protect his face. The game was over then. Michael walked out with his bodyguard and Prince was strutting around saying, “Did you see that? He played like Helen Keller.” He was so proud. [laughs] It was just the way he was. He was a very funny guy. He had a great sense of humor. We used to do all kinds of practical jokes, which if he was still alive, he wouldn’t want me to tell.
What was one of the practical jokes that you guys pulled off together?
David Z: We’d go out to these fancy restaurants with these white tablecloths. We’d bring a mini squirt gun, and we’d take turns lifting up the tablecloth and squirting up in the air over the tables next to us while laughing. Some guy would be wiping his head and saying “What the hell?” After a couple times, one of the guys called the waiter over and said, “You know, your air-conditioning is broken. It is leaking all over me.” [laughs] We laughed our asses off. It was typical of the fun we had together. It was so hard because we couldn’t burst out loud laughing. They would’ve known something was up, if we did. We couldn’t stop smiling during the whole dinner. It was great.
Do you have another one of those stories?
David Z: I have a few. I’ll give you a short one. One day, he called me out to his house. He had a studio in his house on the lake in Minnesota. I drove out to his house, and for some reason, it was ninety-eight degrees that day. I wore a really loud Hawaiian shirt with palm trees, toucan birds, island greens and blues. I never wore stuff like that. I came into the studio and he said, “We’re going to edit ‘Erotic City.’ ” That was the name of the song he was working on. We had to cut it down because it was really long. So the tape machine I was cutting on was underneath these big, huge speakers that were in the ceiling. I was trying to cut on the bass drum and make splices. I said to him, “I’m having a rough time hearing the kick drum under the speakers like this.” He responded, “Well, that’s because your shirt is too loud.” [laughs]
As you look back on the significance of the album three decades later, how do you feel about Prince and being involved in the making of such a compelling album?
David Z: I’ve been involved with a few hits, but when a song gets so big, it is something you never expect to happen, especially after the conversation I had over the song “Kiss.” I never thought it would have such a huge impact on music. But it did. It’s almost like, when you hear the song playing on the radio or in the club, you’re like, “I didn’t have anything to do with that.” [laughs] You take a step back and say what the hell. The power of the media made everyone aware of it. That’s what was amazing to me was the power of the media. When you create a song, you’re doing it for yourself. Making music is something we do for ourselves as musicians. If it makes us happy, then that’s great. Luckily, it coincides with the public’s taste. It’s amazing how everyone gets inundated with your song and the power of the media was fantastic. Whenever I’d work on something, I’d always think about what Prince would think. He was the guy I compared everything to. His opinion on things was my beacon of goodness. I really miss him.
Susan Rogers: The outpouring of attention, respect, and affection that we’ve seen after his passing is something I never would’ve imagined in my wildest dreams. What he received in public adoration is what I thought he deserved. I wished he would’ve had more of that during his lifetime. I’m very grateful to see that the public is recognizing what an important figure he was in American music. I was grateful then and aware of how lucky I was every minute [of] every day to be working with that guy. It was not lost on me at all. I was a fan of his before I began working for him. I believed he was great very early on. To look back on it now, I think the public got this one right. There is no mistake in recognizing the importance and brilliance of this American musician. He is dearly missed by all of us.