I’m not trying to invoke that Prince who passed away so unexpectedly was a country music artist at all, but his genius definitely left a mark even in country music. I remember in the mid to late 80’s an editorial board meeting of our “Country Music” publication in Switzerland, when editor Charles “Chuck” Steiner claimed that Prince is annoying his band members by listening to country music on his tour bus. Chuck, who was quite old-school and had met Hank Williams on his European USO tour and still had a strong connection to the “old” Nashville of the 50’s and 60’s put that bold remark with a big smirk into the room and watched us whipper snappers in our twenties and thirties gasp for air. We couldn’t believe it, the Purple One being associated with the rather strict musical environment that Nashville still was. He even mentioned that he wrote songs under a pseudonym for country artists.
Kenny Rogers – You’re My Love
It sounded like to much of a tall tale and with emerging artists like Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle and Randy Travis we never even investigated the “rumor” and enjoyed the reemergence of a more traditional sound that started to flood the airwaves in 1986.
Deborah Allen – Telepathy 1987
Some years later, I was already living in the States, somebody (my memory fails me here) told me about Joey Coco and a little research without google or the internet at the time revealed that this was really the Purple One, or TAFKAP by then, who wrote these songs. Kenny Rogers had recorded “You’re My Love” for his 1986 album “They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To”, all in all a forgettable LP, if it wouldn’t be for the title track, who won a Golden Globe. Deborah Allen tried to do the right thing, but her adaptation of the Coco song “Telepathy” of the album by the same name, pretty much burned her career and relegated her back into songwriting and background vocal singing. Rumor is that he not only wrote but also orchestrated and produced the song in 1987. That song and it’s musical arrangement could have been a hit in the early 80s, but the flags were now definitely flying on the traditional breeze and made the whole a single a non-entity.
Red Dirt Rangers – 1999
Some years later I booked and toured Europe with Buck Owens revival act The Derailers and the fathers of the Red Dirt Sound, The Red Dirt Rangers. Sharing more or less the same age within a decade or so with these musicians, we all grew up listening to Prince, so it wasn’t really that surprising that “Raspberry Beret” found it’s way on Tony and Brian’s 1997 album “Reverb Deluxe” (Watermelon) and “1999” was featured by the Okies on their album “Ranger’s Command” (SOB) two years later. Both albums were released on small Austin based labels and reflected the openness towards a more inclusive, innovative style Nashville had forgotten by then and turned it’s back on, after the rise of megalomaniac Garth Brooks.
Derailers – Raspberry Beret
Thanks to David Mansfield, the former country music editor for “USA Today” I became aware today that one hit wonder “Just Got Started Loving You” (2007), James Otto actually recorded a decent rendition of “Purple Rain.” Several rumors indicate that several people urged Prince to give that song to Kenny Rogers too, as it sounded like a “country music song.” Whatever. Instead of playing the just released tribute by Otto, I actually found a live version by him doing this song, recorded almost three years ago, in a live performance at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace in Bakersfield. And according to the belt-buckles being shined the people there didn’t mind to hear the Purple One.
Neither did we growing up. Prince was an all-round musician and creative mind who left this planet way too early.
James Otto – Live Crystal Palace, Bakersfield – Purple Rain – 8/21/14