Posted May 9, 2017 by Jeff in Tunes

The Revolution is Coming to Your Town

The Revolution
The Revolution

Best known as Prince’s backing back, the Revolution formed in 1979 when Prince joined up with drummer Bobby Z. and keyboardist Matt Fink. After a few lineup changes, the final line-up included Lisa Coleman on keyboards/piano, Wendy Melvoin on guitar and BrownMark on bass. The band played on the Prince albums Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day and Parade; some members also played on 1999. Together, they turned out multiple No. 1 hits; “Purple Rain” even won a Grammy for Best Original Song Score in 1985. After Prince passed away in April of 2016, The Revolution came back together for three special sold-out shows at First Avenue in Minneapolis.  After regrouping to perform at Paisley Park on the first anniversary of Prince’s death, the group decided to take the show back on the road. Bobby Z. phoned us from his Minneapolis home to talk about the band’s reunion.

Talk about what first drew you to the drums when you were a kid.
I was imitating my brother David Z.’s band. He had an amazing drummer in his high school band, which was pretty rare at that time. The Beatles had just hit. He was into Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary and the Kingston Trio. Before the Beatles hit, we had music in our house. He had this amazing drummer. He wasn’t like Ringo or Keith Moon or anything. This guy had military style training. I was fascinated by the drum coordinating techniques. It’s like learning math at the same time. I took to it right away. I became fascinated with not only the drum sounds but the drum playing and started when I was only six years old.

Take me back to the first time that you met Prince. What were your initial impressions?
Comical. There was one studio we all hung around. To call yourself a musician after high school was a serious thing. We hung around Chris Moon’s studio. That was the beginning of the whole enchilada, if you will. I was walking down the hall. I was doing a session in Studio B. These were primitive studios back then. Microphones were there and it was just an eight-track. On this day, I heard the most glorious sound. It turned out to be the song “Baby.” I looked in and saw the Afro. I got just side eyes, like we all know now. Not the turn of the head. I’m me, so I walked in and said, “What’s going on?” Chris Moon walked in and said, “No. This is Prince.” I was like, “What?” Already he had created an aura around him. You couldn’t penetrate it. I got a couple of laughs out of him. That was the beginning of a 43-year-old friendship. I loved to make him laugh. It was the best feeling in the world. He was playing with Morris Day but that distilled down to just Prince and André [Cymone]. The two people who came out of my high school were Matt and me. I don’t know if you want to call us the cream of the crop but we were driven. André and Prince were so ahead of us in some many ways. They live and breathe this stuff. We were just trying to play six nights a week and make some money. We were musicians. Prince and André would figure out poses. They took it so seriously. I thought he would make it just because he was so driven.

Did you know the songs would become hits?
At that point, you didn’t doubt his songwriting ability. When I heard “When Doves Cry” in the studio it was so powerful. It felt life-changing at the time.

As Prince began incorporating more electronic drums and synths, how did your role in the band change?
I was kind of the first guy who had to take care of the robots. Eventually me and a guy came up with the first interface to play electronic drums from a machine. It wasn’t even invented yet. I found it fascinating and incorporated it into drumming in a pioneering way. It certainly was an non-traditional role but it came with the job. Now, they can’t sell enough of the machines.

I still like a good drummer.
That’s certainly the correct thing to do.

Talk about the Revolution and what made that band so special.
Me and Matt, we started with Prince after he had fired his manager in the ‘70s. I was committed to Prince one hundred percent and so was Matt. Other people were just in for a time. That wasn’t for me.  You can’t go as far as you want to go like that. I was happy when Lisa came and then Wendy, which rounded out his Fleetwood Mac-like vision of the band.

You had a heart attack in 2010. What’s the road to recovery been like?
You learn quite a bit and you learn that meds are life-saving. Losing a little bit of weight and cutting out the booze are difficult but common sense.

What was your last performance with Prince like? I think you sat in with him in 2013.
Very emotional. To recover from the heart attack and have him be such a huge supporter, that’s a friend in action. People got to see it. It was very incredible.

What were the shows in the wake of Prince’s death like?
You go through the motions and can’t believe what you’re doing. It’s like trudging through mud. You think, “How can this possibly be?” With our comrades and the fans cheering us on, we figured we were all in the same boat. We were all lost.

How did the concept for the tribute tour come to fruition?
Paisley asked us to play the celebration on the 21st. That was a pretty heavy responsibility. Every time we go through the effort to put these shows together, it’s one and done. We decided that this time we want to take the train out of Minneapolis. There are other people around the country feeling the same way. We need to spread Prince’s love and our love for him. This is the only way we know how to do it. It’s ambitious.

What do you hope people get out of it?
I think it’s really interesting when you play these songs. Everyone has heard “Let’s Go Crazy” a million times. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not here. There’s a hole in the stage the size of Texas. When you hear the music by his backup musicians, for lack of a better word, in its authentic form. It’s different than what you thought. It’s a song you never thought you’d hear live again. It’s fun to bring that on people and great to watch the smiles come out. It’s amazing. It’s beautiful.

Upcoming 2017 Shows

May 12

May 14

May 16

May 18

May 20

May 21

June 14

June 15

June 16

June 17

June 21

June 22

June 23

July 12

July 13

July 14

July 15

Barrymore Theatre  – Madison, WI

The Vogue – Indianapolis, IN

Bogart’s – Cincinnati, OH

House of Blues – Cleveland, OH

Majestic Theater – Detroit, MI

Phoenix Theatre – Toronto, Ont

House of Blues – Dallas, TX

House of Blues – Houston, TX

The Aztec Theater – San Antonio, TX

ACL Live – Austin, TX

Brooklyn Bowl – Las Vegas, NV

House of Blues – San Diego, CA

Wiltern – Los Angeles, CA

The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA

Artown – Reno, NV

Roseland Theater – Portland, OR

The Showbox – Seattle, WA


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.