SIU lecturer reflects on work with Prince

SIU+lecturer+reflects+on+work+with+Prince

By Evan Jones, @EvanJones_DE

SIU senior lecturer Todd Herreman has worked with huge names in the music industry, including Michael Jackson, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Jeff Beck and Jody Watly. But during lunch on Thursday, he received tragic news of a former star he worked with — Prince. 

“My break was the Prince gig,” Herreman said of the rockstar who was found dead in his Minneapolis home early Thursday morning. “I started working with equipment thinking I might go work for one of the big manufacturers who changing the face of making records, in doing so I sold some esoteric equipment to Prince. His manager gave me a call to recommend someone to run this equipment for Prince. I said that would be me.”

Herreman, who works in SIU’s radio and television department, started working a sampling synthesizer for Prince. From there he became a hi-tech roadie, and “keyboard babysitter” for Prince in Los Angeles, on tour in Japan, London and across Europe, and recorded in Prince’s home in Minneapolis during the late ’80s.

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“They used to call James Brown the hardest working man in show business, but Prince took that title over,” Herreman said.

Herreman said he remembers rehearsals that would last eight hours. Prince would go over soundcheck, dance numbers, and when they were finished they would get back and start recording some new songs.

“He gets a bad rap for being too tough, but he needed someone who could keep up with him — if you couldn’t you were out,” he said. 

Herreman remembered working on the album released by Prince under the name Mad House, titled “Eight.” The entire album was instrumental, with Prince improvising most of the music. They finished recording the album after working three straight days.

Only four people worked on the album — an engineer, a sax player, Prince and Herreman.

“One of the dreaded words that when you have been working for 36 hours straight, you would think Prince would be just about done, and you could get maybe an hour of sleep,” Herreman said. “Prince says in his kind-of nasal voice would go ‘Fresh Tape,’ which meant he wanted to record another song, and you’re not going to get any sleep for a while.” 

After the eighth song was finished, the sun was coming up on Monday morning, the lights were dimmed and the studio was silent — except for the sound of a completed tape smacking against the reel as it turned, Herreman said.

“Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, I had to break the silence,” he said. “I said to Prince, ‘How can you sleep at night knowing you could do stuff like that?’ And we weren’t buddy-buddy, I had been working with him every day for over a year. But there was this moment — probably because he was very tired — he said something very personal, and it explained it all. ‘Todd that’s the problem,’ he said. ‘I can’t sleep at night. God hands me a groove and I can’t throw it away.’

“It chokes me up when I hear that because he meant it. He literally thought it wasn’t him that he was channeling — that it was a gift. Whatever you believe that to be, he thought he would be doing a disservice to not record that.”

From then on, Herreman said, it was a lot easier to get out of bed when Prince was paging him at 3 a.m. in Minneapolis in 20-below weather.

Prince Rogers Nelson was 57.

Evan Jones can be reached at [email protected] or at 618-536-3325. 

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