Tuesday, September 4, 2012

We are Family- Prince's The Family Returns as fDeluxe

Any of you eighties aficionados remember “The Family?”  It was an off-shoot group formed post-Purple Rain by Prince with members of two bands in his revue: Morris Day and the Time and the Revolution.

Last year, four of The Family's five original members decided to reform the group. Now calling itself fDeluxe, the group last September released  Gaslight, its first CD in over 25 years.

And last week the group reached another plateau, performing its latest single, “You Got What You Wanted,” before an audience at Washington, D.C.’s Howard Theatre  only a day after the song's official release. The performance took place while fDeluxe was opening for yet  another star in the Prince universe: Sheila E.

The core members of fDeluxe (the old name was off-limits for reasons we’ll discuss later) are drummer/guitarist Jellybean Johnson, a one-time member of the Time who in recent years has  traded licks with blues musicians Ronnie Baker Brooks and Bernard Allison; singer Susannah Melvoin, twin sister of Revolution guitarist Wendy Melvoin and one-time fiancé of Prince; saxophonist Eric Leeds, previously a member of Madhouse, a Prince project that focused on jazz/rock fusion and singer/bassist St. Paul Peterson, who started playing with the Time while still in high school and who comes from a family of jazz musicians.

Prince formed the original group, which  then also included Jerome Benton of the Time, in 1985 with Peterson as the lead singer.

“When we were filming Purple Rain, our dressing rooms were right next to Prince’s and Morris and I used to have these little sing-offs,” Peterson told SoulTrain.com last year.

“I’m guessing this is where Prince heard me sing. When the Time disbanded (with the departure in 1985 of Day, guitarist Jesse Johnson, keyboardist Mark Cardenas and bassist Jerry Hubbard), Prince gathered everyone who was left and we talked and he said, ‘I want to do a new band and I want you to be the lead singer.’ And he pointed at me. So that was how that baby began—the dissolution of the Time and him having a creative outlet for some other songs.”

Internal pressures soon led to The Family’s dissolution, but not before it had released The Family, an album that includes the 1985 hit “Screams of Passions.” Another song, “Nothing Compares 2 U,” was covered by Sinead O’Conner.

The members moved on with their lives, with Peterson releasing songs as a solo artist; Melvoin first joining the Revolution, then taking up songwriting and Johnson and Benton rejoining a re-formed Time. Leeds, meanwhile, played with Sheila E’s E Train group and also garnered accolades from critics with a series of solo albums, but reportedly left music for a while to become a railroad engineer.

But in 2003, Sheila E invited the group to do a charity benefit in San Francisco.  According to the  Minneapolis Star Tribune, it took only one hour of rehearsal for the old juices to start flowing again. When the session was over, Melvoin and Peterson agreed to “finish what we started” and  the family--most of it anyway--was reborn.

Still, things did not really get underway until 2007, when the Roots invited the group to play at its annual pre-Grammy party.  There, they were told by Roots drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson that The Family was one of his ten favorite records.

The name change to fDeluxe came after Prince reportedly turned down requests from Melvoin and Peterson to use the old name.

Group members spent personal funds to finance Gaslight, which derives its name from a 1940’s film starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman.

They describe their sound as “adult pop music.” “We don’t have any illusions about this music appealing to younger kids,” Leeds told SoulTrain.com.  “The goal and the challenge are to get this music in front of people who will enjoy it.”

At the Howard, the audience was eager to hear "You Got What You Wanted":

The group also played “Sanctified:”

And my personal favorite of the evening was this one:

Of course, we can’t let you go without sharing a little bit of what the extraordinary Sheila E gave the Howard that night:









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