When one thinks of the '80s Minneapolis music scene, one thinks of Prince and Morris Day. Everyone, of course, has seen Purple Rain.
But don't forget about André Cymone. He began playing music with Prince when they were 13. He went on to introduce Prince and Day.
“I had a lot to do with the Minneapolis thing becoming something, and I paid a lot of dues,” says the now-55 Cymone, over coffee at a Los Feliz cafe.
He moved to Los Angeles from Minneapolis in 1985. He remains an incredible live performer, and recently released the blues-tinged rock and roll album The Stone, his first solo record after a 29 year hiatus.
He and Prince met in junior high school, and began to jam together. “We went to his dad's house and Prince started playing piano and the dude was unbelievable. I thought, 'Wow, he can really play.'”
It wasn't long before the pair formed a band (which Morris Day ultimately joined) and would compete in battle of the bands competitions. They played anywhere they could, including relatives' book club meetings. “I still have our rehearsal tapes and demos and all kinds of stuff. We had a lot of fun. I think we had more fun before it became worldwide.”
Growing up in public housing in Minneapolis, the youngest of six children, Cymone became proficient in the “five finger discount,” snatching everything from instruments to bicycles.
In fact, he originally changed his name from Andre Simon Anderson to André Cymone to keep his past at bay. “I didn't want the street to catch up with me. I wanted to have a different name. I wanted a buffer, having been a hustler.”
When his family moved to a better neighborhood, he says people's parents didn't want their children spending time with him. “Prince's mom forbid him to hang out with me. Eventually he ran away and came to live with us, and eventually my mother actually adopted him. So he lived with us for years.”
After playing bass for Prince, who had signed to Warner Bros, Cymone veered on to his own path in the early '80s. “I had told Prince that I would play in his band until he was established and then I'd go do my own thing. The idea of being in someone's band… I never wanted to be 'the bass player.'”
He says he turned down bass-playing gigs with Carlos Santana and Al Jarreau. But after three solo records and a top 10 R&B song “The Dance Electric” – written by Prince – Cymone was frustrated with his record label dealings. And so he turned to producing artists including his then-wife Jody Watley, Tina Turner, Adam Ant and Tom Jones.
Cymone says he could have made a nice living just doing that. But, he says, he's long thought of music as a powerful tool for addressing important issues. Thus, The Stone, which Cymone says is about stripping away the material world in favor of prioritizing family, people, and the environment.
“I realize what my purpose is. I get it now. I didn't get it before. I realized that there is a reason why I am here and I've been given the gift and talent that I have,” he says.
“I am blessed and I appreciate it. I understand you can't just jump into this thing after a long hiatus and think everything will just fall into place how you want it. I have to pay a certain amount of dues and I'm totally willing to do whatever it takes, because I feel confident.”
André Cymone plays the Three of Clubs tonight, June 12