It’s been nearly 400 days since Prince passed and his former bandmate, surrogate brother and best friend still can’t quite believe that he’s gone. To be fair, Prince seemed so immortal and supernaturally ordained that death seemed impossible.
If you said that Prince had been resurrected from a purple tomb and is currently sailing across the heavens playing psychedelic guitar on a velvet unicorn, I’d nod my head and mumble, “Sounds accurate.” Cymone’s feelings aren’t entirely dissimilar.
“I’ve had a really hard time believing that he’s not here,” he says. “I know Prince really, really well, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was. Obviously, he’s not and that’s something I have to accept.”
André Cymone’s and Prince’s paths were inextricably linked. The pair met in a junior high school gym class and immediately bonded over a mutually intense music obsession. They jammed that first day at Prince’s house and discovered that their fathers had previously played in a band together.
Cymone procured the first guitar that Prince ever had to himself. When things got rough at Prince’s house, Cymone invited the elfin prodigy to live with his family. They bonded over The Association and The Monkees. In their first group together, Grand Central (later called Champagne), and then in Prince’s pre-Revolution band, Cymone played bass and attracted almost as much attention as his closest partner.
“He was doing a damn good job
Prince’s original Warner Bros. deal came about through his first producer and engineer, Chris Moon — but Cymone corrects a historical misperception.
“Our band came in with a demo tape and [Moon] said, ‘You guys are pretty good’ — not, ‘That guy is really good,’” Cymone recalls, looking at least two decades younger than 58, rakishly clad in a black vest and a tan hat with a black bandanna underneath.
Moon asked Cymone to record solo tracks, but their manager warned the band to route any inquiries through him. So Cymone told Moon to talk to their manager. Prince did not, and the rest is history.
Cymone toured with Prince through the Purple One’s first three albums before embarking on a solo career that produced a troika of LPs suffused with overlooked funk gems — including his biggest hit, 1985’s Prince-penned “Dance Electric.”
Around that time, Cymone’s local fame grew so suffocating that he opted to move to L.A., where he’s resided for 32 years. In that span, he’s produced for Tom Jones, Adam Ant and Jody Watley (including co-writing and co-producing one of her biggest hits, “Looking for a New Love”). He’s operated a studio, mentored young artists, studied screenwriting and raised his children.
Throughout, Cymone and Prince remained close, but the long shadow of the greatest musician of the last 40 years continued to shroud him — partially explaining his 27-year break between albums.
“He was doing a damn good job, so I figured I’d do something different,” he says. “But I always said, ‘If he ever stops …’”
The comeback began before Prince’s passing, but Cymone’s relevance has grown since then. His powerful new album, 1969, draws parallels between the political upheavals of the Nixon era and the roiling madness of today. He’s performed at several Prince tributes and continues to honor his late friend’s legacy.
“When I finished this album, I was like, ‘I can’t wait to play this for Prince,’ because through the years, he’d call me out of the blue sky and play me albums, and I’d do the same,” Cymone says. “There are a couple of songs and weird dissonant guitar parts and phrasings that only he would get. I just wish he could hear them.”
[Editor's note: This article has been corrected since it was originally published as follows: Cymone and Prince met in junior high school, not high school as originally noted; their first band together was originally called Grand Central and then later changed its name to Champagne; and conversations regarding Prince's demo tape took place between Prince, Cymone and Chris Moon, not with a Warner Bros. A&R rep as originally described. We regret the errors.]