“We’re still a group, right?” – Bobby Z in Purple Rain
Prince played with many different bands over the course of a career that spanned almost forty years. His most celebrated and iconic allies, though, will always be the Revolution, the group that backed him during his rise to fame on his greatest work, including 1984’s world-conquering film and soundtrack Purple Rain. Now, a year after Prince’s tragic, incomprehensible death, the “movie band” version of the Revolution is going back on tour, to honor the life and music of the greatest artist of his generation.
“We’ve been really quiet since he passed,” says guitarist Wendy Melvoin, “and we did that consciously, because we were grieving and didn’t want to be disrespectful. But the fans wanted the chance to feel the energy of what that time period was, and we want to let them experience what we were as a band for him.”
Keyboardist Lisa Coleman adds, “hopefully, it will help us heal, and the fans heal, to experience the music we played together, as close to the real deal as you can get.”
The Revolution formed in 1979 when Prince joined forces with drummer Bobby Z and keyboardist Matt Fink. Over the next four years, several different configurations of the group would emerge, until finally Prince found settled on the legendary final line-up—Coleman, Melvoin, “Doctor” Fink, Bobby Z, and bassist Brown Mark.
Though Prince first teased the band’s name on the 1999 album cover, the Revolution was given the full spotlight on Purple Rain, which went on to sell more than 20 million copies, spend 24 weeks at Number One on the album charts, and win two Grammys and an Oscar. The project marked the first time ever that an artist had a Number One album, single, and film simultaneously.
Following a tour that put them in front of sold-out stadium crowds, the Revolution backed Prince on his next two groundbreaking albums, Around the World In a Day and Parade. The group’s final recording on a Prince album is the show-stopping live track “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night” on 1987’s Sign O the Times.
But after Prince moved on to other accompanists, the members of the Revolution stayed in close contact. “We never have been apart as a band,” says Brown Mark. “We’ve all been in touch, including contact with Prince, and he even talked about us all playing again.”
“Back in 2014, Bobby and I met with Prince,” says Fink, “and he opened the meeting with his desire to reunite with the Revolution for some future shows. Sadly for us, this did not come to fruition, which makes our reunion all the more poignant.”
“We’re the ones that he held on to,” says Coleman. “We walked on the moon together—he would say, ‘You guys are the only ones who know what I know about this.’” Bobby Z notes that “we were together in this band, together as a gang, and it’s rarefied air up there.”
In the intervening years, all the members continued to have successful musical careers. Melvoin and Coleman never stopped working together, initially as recording artists and then as in-demand, Emmy-winning composers of movie and television scores. Bobby Z and Fink remain staples of the Minneapolis music scene, working with local, national, and international talent out of their own studios; Bobby also hosts a popular weekly radio show. Brown Mark founded and led the band Mazarati and currently produces several projects with his production company BrownmarkNation.
After Prince’s death in April 2016, the Revolution immediately re-connected, but stayed out of the public eye until a series of three triumphant, emotional shows at the historic First Avenue club in September. Fans flew in from around the world to witness the band at the site where the concert scenes in Purple Rain were filmed.
“When we played those shows, I choked up every single night,” says Brown Mark. “But now, I’m past that stage of it—now I’m looking at my happy times, remembering being a kid, joining this huge band and starting out a journey in my life I did not ever expect.”
When they were approached to perform at Paisley Park as part of the celebration of Prince’s life on the first anniversary of his passing, they decided it was time to take the Revolution show back on the road.
“I think everybody in the Revolution is singular, not like anybody else,” says Melvoin. “So while we still have a shot at getting that same feeling, let’s do it with as much grace and integrity as we can. We’re still a band, still vital human beings, so let’s play this stuff before we can’t anymore.”
“Prince said that music is medicine,” says Bobby Z. “People need it, and we need it. In honor of him, we’ll give it everything we’ve got.”