Prince with at a almanac abundance accommodated and greet. His administrator Owen Husney pictured far right.
Last ages I talked to Prince’s aboriginal manager, Owen Husney. He was the man that apparent Prince aback he was above a jailbait active in a basement in Minneapolis, the man who brokered Prince’s aboriginal almanac deal, and who helped him accumulate the players in his band. Husney was there during the diffuse recording of Prince’s admission anthology For You, continuing abaft him aback the bullheaded 18-year-old told the characterization he capital to be the sole producer, admitting his abridgement of experience. Prince played aggregate on For You—including feel cymbals—and aftermost ages the anthology assuredly had its vinyl reissue, which is the acumen I called. I capital to acquisition out how Husney aboriginal came above the diminutive, apprenticed teen, and how For You assuredly came to fruition—all of which takes on a alpha and aching desolation in the deathwatch of Prince’s abrupt passing. Four weeks afterwards my chat with Husney, Prince was gone. It may not accept been the anthology that brought him advanced acclamation and all-embracing admiration (that came a year afterwards with his eponymous follow-up), but nevertheless, it was a d, silky-smooth accumulating beeline out the gates, but its bearing was annihilation but easy.
By the time Owen Husney met Prince Rogers Nelson in the mid-70s, he was able-bodied placed to beacon the adolescent prodigy’s career. In the 60s Husney played guitar (and managed) barn bedrock bandage The Aerial Spirits, who denticulate a hit accoutrement old dejection tune “(Turn on Your) Adulation Light”—the success of which afforded them ballyhoo and a bout of the US.
“We had the groupies, we had the babyish bus, we didn’t accept billions, but, you know, it was a appealing crazy life,” he explains. “And it was during the 60s, so there was a lot of acquaintance of advancing into being, shall we say, and we took advantage.” You can booty from that that The Aerial Spirits partied appealing hard. Afterwards the band, Husney cut his teeth in the industry by cutting abounding hats—he spent time as a music booker, but he additionally set up his own art company, creating book ads for bands; he went on bout with Sonny and Cher, and alike provided accouterment casework backstage at a Minneapolis area area anybody from Janis to Stevie to The Stones to The Who formed through.
“By the time I was managing Prince, I’d heard all of the arguments amid the artists and the managers while folding adulation in the backroom, accepting their aliment ready,” action Husney. “I was buried to a lot of these discussions, and I was able to see how a manager-artist accord array of worked.”
In 1976 Husney accustomed a alarm from his acquaintance Chris Moon, who endemic a babyish flat in the city. Moon awash Prince thusly: “I’ve got the aing greatest thing.” At the time Husney was active and blasé—he’d heard that one a actor times before—but aback he assuredly heard Prince’s demos, his absorption was piqued. The songs were baggy 10-minute workouts, but the musicianship was instantly impressive. “Boy, if I can get my easily on this,” anticipation Husney. We’ll let him booty it from here…
Owen Husney: So I asked Chris Moon, “Who was in the group?” and he said, “It’s one kid, he above angry 18, he’s arena every instrument, and he’s singing everything. I co-wrote a few curve with him, but basically he’s accomplishing all the writing.” I was like, “OK, accord me his buzz cardinal appropriate now. Period. We’re done.” [Laughs.] So I called. He was blockage with his sister in New York and they were aggravating to get a almanac accord on these demos. They absolutely would not accept gotten a almanac deal.
Noisey: Because the demos were too continued and not focused? Yeah. For sure. Both these kids had formed actual adamantine putting the demos together, but they weren’t bartering quality. Usually aback bodies are acutely able like Prince, they tend to do continued songs because they appetite to appearance everybody they can do everything. At any rate, I got on the buzz and he was actual shy, his sentences were actual abbreviate and halting, but I could acquaint above through the buzz that he was special. My alone angle to him was, “Come on back, I’ve above heard this admirers and I can acquaint you appropriate now, I accept in you. But you’re gonna accept to accept somebody that’s gonna assure you. I’ve been through the business, and it can eat you alive.” He was absolutely untested, but I believed in him.
So what was the aing step?He was still active with his best acquaintance at the time, André Cymone, in André’s mother’s basement [Cymone concluded up as Prince’s bassist for Pre-Revolution]. This was the alpha of the abatement of ’76 and he still wasn’t abiding whether he should assurance me or not, but I above started accomplishing things. Aback he aboriginal came aback from New York afterwards my buzz call, he came to my abode area I had a piano and several guitars. The minute he absolved in the door, I looked at him, and I knew intrinsically that he was the absolute deal.
What did he attending like? What were your aboriginal impressions? He was cutting jeans with an ironed bulge bottomward the average of them. [Laughs.] Some affectionate of amber boots. It was actual able-bodied put together, alike admitting they were not chic clothes, because he couldn’t allow it. He was accepting actuality appropriate abroad aback I met him, compassionate things, and he had these abundant eyes that were absolutely magnificent, and they were, I don’t appetite to say absolutely almond-shaped, but they were above admirable eyes. He had absolute aphotic eyebrows. He was not a actual alpine guy, as you know. Afresh he had a huge afro. But he was actual reserved. He apparently played guitar at my house, maybe played the piano above a little bit, but mainly he capital to talk. We were allocation anniversary added up. I could see he was a actual ablaze adolescent man. There was no bullshit: he had the affecting adeptness of a 40-year-old CEO of a company, and alike admitting he did not accept the business ancillary of it, I could see he had a focus. You apperceive Little Richard?
Yeah for sure.I’ve apparent pictures of Little Richard aback he was in a bandage afore he was Little Richard. They’re all sitting around, one of them is attractive off right, one’s attractive off left, one’s attractive down, and afresh there’s a actual adolescent Little Richard, and his eyes are laser focused on that camera. You can see the burning; you can see there’s article else. That was the activity I had about Prince. There was a focus, there was a accuracy of intelligence. He accepted concepts. And this guy was above out of North Minneapolis—he’d above accelerating aerial academy practically. Best kids that age are active cars a 150 afar an hour, accomplishing brainless things, and testing their testosterone. He was not like that. From audition the admirers and activity him in person, I knew I had to move bound and get him active to a contract.
Somebody approved to get him abroad from me and gave him a aureate guitar [as a sweetener]. Absolutely I never knew if that was BS or not but we were about to assurance the contract, and there was maybe 12 inches of snow, the wind is howling, and he comes over with addition guy. He opens up this case, and there’s this aureate guitar, and he says, “Well, somebody abroad wants to assurance me and he gave me this aureate guitar.” And I above looked at him and I said, “You apperceive what, I’m not actuality about a fucking aureate guitar. You go to that actuality and you accept him assurance you, I’m done with you, you can leave now.” I watched him airing out my aperture into the snow. I acquainted like the adulation of my activity had above absolved out on me—that I’d above befuddled her out. But I knew I had to sit tight. I couldn’t eat, it was over a weekend, and I was above like, “Oh, area is she? Area is she? Why doesn’t she call?” I was ailing to my abdomen and apparently by Monday or Tuesday I get a call, and Prince says, “Alright, let’s go. Let’s go do this.”
Did you accommodated his parents? What was their situation?He had confused out. He had a stepfather that I don’t anticipate he admired and I don’t anticipate the stepfather was decidedly nice to him, although I don’t accept the details. So he ran abroad from home and confused in with André in the basement. And André’s mother was a colonnade of the atramentous community. She was at the YMC or YWCA, administering activities and programs. She was a taskmaster. She was like, “Is your arrangement done? Are you accomplishing this? Did you get this done?” André and Prince lived in the basement and in adjustment to accept dates over, they drew a band with acrylic bottomward the average of the and Prince was not accustomed to appear into André’s part, and André was not accustomed to go into Prince’s part. They put up a curtain. [Laughs.]
Ha! So old school. So already you wooed Prince, the aing date is you brought in an attorney, and ambassador David Z [Etta James, Neneh Cherry, Billy Idol] as able-bodied as musicians to body out the band…We bare to get those songs shortened, afresh we bare money. So the advocate knew a brace of people, and I put calm a presentation kit and we went and pitched—one was a doctor, the added was an attorney, and we aloft $50,000 from them. And from there we were able to buy Prince any apparatus he needed. We got him out of the basement and into a little accommodation in South Minneapolis.
Your ad bureau was acknowledged at the time. Did you accept any apprehensions about abrogation it behind? I believed in Prince abundant to airing out of my ad agency—doing millions of dollars account of business—and above put my activity into him. I absolutely admired him as a animal being. Bodies say, “Well, wasn’t he strange?” Well, yeah, we’re all strange. I’ve never met an artisan who wasn’t strange. And so the actuality that he was a little above and quiet—not about me, but about everybody else—never agitated me. I was blessed he was that way. If he had been, “Hey, appear on over, let’s smoke a collective and accept some fun,” I wouldn’t accept managed him! [Laughs.] So eventually we active Prince to a contract, the admirers band was put together.
An absorbing adventure about the admirers tape: there’s a song that’s on the aboriginal anthology alleged “Baby” and he capital an orra. The alone orra I knew in boondocks at that point was a radio abject orra, so I brought them in. Aback I came bottomward to the flat to see how things were activity on, Prince was fit to be tied, and these guys were like 90 years old, all of them, and they couldn’t absolutely get it. [Laughs.] Prince formed with them and formed with them—I don’t apperceive how abundant he knew about autograph music at that point, but he formed with them to the point area they rewrote and charted absolutely the way he capital it. Here’s this 18-year-old kid alive with these appealing air-conditioned players, orra guys, and he rewrote those genitalia and got ’em to do it.
So now you accept the demos up to par, you pulled calm a columnist kit, and afresh you started arcade him around? Yeah I alleged Warner Brothers—I’d done some assignment for them in my ad bureau before—so I alleged aback Russ Thyret [the characterization CEO] and said, “I’m gonna accomplish up that favor to you, listen, Columbia Annal is aerial us out. Would you like to apprehend this adolescent adeptness I have? Would you like to apprehend him while I’m out actuality on Columbia’s dime?” And he was like, “Yeah, absolutely!” So now I had an arrangement at Warner Brothers to comedy and afresh I alleged Columbia, and I said, “Hey, Warner Brothers is aerial us out and while we’re actuality on their dime, would you like to apprehend the admirers of this adolescent adeptness from Minneapolis?” Afresh I alleged A&M Records, and I said, “Listen, I’m out actuality authoritative presentations to Columbia and to Warners, would you like to apprehend this?” But I consistently knew that I was gonna go to Warners. They were above the top artist-friendly characterization of that era. The added labels seemed cold. So I aria my way into accessories at all of the labels.
These canicule I advise [the business of music] at UCLA and I advise my acceptance how to lie—as continued as bodies don’t get hurt. “Hey, I saw your adherent with addition guy bottomward there at that bar!” That’s awful lying. But aback bodies don’t get aching and you can get somebody positioned—hey, accept fun!
Savvy teachings. So you had three labels interested, but Warners was the one. The accord you concluded up brokering was appealing advantageous I hear.I knew that alike admitting I capital to go to Warner Brothers I bare to accomplish this a actual affluent accord for Prince, because he bare a lot of support. I bare a behest war. And afresh eventually I would go with Warner Brothers. [Laughs.] I anticipate that we’re above the statute area they can sue me for adage this. The alone characterization that we presented to that didn’t get it was RSO Annal who had the Bee-Gees. I still accept their bounce letter: “We anticipate your artisan is talented, but we don’t anticipate there’s abundant of a approaching there, so we’re passing.” I anticipation if I could get a behest war calm I could get a shitload of money and I could get three albums to advance Prince, which they won’t do today. We got three albums aing and I’m 99 percent abiding on this: it was the better almanac accord for an ambiguous artisan in history at that point.
How abundant did you assurance for? I anticipate the able accord was able-bodied over a actor dollars. They capital to booty allotment of his publishing at the time, but I absolutely didn’t accept publishing. I above kept saying: I’m not able to accept that discussion, because I didn’t apperceive what the hell it was and I capital to run out of the activity and get a book and apprehend up on it. I knew if I said, “What is publishing?” they would accept gotten addition administrator in there immediately. Assuredly they caved and the acumen Prince owns all his publishing was because I didn’t apperceive what it was! [Laughs.]
Notoriously Prince fought to aftermath his admission anthology admitting his inexperience, but that was absolutely the battle.They capital Maurice White [founder of Earth, Wind & Fire] to aftermath and they threw out a brace of added names of people, maybe Norman Whitfield [The Temptations, Marvin Gaye]. I’ll acquaint you what was absolutely absorbing about Prince—and he was not awful about this at all—but he had already advised all of these artists, like Maurice and Norman and whoever else. He knew about them, and he didn’t appetite their banner on his sound—he capital to advance his own complete and I agreed with him. He alike wrote me a little agenda that said, “Owen, I’m actual admiring of these artists and these producers, but I can aces their music afar and I can acquaint it’s not the banner that I appetite to accept on my sound.”
So now I gotta acquaint the administrator of Warner Brothers that no one is bearing this exceptional artisan who’s never fabricated album: he’s gonna aftermath himself. I went in and fought. They agreed to adapt a analysis area they’d fly Prince out from Minneapolis and accept him almanac all the instruments himself. But I told Prince, “Hey, you’ve got some chargeless flat time, go accomplish a song.” We flew out and Prince lays bottomward a boom clue above perfectly, comes back, lays bottomward the bass guitar. Now there’s a agglomeration of bodies continuing about the studio, and he has no abstraction but they were the top producers of the era: Lenny Waronker, Russ Titelman, Eddie Templeman, additional a brace of Warner Brothers abstracts there. They were absolute away. So the analysis worked.
I absolved out into the alley and they said, “Look, he acutely knows how to accomplish a record, and it adeptness amount us a throwaway album, but he’ll get there.” There’s not a characterization in this day and age that would do that. They wouldn’t alike booty that affectionate of a chance. Prince apparently wouldn’t accept succeeded now artlessly because of the constraints they’d accept put on him. So we’d able some greatness: the better almanac accord in history at that time for a new artist, we had that new artisan be his own producer, and assertive the almanac characterization that he was gonna comedy all the instruments.
So the plan was to accumulate the able assembly in Minneapolis and almanac with the architect Tommy Vicari [Michael Jackson, Whitney, Justin Timberlake]. But afresh Vicari couldn’t do it in the flat for assorted reasons, and you didn’t appetite to accomplish Prince go to LA. In the end you compromised and planned to lay bottomward the almanac in Sausalito, above the bay from San Francisco, but that cogs didn’t absolutely run calmly in that bearings either…Right. About one anniversary into the recording in Sausalito, Prince comes home and he says to me, “I can’t assignment with the engineer.” I said, “Come on. I above got Warner Brothers to accord us aggregate we wanted, and now I gotta get rid of their engineer?! They’ll stop the project! It’s all over!” He says, “Well, you gotta blaze him. I’m gonna do it for you.”
Why didn’t he like him? He’s an absurd engineer, he’s won Grammys, he’s a best guy. It doesn’t beggarly he was bad, it above meant—he’s not on my wavelength. Here’s an absorbing activity about Prince: he has the astonishing adeptness and adeptness to blot whatever’s activity on in the room. It’s very, actual appropriate and I anticipate it’s one of his abundant attributes. Two weeks in that flat with Tommy Vicari and he got it, “OK, I apperceive how to do this.” [Laughs]. So, afresh I had to acquaint Warner Brothers.
And did they aberration out? Oh, they were freaking out. At one time Warners got nervous, because I wasn’t calling them and absolution them apperceive how things were going, that the President of Warner Brothers, and the VP of Promotion, Russ Thyret and Lenny Waronker flew up. They capital to apprehend what was activity on. Prince is recording the aboriginal song alleged “So Blue,” on For You, and there was no bass in it. Lenny says, “This could be abundant aback you get a bass on there.” And Prince looks up and says, “There will be no bass. Get out. Get out of my studio.” He above kicked the President and the VP of Promotion—the guy who’s got to get his almanac played, you know. [Laughs.] Above threw them out of the studio! And so I go out into the hallway, and my articulation is arise and they looked at me, and they said, “We get it. Let him go. Let him roll.”
Wow. That’s actual understanding. They were! That’s why Warner Brothers had so abounding hits. If you attending at Warner Brothers hits of the 70s, it’s one afterwards the next. So that was it, they never agitated us again. He spent a long, long, continued time authoritative that album, but he capital it to be perfect, which, really, you don’t appetite a absolute album, because absolute albums can be sterile; imperfections accord it depth.
Let’s allocution about some of the songs…He did a song, an a capella song alleged “For You,” it’s like, 30 Prince choir overdubbed afresh and afresh and again, and it’s above so air-conditioned and so appropriate on and it’s the aboriginal song on the album. Best of his songs, “My Adulation Is Forever,” “So Blue,” “In Love,” we had demoed afore we got out there into the big time. Prince’s focus, his ablaze creativity, I’ve apparent it actual rarely in this business area it’s that complete. I absolutely anticipate Michael Jackson’s adequately awfully ablaze for what he was able to do and address and cull off and be in allegation of what he’s done. Is Prince up there with John Lennon and Bob Dylan? Maybe, maybe not. If he’s not, he’s actual aing up in that realm. It’s a abiding career that has accomplished and he’s taken his admirers on his trip, a adventure over the years, and they’ve accomplished with you.
Do you accept any belief about recording specific songs? There’s addition song alleged “Baby” on the anthology that we additionally did as a demo. That’s the one area I brought the orra in. Picture this: this kid above angry 18, he wrote the song about accepting your adherent abundant and now what are we gonna do? And the bind that you’re faced with, and then, finally, at the end of the song, he says, “I achievement our babyish has eyes above like yours.” It’s above so tender, and you know, Prince is a badass alarm master, but there’s a amore about a lot of actuality that he writes. If you accept to the lyrics, you get chills. “So Blue” is the aforementioned affectionate of thing. I anticipate during that time, he got angry on to Joni Mitchell, and I anticipate that’s his admiration to Joni.
But afresh he additionally had this bouldered ancillary to him. Right. The aboriginal activity Prince told me afterwards we got active is he did not appetite to be alone as an R&B artist. Actual few bodies had burst bottomward the barriers afore him. Marvin Gaye, Sly and the Ancestors Stone had burst bottomward the barriers amid white and atramentous radio, but he didn’t appetite to be pigeonholed. If you were a atramentous artisan in those days, you had to go to your atramentous base, which is atramentous radio stations, and you had to body it and afresh crossover. He didn’t appetite to do that and that was exemplified on his additional anthology aback he had “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” which bankrupt through on top radio. He didn’t appetite the walls. The walls repulsed him. He above capital to accomplish abundant music and he had the adeptness to do it.
Your wife at the time was accomplishing Prince’s beard during this aeon too right? A able ancestors affair.Well, everybody moved, lock, stock, and to Sausalito and to Los Angeles, and yeah, we above took affliction of Prince because he was actual young. We above fabricated abiding he had breakfast, lunch, and dinner; that the bedding were clean, that his beard was taken affliction of. Britt would do that, alike in the letter he wrote me, he talked about Britt accomplishing his hair.
It’s so, so agrarian aback you anticipate about him actuality a teenager. It’s so wild. I don’t alike apperceive if he had his driver’s authorization by that point. Seriously. I’ve managed added bands that accept been active in the aforementioned abode for a year and accomplishing gigs—that’s one thing—but he had nothing. It was zero. There was nothing. He was active in a basement.
You currently advise at UCLA. What’s your admonition to adolescent artists? [Sighs.] You got bristles hours? Firstly, Prince is an anomaly. Not everybody is as aggressive as him and can acquaint everybody to fuck off, get their way, and accomplish it happen. I anticipate the one activity that I appetite to acquaint a lot of musicians today is, assignment with added people, get songs together, get out there, get acquaintance alive with a lot of people—don’t aperture up and above anticipate you’re gonna do it yourself, or you don’t appetite anybody to admonition you write. And look, you can booty advantage of amusing media today. There was annihilation like that in actuality during Prince’s time. There are means to use that your advantage. I’ll accord you the admonition that I accord aboriginal day of class. Accept this: there are two words to appearance business. It’s not appearance art, it’s not appearance friends, it’s appearance business. Get your fucking business ancillary together, because you will get screwed.
Regarding the Warner Brothers deal, it was for three records, but afresh aback he re-signed to them, that was the accord that he afresh concluded up rebelling against, aback he was autograph “slave” on his cheek?I can accord you assumption on that point, because I accede with Prince. Let’s say you’re an artisan and you do these aces paintings. And you appear to me and you say, “Owen, I charge money, I appetite to abdicate my job and above paint.” And I accede that you’re a abundant artisan and you should do your paintings. And you say, “Can you accommodation me some money to do the paintings?” So I accommodation you 25,000 so you don’t accept to assignment for a brace of months and you can accomplish your paintings and accomplish them phenomenal. You do that, your paintings become affectionate of famous, you pay me aback the money I leant you, but I own your paintings. That’s how the business works. You assurance to a almanac label, they accord you all this money up advanced to accomplish your album, they accord you money to advance your stuff, and if you’re successful, you pay them back. But already you’ve paid them back, they still own your shit. So I understand.
Prince brand to ascendancy things—that’s no secret—and I accede with him. It would be abhorrent to accept adroitness like he has and accept somebody own it. So he capital out from that point, but he had to change 30 or 40 years of the way the business was run to do that. Additionally I anticipate that he capital to appear out with an anthology aback he acquainted like it, and Warner Brothers, they were calling me at that time—and I was not managing him—but they were calling me, “Well, what are we gonna do? And I said, “Look, if you try to stop Prince’s creativity, you’re gonna lose him.” They acquainted he was advancing out with too abounding albums and would adulterate his audience. And Prince is a apparatus of quality. He’s a apparatus of the real. He doesn’t bandy bits out there. It’s good, able-bodied anticipation out stuff. And it adeptness be a little bit too much, and you do accept a addiction to adulterate your audience. But if you put banned on him, and put him in chains so to speak, he’ll appetite out.
There’s a law alleged abortion antique and I apperceive that he’s gotten a lot of the songs back. He capital to above own his music, and afresh authorization it to almanac labels for distribution. He didn’t appetite them owning his shit. I accept that, I absolutely do.
What is your best admired allotment of Prince memorabilia?It’s apparently a letter that he wrote to me. I don’t appetite to go into it, but it was a abundant letter, and in it, he declared his adulation for me, and what he capital to do. It was apparently appropriate about the time we were breaking up. I didn’t appetite to backpack on, I acquainted I had done my job: to booty somebody who had never been in a studio, practically, and accomplish all this happen. There was a point aback I above didn’t appetite to do it anymore, and so I told him I was out. And he wrote me a continued letter. At the time, I thought, “God, now he’s above angry into this animal prima donna.” I accomplished retrospectively now that he absolutely bare that affectionate of support. And he absolutely bare these things to be done [for him] so he could put himself 150 percent into the music. I don’t accept a able ton of stuff, but what I accept is appealing abnormally interesting. And that letter will never go anywhere. It will apparently be with me until I die.
Owen Husney is currently alive at UCLA and alive on his memoir.
Kim Taylor Bennett is a an editor at Noisey and she’s on Twitter.
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