Flashback Friday: Prince and the Revolution triumphed during awards season in 1985

February 22, 2019 03:06 PM

The 1985 awards season came at a time of tremendous triumph for Prince and the Revolution.

"Purple Rain," the musical drama starring the Minnesota music icon and his band, had been released the year before. And at one point during the summer of 1984, Prince became the first artist to have the top film, album and single ("When Doves Cry") all at the same time.

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The "Purple Rain" soundtrack has gone on to sell more than 20 million copies, and it spawned four U.S. top 10 singles - including two No. 1 hits ("When Doves Cry" and "Let's Go Crazy") and another that reached No. 2 ("Purple Rain").

Already a star, "Purple Rain" vaulted Prince to iconic status, and when early 1985 rolled around, he and the Revolution were in the midst of a massively successful tour (including five shows at the St. Paul Civic Center in late December, 1984) that featured guest appearances from fellow superstars like Madonna and Bruce Springsteen.

"It was really a dream come true for all of us," said Matt 'Doctor' Fink, the Revolution's keyboardist who first joined Prince's then-unnamed band in the late 1970s.

"From really 1978 (the year Prince's debut album was released) until that time in 1985, a lot of hard work had led up to those amazing series of moments."

And the moments continued as 1985 got underway. At the American Music Awards on Jan. 28, "Purple Rain" won for Favorite Pop/Rock and Soul/R&B album, while "When Doves Cry" won for Favorite Soul/R&B song. And Prince and the Revolution performed a stirring version of "Purple Rain."

Then came the 1985 Grammy Awards on Feb. 26 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. 

On that night - 34 years ago this coming week - Prince took home awards for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group and Best Soundtrack for "Purple Rain," while also earning Best R&B song for "I Feel For You," which had been covered successfully by Chaka Khan.

"It was a wonderful experience to have that happen," Fink said. "To be recognized by your peers like that. Because that's who does the voting. It's people in the music industry. So it meant a lot to us."

But the evening's most memorable highlight came when Prince and the Revolution took the stage to perform "Baby I'm a Star."

"The Grammys were different back then," recalls Bobby Z., the Revolution's drummer. "It was still pretty old-school. They still had classical music on the show."

Indeed, the 1985 Grammys were hosted by middle-of-the-road mainstay John Denver, who had Minnesota ties of his own.

But Prince's performance - in which the band was joined on-stage by Sheila E (then on tour with them as a supporting act) and others - electrified the crowd and the worldwide viewing audience.

By the end, the stage had filled with dancers as Prince shed his shirt and took off through the crowd with the cameras struggling to keep up.

"Again, the Grammys represented a little more of the old-school back then," Bobby Z. said. "The American Music Awards embraced a little more of the pop culture. But Prince just went out there and wreaked havoc. He was the punk and the wild card. He went out into the crowd and the cameraman was chasing after him."

"It was really a complete recreation of what we were doing live on tour that year," Fink added.

"'Baby I'm a Star' would be one of the encores and Sheila E. and pretty much all of her band members would come and join our band. It turned into a jam session. And that's pretty much what happened at the Grammys too."

Of course, such a crowded stage meant his band members had to keep their eyes out for cues.

"I can remember just looking out and trying to find him in the crowd," Bobby Z. said. "But it was an incredible performance."

"Really, that whole period felt like reaching the championship. It was Super Bowl-like. You felt like you'd made it to a whole new level. There were so many incredible memories. I used to say I had to put it all into a memory freezer in my brain. Because each day was more exciting than the last."

The successful sweep through awards season continued the following month when "Purple Rain" took home Academy Awards for Best Original Song Score and Best Original Musical.

The Purple Rain-era Revolution remained with Prince through 1986 before going their separate ways. But in the wake of his death in 2016, the band reformed and continues to play the songs they and Prince made famous.

The Revolution just returned last weekend from a European tour, and they are again scheduled to perform at Celebration 2019, the annual event honoring Prince - set for April 25-28 at Paisley Park.

RELATED: Musical performers announced for Celebration 2019 at Prince's Paisley Park

"Looking back on those days, you just remember how exciting it was to have those opportunities," Fink said. "To be in the international spotlight that way. The Grammys were broadcast all over the world to most of the major countries.

'It was a big honor to be part of something like that."

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Frank Rajkowski

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