A Minnesota Boy's Thoughts on Prince

by Shawn Rohlf, Instructor at Studio West and The Recording Arts Center and professional musician

As a musician who started my career in the Minneapolis music scene in the mid 1980’s, it is almost impossible to measure the importance that Prince had on my life. It wasn’t just the impact he had on us young, aspiring songwriters as an artist, producer and performer; he created the stage and opened the curtains to the world by putting us on the map. I graduated from high school the year Purple Rain came out and all of a sudden the whole nation seemed to have its eyes on our little city in the middle of America. The major hubs of the music business were all paying attention to Prince, Morris Day and The Time, Vanity 6, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, which quickly led to the discovery that there was this whole other scene going on there. Groups like Husker Du, Replacements, Soul Asylum, Jayhawks and many more, made for a hidden treasure of refreshing new music with a lasting quality.

Prince’s contribution to our little cultural mecca knew no racial boundaries with all ethnicities equally benefitting, and at the same time all sharing a deep, mutual respect for one another regardless of what particular style of music we were creating. We were all just Minnesotans. And we liked music an awful lot. It did however make it extremely exciting for everyone involved to have New York and California suddenly interested in what we were doing.

He further expanded the twin cities music scene by opening Paisley Park Studios, the Glam Slam music club and filmed much of Purple Rain at the legendary First Avenue music venue. I remember being outside of a club in the Uptown area and seeing a purple Porsche parked on the sidewalk right in the front of the entrance. Of course I figured out right away what that meant and went inside to see Prince sitting at a table with his huge entourage. Yet, he seemed to emanate a warm demeanor as he modestly doled out shy smiles to club goers who were lining up and paying homage. For some reason, it wasn't exactly the vibe I was expecting. Why not? Well, he was an international pop superstar at this point, yet he still just seemed like a local hero…with no plans of leaving us any time soon. Still at his post in our new found identity. For a moment, I felt myself filling up with a sense of pride, which goes against every grain I was raised on as a Minnesota boy. My conscience took over and said “now wait just a minute mister, you stop right there!” But then my vision quickly became clear again and I thought, “Prince is sitting right there smiling at me so you know what…just for once…I’m cool too! So there!"

I think my mother would testify that since day one it’s been pretty clear that I am into this music thing for the long haul. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to have cut my teeth in the one of most exciting live music scenes of the 1980’s, which lives on and is still thriving today. These influences from my formative years are still who I very much am to this day and have never left regardless of where I have relocated or traveled. 

Thank you Prince for everything you brought into the world…and to my life personally. I am forever grateful.