Morris Hayes on 'Indigo Nights'

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Morris Hayes, longtime keyboardist/music director for the New Power Generation, talks about one of the high points of his time with Prince. (MPR)
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Morris Hayes speaks on Indigo Nights
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Covering musical and personal ground, New Power Generation keyboardist/musical director Morris Hayes and Purple Current host Sean McPherson taped a marathon interview — more than two hours, all told — so we're sharing it album by album. Here's the sixth of ten.

Indigo Nights

You're tuned to Purple Current. My name is Sean McPherson. I'm chatting with Morris Hayes, fantastic keyboard player and longtime keyboard player with Prince, and in this new batch of music that was recently made much more easily available on streaming services, there's some incredible live moments you were a big part of. So two standout releases — One Nite Alone..., disc 3, the after show disc, and then Indigo Nights, which captures some incredible performances and was released in 2008. This is some of the most exciting stuff to come out, because at a time where Prince was many things in the studio and very exploratory and pulling out different things, he was so fundamentally sound as a live performer, and still adventurous. You had a lot to do with that. I wanted to ask you about that residency that Indigo Nights comes from, how the band was sounding, and the differences in aftershow performances and primary performances. Set the scene for me.

I have to tell you, it was one of the greatest periods in my career with Prince. I think two periods that was really incredible for me was Las Vegas, when we did the Rio in 2007, and then he got this whole fever about hey, this is cool. We can set up shop in one place and people come to us? This is great.

I remember him telling me, "Morris, bring your car out," because he had just got this Bentley, and I had a little convertible like this little Lexus convertible, and he said, "Yeah, man, you should bring your car out and we can be tooling around Vegas," and it just was a lot of fun for him because like now we've got this place, our gear stays set up, it's just our place, and we go play and then we go to our aftershow. We got stuff over there. It was like heaven for him.

We had a really nice place that he was staying. Palazzo Suites was amazing. You get this whole apartment hotel room, and he loved it. He could do all of his things.

It was a turnover crowd, so it was really cool. I recall that when we got to London at the O2, this thing is that on a massive scale because you got 20,000 people a night. So by the time that thing's over there's a half million people almost, like 480,000-some people that's come to the show. And it's just amazing. We got our studio set up; I had my own room at the O2. I could get in and out of there at any hour as long as I didn't have to worry about the tube and everything. I could stay over in my room. It was amazing because we had all of these artists come through, opening for us, and all these people that came to the show, and then we'd go do this thing. One of the nights Amy Winehouse was there. It was amazing — Beverley Knight and all the people that would come through, and just made something really special out of all those nights.

I just recently had a show there a few weeks ago, maybe three weeks ago, and it was really powerful just to walk through those halls and feel those feelings and see the room where he used to sit and his dressing room, and to go back on that stage where so many magical moments happened.

So many of those magical moments involved a level of freedom in material and arrangement. When you listen to Indigo Nights it seems like in a lot of ways Prince was comfortable to step back and let Shelby J. carry a tune.

Absolutely.

And very selfless and let the band carry a lot of that energy. You have somebody who's a incredibly demanding bandleader who also wants tons of freedom. How do you navigate that?

I really think at the end of the day that was a powerhouse band. At this point one of my favorite — Prince had so many great keyboard players, and I got a couple that always used to blow me away. Renato Neto came with us at this point, and Renato is just unbelievable. This kid, you just sit him down and just turn him loose and he can do whatever he feels like. He's like Rosie on piano. She could sing whatever she felt like, and he could play whatever he felt like.

I think Prince was confident with the players. Greg Boyer was on trombone, and I called him the Dalai Lama because this dude is a genius too. He just had an amazing confidence in the band and the people that was playing, that he just would let us loose. For him, it was like he was the ringleader of Ringling Brothers. He's like I got all of these acts and all these people here that I know I can just turn it loose, and I can just flitter around and do what I want to do and come in and out and weave in and out of the tapestry. And I think that's what he liked about that situation, is that he had freedom. He had the ability to just let it go and not worry about somebody falling off the cliff without him, and he just would do it. I think that was an amazing thing.

I'm chatting with Morris Hayes, longtime keyboard player with Prince, and we're talking about some of the live releases and particularly focusing in on Indigo Nights, and you get a lot of shine on the record, but "All The Critics Love U in New York." He drops is down and you're just carrying this clavinet riff. And the band throughout this process sounds like a human mixing board with Prince pushing the channels — bringing you guys up and down. I want you to level with me. How much are these legitimate off-the-cuff audibles? Bass drum and trombone.

That's all real time. That's him. That whole vibe — and it's kind of crazy because I always used to — this is funny to me — Prince never mentioned me on records, like you got Barbarella in the house and all that. He never mentioned me on records, but that clav part there, and really, it hearkens back to what got me the gig in the first place.

When I first started with Prince I was in Carmen Elektra's band opening for him, and he had a birthday party jam. He had my band jam with him, like he had the NPG just step aside and just got my band in and thought he'd try these guys out. And some of us did okay, and some of us not so okay. He's like okay let's bring NPG back up. We were all leaving with heads hung low, and he said, "Morris, you stay." And the other guy, Jason Peterson. He said, "You guys stay."

For whatever reason I'd just learned "Gett Off" — the clav part, just like "Gett Off" — the club version. And they played it and I just happened to be there. I'm like oh, I know this. And I just played it. And what I did, rather than try to be like everybody — jump off the cliff or try something and not go well, I just played the part. And it's just [sings]. And it's like the fact when he gave me a spot to do it and not blow it — because when you make a mistake, then he's not real happy. So if you just try — if you're ambitious and you know you're not sure and you do something and you got dog nose, then it's going to be like whawhawha. And it's like man, you just blew it before the whole galaxy. And what I did was I just said I'm nervous, I'm going to do what I know. And that part, I think he said okay this dude locked it in and just kept it straight ahead, and he didn't kill himself.

And then when we came to Indigo Nights and got to that, it was like I could've tried to do some other stuff, but I just said I'm going to sit in the pocket and just play the groove and just lock it in. And that just made him happy, just like dude — because his whole thing is like you don't have to be Herbie Hancock. You don't have to be Chick Corea. Just be solid. Just be in the zone that you need to be in and do you — do what feels good and do what's going to be right. He wanted you to play right and just respect the music, and I think that's what the thing is with that. He liked it. I liked it, and it was just one of those moments.

I tip my hat to you because Indigo Nights is an incredible specimen of a band in incredible shape and incredibly adventurous. A lot of times, when the band gets that well-rehearsed, they also get tired. You guys sounded so lively. Maybe it's because you didn't have to travel on the bus for a bunch of hours.

We didn't. Everybody — we had our own apartments. It was great food. It was a dream, man. It was like the ultimate gig where you died and went to gig heaven. That was it. I only had to move out of my room when the Rolling Stones or Elton John came through. And they didn't even move me. They moved everybody else's stuff, and I only had to move when the Rolling Stones came. So we had that week off, and I'd go see the Rolling Stones.

From a country kid from the middle of the woods I'm like it don't get any better than this. This is life at its finest. So you just learn to be grateful and enjoy the ride and be humble about the fact that it's you instead of some other people that's so much better than you. I knew it was a blessing to be there because there's some cats that could eat my lunch bucket. But I'm here, so I'm grateful. That's what it was for me.

Hosted by Sean McPherson
Audio by Michael DeMark
Video by Steel Brooks and Cecilia Johnson
Web feature by Cecilia Johnson

Morris Hayes on Prince's 1995-2010 discography


The Gold Experience (1995)Crystal Ball (1996)Emancipation (1996)Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic (1999)The Rainbow Children (2001)Indigo Nights (2008)Musicology (2004)3121 (2006)Planet Earth (2007)20Ten (2010)


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