Almost everyone has heard of Prince, but perhaps not everyone has heard of his tighter-than-otter’s-pocket band, The Revolution.
With Prince being as famous as he was, it’s easy to overlook the backing band that played alongside him. But the members of the Revolution were all very talented and contributed a substantial amount to Prince’s music.
Sly Stone, frontman in the band Sly and the Family Stone and notable funk musician, used a diverse backing band during his musical career. Prince, being a huge admirer of Stone, took a page from his book and assembled an equally diverse backing group. The Revolution became known for its diversity.
Prince formed the band after his first album. The band was mostly assembled in 1979, however, at this point, they were not yet known as The Revolution.
The Revolution was made up of musicians of different races and different genders which contributed to a rich and varied sound and a full musical experience.
The original members of the band were as follows: Prince on lead vocals, guitar and piano; Dez Dickerson on guitar; Andre Cymone on bass guitar; Bobby Z. on drums; and Gayle Chapman on keyboards and Matt Fink (also called “Doctor Fink” as he was known for wearing scrubs on stage) on keyboards.
However, the lineup would see some changes over the years.
The Revolution’s Members
Let’s take a brief look at some of the longest-standing Revolution members.
Bobby Z (Robert B. Rivkin) was the original drummer of the Revolution, from 1978-1986. As Prince was adamant about the diversity of his band, he was in search of a white drummer. This was when he decided to audition Bobby Z.
In later years, Bobby Z had to adapt his drumming techniques in order to play electric drums, which Prince was using more and more of in his songs. Talented drummer that he is, Bobby Z was able to master the electric drums as well, in studio and on stage.
Bobby Z also contributed to the composition of Prince’s albums “Purple Rain”, “Around the World in a Day”, “Parade” and “Sign O’ the Times”.
Here’s an awesome interview with Bobby Z by thefivecount, taking you all the way back to the beginning. Super interesting stuff!
Matt Fink (Doctor Fink)
Matt Fink was the keyboardist for the Revolution.
He is better known by his stage name, “Doctor Fink”, because wore doctor’s scrubs on stage during performances.
Originally, he used to wear a jailbird outfit in the live performances around 1979. However, musician Rick James was also wearing this costume on some of his performances.
Fink, not wanting to copy this, started looking for a new outfit to wear. This was when he came up with the idea of wearing scrubs. Prince loved the idea, and from then on, he was “Doctor Fink”.
Doctor Fink also helped co-write a handful of songs with Prince. These songs were “Dirty Mind”, “Computer Blue”, “17 Days”, “America” and “It’s Gonna be a Beautiful Night”.
Here’s an interesting interview going deep with Doctor Fink with Prophets Of Rock TV.
Lisa Coleman was only 19 years old when her good friend who was working with Prince’s manager introduced her to Prince. Up until this point, Coleman had been playing keyboard in her bubblegum pop band, Waldorf Salad.
Coleman auditioned and won Prince over. She was hired to the Revolution in 1980 to play on the “Dirty Mind” album, as well as on his upcoming tour.
Coleman replaced Gayle Chapman as one of the keyboardists.
Soon after, Prince met Coleman’s partner, Wendy Melvoin. Upon hearing her play guitar, he asked her to join the Revolution as a replacement to Dez Dickereson.
Coleman and Melvoin also started their own duo. They called it Wendy and Lisa and over the course of the years released 5 albums.
Check out Our Destiny by Prince & Lisa Coleman from the channel PRINCE 4EVER.
Andre Cymone and Prince were friends from childhood. In fact, Prince stayed with their family for a while when he had conflicts with his own father at home.
In their youth, the two were in a band together, also with Cymone’s sister.
In the late 1970s when Prince released his debut album “For You”, he recruited Cymone as bassist for his tour. This would be his last tour with Prince, however, for the two later had conflicts.
Although they were resolved, Cymone continued to work on his own projects, and the Revolution continued on without him.
Here’s a way in depth interview with Andre Cymone from the Prince Podcast. Check it out!
Brown Mark played bass guitar for the Revolution.
He was especially known for his unique style of funk-influenced bass guitar playing. He played with the Revolution during the recording of “Purple Rain”, and left the band in 1986.
He rejoined, however, in 2016 when the band reunited for their tribute and reunion tour. He now sings most of the songs during performances.
Here is a sweet interview with BrownMark from Bass Musician Magazine.
The members present when Prince and the Revolution released the album “Purple Rain” were Bobby Z, Doctor Fink, Lisa Coleman, Wendy Melvoin, and BrownMark.
“Purple Rain” was Prince and the Revolution’s best-selling album. It was released in 1984 and instantly went to the tops of the charts.
“When Doves Cry”, “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Purple Rain”, and “I Would Die 4 U” all made it to the top 10 of the Billboard’s top 100 list.
You can listen to the title track below. In the music video, Prince gives some credit to Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin for writing the song.
The album “Purple Rain” won two Grammys. The first was for the Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. The second was for Best Instrumental Composition Written Specifically for a Motion Picture. The album was written by Prince, but with valuable input from his band members.
“Purple Rain” was a milestone for the Revolution, because it was the first album that Prince recorded with the band, and the first album in which he credited them.
Because the album was recorded with the band, it had significantly more focus on the full band and their different instruments and sounds, resulting in a more intricate album than Prince’s previous one-man albums.
Guitar was a huge focal point of the album, as well as keyboard and synthesizer. The album was R&B but with rock and psychedelic touches, influenced by the Revolution. It was praised for its stylistic experimentation, crossing over many genres.
For example, “When Doves Cry” was an experimental and unique song because it didn’t have a bassline. Dr. Fink says that when he first heard the song, “my immediate reaction was ‘Hey, there’s no bassline in this song. Aren’t you going to add one?’”
He continues, “I wasn’t ready for it and it tricked the hell out of my ears. But […] when you listen to “When Doves Cry” today it still sounds so ground-breaking and unique. It never gets old.” This song really has stood the test of time. You can listen to it below.
The same lineup featured on the “Purple Rain” album plus some new additions performed on Prince’s Hit N’ Run Parade Tour.
These new additions were Miko Weaver, Susannah Melvoin, Eric Leeds, Matt “Atlanta Bliss” Blistan and Jerome Benton. They played the jazzier side of things during the tour, such as the horn sections.
In 1979, the Revolution and Prince experimented with a side project. Although it wasn’t named at the time, the side band has since been called the Rebels. It featured vocals by original Revolution members Dez Dickerson, Andre Cymone and Gayle Chapman.
The side group recorded music in Colorado during 1979. However, the project was abandoned, perhaps to focus again on the Revolution. Years later, two of the tracks from the Rebels were rerecorded and given to other artists by Prince.
The track “U” was released by Paula Abdul on her album “Spellbound” and the song “If I Love U 2nite” was added to the albums of both Mica Paris and Mayte Garcia.
The Revolution Today
The current band members include Bobby Z. on drums, Matt Fink on keyboards and vocals, Lisa Coleman also on keyboards and vocals, Brown Mark on bass and vocals, and Wendy Melvoin on rhythm guitar and vocals.
After the sudden death of Prince in 2016, the Revolution reunited and began performing Prince’s songs together again. It started with them playing tribute concerts to their friend, and gradually turned into a reunion tour that has lasted the past couple of years and will continue into the foreseeable future.
Keyboardist and vocalist Lisa Coleman says that at the beginning of their tour, the Revolution tried not to stray too far from the original arrangements of the songs.
However, as their tour has progressed, the band is starting to go in new directions, shaking things up now and then. Coleman says this was always the way when they used to play with Prince on stage.
She says, “When Prince was around, every night was a different show, really”. Bobby Z adds, “Every time you play it, there’s something you can add”. Here is a video of them performing live at First Avenue in Minneapolis.
This creates a really complex and exciting performance. Every show is authentic and genuine.
The Revolution continues to be an influential band.
Their diversity and talent make their music unlike any other band, because each member brings their own original style to the table.
They continue to share Prince’s music with the world on their reunion tour, and are well received by their innumerable fans.
Recorder of many songs, haver of many albums. Dave has been making music for the past twenty years or so, of varying degrees of quality. He has a keen interest in studying all aspects of music history, especially experimental genres like krautrock and no wave.