Bassist BrownMark talks new book, Prince – Part 1
360°Sound spoke with Mark Brown (aka BrownMark), bassist in Prince’s band, The Revolution, from 1981 to 1986, about his new memoir My Life In The Purple Kingdom (out Sept. 22). Brown played on several classic Prince albums, including Purple Rain. Speaking to us from his home in Atlanta, the 58-year-old Minneapolis native made clear that despite the experiences that led to his split with Prince, the book is not a negative one. “It’s full of positive stories of hope,” he said. “It’s a very real story. It’s probably the realest story you’re gonna get from a Prince book.”
After leaving The Revolution, Brown formed and produced the funk-rock group Mazarati. Brown also recorded two solo albums on Motown, his biggest hit being 1988’s “Next Time.” Following Prince’s death in 2016, the original members of The Revolution reunited and performed their many hits all over the world. Brown continues to write and record music. BrownMark and the Bad Boyz of Paisley released the EP House Party in January and the single “Empty Handed” in June.
This is Part 1 of a two-part interview with BrownMark. This part focuses on his new book and Prince, while the second part covers The Revolution reunion, Brown’s new music, and his thoughts on the music industry.
360°Sound: What were your motivations for writing the book?
I wrote it like 15 years ago. I had to do therapy. My life was pretty tumultuous. Playing in the Prince band was no exception. There were a lot of bumpy roads for me. I was in the prime of my life, and I gave the prime of my life to him to help him succeed in what he was doing. It was a family thing. If he was able to do it on his own, he would have. It was a collaborative effort to build that energy that people felt and saw. I dedicated myself to that because I saw what was happening.
On the flip side, there’s a real dark side that people don’t see. Being a young kid at 19 years old, I had to walk that walk and made a lot of decisions on the way. There was a lot of pain that came with those decisions. Not every situation is a good situation. You think that if you keep your eye on the prize and keep moving forward that at the end of the rainbow there’s a pot of gold. But it wasn’t the case, so that left me broken. Lot of anger and frustration.
Part of my therapy was to write about it. It’s not just with Prince, it’s my entire life, lots of ups and downs. The end result was this book about my entire life. That’s why I called it My Life in the Purple Kingdom because Prince had built such a musical presence in Minneapolis, and I became part of that. I became a soldier in his march to victory. But the damage that it did to me psychologically and emotionally, I had to have an outlet for it. So that’s where the book came from.
A lot of people think, ‘He was mad at Prince’ or ‘He just did this because Prince is dead.’ No. Prince knew I wrote a book. He asked me if he could read it before I published it, and I said ‘Absolutely.’ It’s far from a Prince-bashing book. I have a feeling this [book] is gonna do pretty well.
There’s been a few Prince books out but it’s always taking third-party information. You’re getting it firsthand. I was there. I don’t bite my tongue. I tell you what I know, how it went down, and what it felt like. Every part of the book is a story. It could literally be a movie. It tells a tale of rags to riches. It’s a tale of a young boy on a journey who meets another young boy on a journey, and they join forces and all this magic happens. One of them gets pushed back while the other one is flying.
Did Prince give you complete creative freedom with the bass parts?
Absolutely. That’s one of the reasons why I was able to stick around and help push forward because of the freedom that he gave me. There’s nothing like that freedom to express yourself through your instrument. He didn’t tell me, ‘This is the bass part that I want you to play.’ He let me create that bass part. Now, he created a lot of bass parts that I played. I’d say it was 50/50, 50% he’d let me do my stuff, and the other 50% he’d actually write.
“When Doves Cry” famously lacks a bass line. How did you feel about Prince taking out the bass? And how did you approach the song in concerts when you added bass?
In my book, I tell that story. I set up what was happening at the time period. There was a lot of feuding between me and Prince and a lot of discomfort. When he came out with “Doves Cry” with no bass I took that as a sign that, ‘Oh, my days are numbered. He’s getting rid of me now.’ In Rolling Stone magazine, he said, ‘Without BrownMark on bass, I would take bass out of the music.’ I was like ‘OK, he took the bass out, is he talking about getting rid of me?’ That wasn’t the case at all. In my mind, that’s what I was thinking. When we played that song live, he was like, ‘We’re in A, just put a feel on it.’ And that’s what I did.
You co-wrote “Kiss,” and the original plan was to record it with your group Mazarati. Are there some other Prince songs that you had a role in creating?
Yeah, several. “Girls & Boys” was a song I was writing. It was a groove that later became “Girls & Boys.” He walked in on me when I was writing. Musically, that whole groove on the bottom end, that was for a Mazarati track. Also, “Data Bank,” which ended up on The Time’s album [1990’s Pandemonium], that was my groove. That was a Mazarati track. It comes from my old school Cameo influence.
When [Prince] walked in on me when I was writing, it was no longer mine. He would just take it. He’d always promise, ‘Hey, I’m gonna take care of you.’ But he never did. I didn’t know how to fight back then. I was too young in the industry. I just didn’t know enough. Nowadays, these kids got Artistry 101, they got lawyers and all kinds of people standing up for them. Back when we were coming up, we kind of paved the way for that because we got ripped off so much. These newer musicians learned from the mistakes we made in the past.
Was the fame that came with being in Prince’s band overwhelming?
It was. I wanted to be successful in the music industry, just never cared too much for being in the limelight, the center of attraction. I started becoming the leader of my own movement, but I was never really big on all the attention that it brings. You got fans and you got groupies. They’re very separate [laughs]. Groupies are a whole ‘nother book.
Fans sometimes get so excited that they don’t realize they could hurt you. Something as simple as walking through the mall can turn disastrous very quickly once a mob starts coming at you. I experienced a lot of that. We see on television with the Beatles, Michael Jackson, and all that. It looks fun, but it’s not fun when you’ve got 25-30 people pouncing down on you trying to touch you. I’m talking about younger fans of course. As I got older, I noticed the fans got a little more civilized. Now they’re respectful, they’ll come up to you at a bus stop or airport and greet you. But back in the day, it was this screaming, screeching excitement, and you’d just start running [laughs]. Here they are chasing you.
Are there any misconceptions about Prince that you’d like to dispel?
There’s a lot of misconceptions about Prince. I hear them all day long. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands. [One misconception is] that he was a drug addict. No, he was no drug addict. I’ve been around drug addicts. Prince had a bad hip and it hurt. Fentanyl is a really messed up drug. It can become habit-forming, when that happens, it’s hard to kick. When you’re a private person like he was, how do you get help? It’s a very tragic story. To say that he was a drug fiend, no, that’s a lie.
What were some things you learned from Prince?
I learned work ethic. That’s the biggest. I can’t even tell you anything larger than that. I’ve always been aggressive. If I want it, I’ll try it. If it doesn’t work, I’ll move on to something else. With him, he taught me the work ethic. Don’t just try it but really dig in. Stick with it.
My Life In the Purple Kingdom is out Sept. 22 from the University of Minnesota Press. To purchase the 176-page paperback, click here.