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Prince in Sausalito: Remembering the Artist's First Album at the Record Plant

One day in 1977, a petite 19-year-old in a sharp suit turned up in Sausalito. And blew everyone's mind.

 

Back in 1977, before the late, great Prince began his purple reign and sent an entire nation’s hips into a collective swivel, he was a 19-year-old in a sharp suit heading in to work at the Record Plant in Sausalito. Every day for several months, he shut himself up in Studio B with every instrument he’d need to lay down tracks. The image of this “little guy” in a suit—Prince was five-foot-two—carrying a briefcase everywhere tickled jazz funk musician Tony Saunders, a session bass player working across the hall in Studio A. “At first we were, like, cracking up. ’Who’s this guy going into the studio?’ Until we heard the music. And then we were like, 'Oh, my God.'”

Saunders, 60, remembers the first time they met: “I’m standing by the candy machine near the game area, and he came out to take a break. I told him that I was a bass player and I heard that funky track; I was like, ‘Who was in there playing bass?’ He was like, 'Me. That’s me. I play everything.'”

Prince had signed with Warner Brothers and had come to Sausalito to make his first record, For You. The studio—where Fleetwood Mac recorded Rumors and Rick James laid down a trio of albums—was a haven of talent in the late ’70s. Sly Stone had set up shop there with his own space. “He was in the back in a place called the Pit,” recalls Saunders. Stone and Prince hit it off and would jam together. “Him and Prince, they had that bond,” he says. “That genius bond.” 

At day’s end, sometimes Prince and Stone would end up playing music with Saunders and a few others late into the night. Prince had a way of locking in to his fellow players. “He could look at people and he would get what you do best out of you,” he says. “It would give you a great feeling.” Saunders laughs. “And we all wanted to impress him because we all wanted to get on his record.”

Maybe because Prince was a minor—or maybe just to keep an untried artist on track—Warner Brothers sent a security guard to stand watch over Prince’s studio day in and day out. “The bodyguard made sure people didn’t get in there and waste time with him,” says Saunders.

Probably a smart move. “Sometimes, if he was too busy, we’d lean against the door and listen to the music,” he says. “The music was killer. It was so funky.”

 

Correction: This story originally referred to the studio where Prince recorded as Plant Studios, a name used by the current owner of the studio. When Prince recorded there, it was called the Record Plant. We regret the error. 

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