A photo from Prince’s Sept. 19, 1997, show at Wright State University’s Ervin J. Nutter Center. WRIGHT STATE UNIVERSITY

Dayton funk icons, music influencers remember legendary Prince

The unexpected death of music legend Prince — a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who won seven Grammy Awards and sold more than 100 million records — was met with immense disbelief and sadness through the nation and the local area.

Musicians from Dayton’s funk scene as well as local concert-goers, admirers and superfans reflected on Prince’s legacy and the international influence he left through his revolutionary brand of music that blended funk, soul, R&B and pop, that would be known as the Minnesota sound.

An inspiration to musicians

Many local musicians — including some of the pioneers of funk from Dayton — paused and reflected on the artist’s musical impact.

The Ohio Players — the internationally known funk act from Dayton — crossed paths with Prince many times through the years. In fact, they performed several times at Prince’s Minneapolis venue Glam Slam in the 1980s and early 1990s, said James “Diamond” Williams, drummer and leader of the Ohio Players.

Prince, in particular, had a connection with the late Ohio Players frontman Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner.

“He used to hang around Sugarfoot,” Williams recalled. “We like to think he had some influence on Prince’s music.”

Williams remembers Prince as shy and not very talkative. But when he and his band mates would be around the artist, they focus was music.

“We would often talk about how we admired each other’s songs,” he said. “He loved ‘Love Rollercoaster’ and would cover it. There was such back-and-forth admiration.”

“We will miss him greatly,” he added.

Daytonian Keith Harrison, the Grammy award-winning keyboardist, songwriter and singer best known for his work with the funk bands Faze-O and Dazz Band, also crossed paths with the famous artist.

He recalled a time when he was touring with Morris Day and the Time in the mid-1990s and had a special opportunity to jam with Prince while in Las Vegas. That was a moment he will never forget.

“After shows, he would go to a club and jam with musicians,” Harrison said. “He happened to jam with us one night at the Boulder Station Casino in Vegas.”

Watching Prince perform on stage was equally exciting, said Harrison, who also played for The Ohio Players and Heatwave.

“He was one of a few trendsetters,” said Harrison, who was inducted into Dayton’s Walk of Fame just last year and is a member of the R&B Hall of Fame. “We all got something from his music. We’ve lost another icon in the music industry — a huge icon. He changed the world with his music. His spirit and music will live on.”

The Funk Music Hall of Fame & Exhibition Center will be partnering with the Dayton Metro Libraries Northwest Branch to host rotating displays and programs related to Dayton’s funk legacy and the history of funk music starting today through fall 2016. Plans are already in the works to feature Prince’s work of that exhibition later this year, said David R. Webb, president and CEO of the nonprofit The Funk Music Hall of Fame & Exhibition Center.

“Prince is known worldwide as the funkmaster,” Webb said. “His music brought people together and was a huge influence.”

Local concert memories

Prince has appeared in Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus several times throughout his career.

Dayton tour stops included an April 20, 1980, show at the University of Dayton Arena; a Dec. 27, 1981, show and a March 3, 1983, show at Hara Arena in Trotwood; and a Sept. 19, 1997, show at the Wright State University’s Ervin J. Nutter Center.

Prince headlined a sold-out concert at Hara on March 3, 1983, as part of the 1999 Tour with opening acts The Time and Vanity 6, said Karen Wampler, marketing director, Dayton Hara Complex.

“It was one of the best dressed concert crowds we’ve ever seen,” she said.

Prince announced his Sept. 19, 1997, show at the Nutter Center, part of his Jam of the Year World Tour, just eight days before the show date. News reports said dozens were camped out the night before tickets went on sale.

Misty Cox, marketing manager for the Nutter Center, recalls that concert day. She had just recently started working at the Nutter as an intern, and this was the first big show she worked on.

“We booked the show, put the tickets on sale and planned the show all within just two weeks,” Cox recalled. “It was crazy!”

And all that hype paid off with a sold-out, high energy concert at the Nutter that she will never forget, she said.

“It was Prince. It was electric,” she said.

Even more exciting was meeting the superstar while on the job, she said.

“It was unbelievable,” she said. “He was very polite and soft-spoken, and he was wearing these big platform boots.”

“I can’t believe he’s gone,” Cox said.

THE MUSIC

Prince vinyls and CDs have always been hot-sellers at Omega Music in Dayton. The music store has received several calls already today with music fans wanting to scoop up his greatest works, said Greg Staiger, co-owner. 

The store is currently sold out of vinyls and does still have a few CDS. Bracing for a spike in sales, the music store is restocking.

“We expect to bring in classic albums, CDs, really the whole gamut,” he said.

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