Former Prince engineer wants vault music released

4 min

Minneapolis (AFP)

The sound engineer who helped create Prince's legendary vault stuffed with decades of unreleased songs believes his secret horde should be opened up and made available to historians, scholars and fans.

"For me personally, I'd say why not?" Susan Rogers told AFP in a telephone interview. "Music is an expression of life and let's hear these expressions of Prince's life."

Until recently, its existence was shrouded in mystery, part of the myth that built up around Prince.

But its fate has become a hot topic of conversation since his unexpected death at age 57 last week.

The question of future releases is likely to be thorny as Prince had no surviving children, no current wife, no living parents and fiercely guarded his creative control. It is also not known if he left a will.

"I think that it would be nice for historians and fans and scholars if someone went through that material," said Rogers, who worked as Prince's sound engineer from 1983-1987.

"I'd like to see the music put in the hands of the people who knew him best artistically and that would be the musicians who worked with him through different eras."

Rogers suggested that musicians with whom he worked in the 1980s and 1990s be allowed to finish unreleased songs in the style that they worked back then. "I think that would be lovely," she said.

Regardless of whether Prince wanted his music to see the light of day, Rogers believes there should be a debate.

"Maybe the artist is not thinking clearly about his legacy; there's a moral issue there and it's something we should be talking about."

It was Rogers who started the vault, collecting his tapes and starting to catalog them while Prince was working on "Purple Rain."

- Perhaps a cloud -

A temperature-controlled storage room was then added to plans for Paisley Park.

The weather-proof room had a door from a bank vault complete with a combination lock, Rogers said, and was filled with analogue tapes.

When she last saw the vault in the 1990s it was full. She hopes the analogue has since been transferred to digital but doesn't know how much material is still under lock and key.

"Perhaps the vault is now in a cloud somewhere. I have no idea."

Rogers knows firsthand the talent that drove one of the most innovative artists of his generation, the boy from an underprivileged background in north Minneapolis who became a multimillionaire and won his first record deal at just 19.

Working for him in 1983 was "my dream come true," she said.

His capacity for work was prolific. They could be in the studio for 24 to 48 hours at a time, even 96 hours on one memorable occasion.

Prince did not use music notation or write music formally. Instead, he would work through his ideas by recording.

"If he wasn't taking care of conducting business... or if he wasn't dating or seeing someone socially, which would be less often than you might think, for the most part, Prince had an instrument in his hands and he was playing music," she said.

On tour, he would sound-check for hours, perform, then play a secret all-night after-party or go into a studio or a mobile truck and record all night.

"Four hours of sleep in those days was a full night's sleep to him." She silences any suggestion that Prince ever used recreational drugs.

- Make you laugh -

"Prince was philosophically, morally and physiologically opposed to recreational drug use," she said. He coped through any bout of illness by taking medicine and never pausing to rest or to stop work.

If he was taking pain medication as reports suggest, Rogers said it would have been only so he could continue to work. "That may have covered symptoms of just how ill he actually was."

She remembered him as compassionate and warm, and while he worked quickly and efficiently, he could "really make you laugh."

Rogers recalls a time when the crew was talking about someone being "an asshole," when Prince walked in.

"And Prince said let's get something straight, there's only one asshole around here and it's me!"

"If he was paying you, you were available to him 24-seven. We worked Christmas, we worked New Year's Eve, we worked Thanksgiving," she said.

The end came in 1987, after one night when Prince couldn't get hold of her because she was out on a date. "He was really angry about that," she said. "I couldn't do it any more. I just couldn't."

She last saw him in the late 1990s. "Every time I saw him after I left, it was warm and affectionate and I realized how much I deeply, deeply cared about him."

But it was his creative output and the fact that he did it alone, which stands out for her. "That was extraordinary and will not be equaled any time soon," she said.