Set It Off's Dan Clermont talks Prince: 'This cool dude who let his music speak'
When Prince died Thursday at age 57, the world was left to reckon with the loss of his raw talent. But his appreciators also took note of the many boundaries he broke along the way — not just sexual boundaries, but racial ones, too.
Here was an African American guitarist from Minnesota, blending funk and R&B and classic rock and modern pop in ways that no artist before had ever attempted. In 1981, the New York Times lauded him for “his apparently effortless fusion of black and white pop styles. The music transcends racial stereotyping precisely because it’s almost all Prince; Prince himself transcends racial stereotyping because, as he once put it, ‘I never grew up in one particular culture.”
“Rock stemmed from the blues, so there are a lot of African Americans playing rock music,” said guitarist Dan Clermont of the popular pop-punk band Set It Off, which is based in north Pinellas County. “But for somebody to be on such a pop-rock element and really guitar-driven in that manner, it hadn’t been done before. Honestly, to this day, I don’t think there’s another artist that has done that.”
Clermont, who is black, is a classically trained musician who idolized a lot of different guitarists, including jazz arists like Joe Pass and Pat Metheny. But Prince was always a big influence, too.
“Growing up in the musical family that I did, his music, like Purple Rain and Little Red Corvette, was what I grew up hearing played throughout the house,” Clermont said. “He was such an icon as a performer. You’re talking about a guy who wore purple and had a fluffy blouse on, and was still one of the sexiest men alive. He pulled that off. Not a lot of people could do that. He was such a unique individual, he was a star, and it wasn’t just based off image alone.”
When his songs were initially pushed more toward radio stations aimed at listeners of color, rather than receiving the worldwide audience they deserved (and ultimately got), Prince never let it shadow his music.
“He always kept his cool about it,” Clermont said. “He never seemed fazed by it. He was always this cool dude who let his music speak.”
To Clermont, it’s hard to believe Prince is gone.
“Thirty-five years of this dude putting out amazing music, and acting like he’s 25 years old and touring, it’s just mind-blowing to me,” he said.
-- Jay Cridlin