The first time Marshall Charloff met Prince, the singer had a question.
"Do you lie?"
"I'm sorry," Charloff responded, "say that again?"
"Do you lie?"
"Well, I try not to lie. I try to be a good person and be as truthful as I can."
"That's good. I'm glad. You should never lie."
Charloff didn't know it, but Prince was sort of teasing him. At the time, he was working on a song called Do U Lie? for his 1986 album Parade.
"He had a couple of French girls with him, and they were giggling when he asked me that," Charloff said in a recent phone interview, recounting the moment for, he said, the first time. "I'm assuming they were recording that song that would come out two albums later."
Back then, Charloff was just a teenager who happened to be in a band with Prince's cousin. More than 30 years later, he performs as Prince in the Purple Xperience, a tribute act led by Matt "Doctor" Fink, Prince's scrubs-wearing keyboardist in the Revolution. The group hits Tampa Bay for shows this week, starting Thursday at the Tampa Theatre.
Fink has led the Purple Xperience since 2011, touring sporadically, but interest in the band has exploded since Prince's sudden death on April 21. At first, Charloff thought performing would be "inappropriate" — Prince died on a Thursday, and the Purple Xperience was booked for a concert the next night — but Fink insisted the show go on.
"We hit the stage, and all I can tell you is it was one of those moments where it felt right," he said. "If it didn't feel right, I wouldn't be doing this. It felt right, it felt cathartic, it felt purposeful — more so than it did the previous four and a half years, where we were just having fun. It felt like a calling."
Charloff, who grew up in Minnesota, had played in bands for decades before officially embodying Prince in the Purple Xperience — though as he said, doing so wasn't much of a stretch.
"I'm his stature; there's nothing I can do about that," he laughed. "I have his falsetto, and I have a natural affinity for his vocal styling. … I don't have to try that hard to personify him. Even in the way I play, I'm a multi-instrumentalist, and I get to be myself, which is a thrill for me."
In true Prince fashion, Charloff was a little cagey about a few topics related to the Purple One. For example, what did Prince think of the Purple Xperience?
"I better leave that one alone," he said. "Of course he (knew) what we were doing and who we were and all of that, but I've got to leave it there."
What about Fink's future with Purple Xperience, after the keyboardist rejoined the rest of the Revolution for a few reunion shows at Minneapolis' First Avenue earlier this month?
"Can't really tell you with 100 percent certainty what that looks like," he said. "I can tell you that wherever Matt is called, of course, we're all behind him."
But he does say the Purple Xperience is all about honoring Prince's legacy, and that's what fans these days embrace.
"Children are starting to come to the show because parents want to expose their children to what they grew up on, and the legacy that Prince left behind," Charloff said. "They're still trying to heal, and we're offering a little bit of healing at the same time."
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.