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Prince and the evolution

Published Apr. 29, 2004
Updated Aug. 27, 2005

Prince proved at his St. Pete Times Forum performance Monday that he's the soulful link between the pioneers of R&B music, guys such as Little Richard and James Brown, and modern funky hitmakers.

To make that point, the Purple One showed footage of contemporary soul goddess Alicia Keys and hip-hop visionaries OutKast introducing him last month into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"There are many kings," Keys said in her speech. "King Henry VIII, King Solomon, King Tut, King James, King Kong and the three kings.

"But there is only one Prince."

During his set Monday, Prince's New Power Generation band delved into the brassy horn blasts of Crazy in Love, the popular jam by Beyonce and rapper Jay-Z, and then OutKast's sultry The Way You Move. All of these modern artists have expressed their adulation for Prince, telling interviewers they grew up on his music and were greatly influenced by him.

Prince himself paid homage to his own musical influences, telling the Forum crowd that he and his NPG band "believe in the funk," a shout-out to Parliament-Funkadelic, the 1970s band of soul brothers headed by the wild George Clinton, whose popular Tear the Roof off the Sucker demanded we all "give up the funk."

Is it a coincidence NPG features former Parliament and James Brown player Maceo Parker on saxophone?

Prince has picked up a move or two from R&B great Brown, or didn't you notice him gliding his lithe body gracefully across the purple stage?

Prince can funk it up, scuttling like the Godfather of Soul, working his mike stand like nobody's business. Or Prince may belt out a falsetto wail, clutching his chest, or like the good Rev. Al Green, holding his hand above his head in a testifying pose.

When he's wailing on guitar, Prince calls to mind Jimi Hendrix, although, the two's licks aren't so similar. Does Prince's unique guitar sound like anyone's, really?

Listen to the opening riff of When Doves Cry. Have you ever heard anything so skronky, so weird? Who plays like that? Prince.

What's his name?


You know the call-and-response game. Prince repeatedly asked the crowd on Monday to tell him his name. Either Prince has amnesia or he's playing the R&B megalomania game that every great soul act before him has mastered.

Brown, Little Richard and Chuck Berry were never known for their modesty. Like Muhammad Ali, they knew they were the greatest. So does Prince.

And like Little Richard, Prince knows he's pretty.

"I wrote this song looking in the mirror," Prince said, grinning, while performing an acoustic version of Cream. Prince, who was wearing about as much foundation and mascara as Little Richard would, told the crowd that while others may need to go to the psychiatrist for comfort, all he needs to do is write perfect pop songs and look at himself in the mirror to be happy. Then he squealed into laughter.

Not to mention Prince's androgyny. Like Little Richard, Prince has always toyed with gender roles. An African-American man wearing a faceful of makeup? Lasciviously licking his lips _ and guitar strings _ onstage and in his videos? Strutting around in high-heeled boots, in sequined purple coats?

Of course, like the dandy dressing Andre 3000 of OutKast, Prince always has had a gaggle of gorgeous women on his arm, from Appolonia, Kim Basinger, Carmen Electra, to his current wife, Manuela Testolini.

Prince has always used his image to push the envelope. Like his contemporary Madonna, Prince is a pioneer in eroto-pop. Sex and music, for Prince, have always been entwined, although with his recent conversion to the faith of Jehovah's Witnesses, that's changed; Prince has dropped the nastier songs, such as Darling Nikki, from his repertoire. And he's softened some of the hard-core lyrics of raunchier tunes.

The live set doesn't suffer for it.

On Monday, Prince dazzled the crowd for nearly 2{ hours, singing, dancing, swiveling his hips, then grabbing his guitar to shred out piercing notes.

The star teased the audience, camped it up, strutted his funky, 5-foot-2 body, batted his eyelashes, jammed with his band, cajoled them like they were pals.

Prince was the link between old school and the new. Would we have some of today's brightest, most talented stars without his influence? Would Andre 3000's clever, kooky music _ or his attire _ be the same? Prince's influence is all over the OutKast artist's The Love Below.

Certainly, Keys, who covers Prince's How Come You Don't Call Me, has gained from listening to Prince.

Prince has said he would like younger folks to learn about old-school soul and R&B music from Musicology, both the present greatest hits tour, and the album of new material for which it's named. If the subject is soul music, you couldn't ask for a finer teacher.

SPEAKING OF JIMI HENDRIX: Fans of Jimi Hendrix will be thrilled to hear that the late guitar god has a tribute album in stores next Tuesday.. Power of Soul on the Experience Hendrix label features Prince doing a tune called Purple House, his unique twist on Red House.

The disc, a collection of terrific Hendrix covers collected by Janie Hendrix, Hendrix's half-sister and the overseer of his musical catalog, also features Eric Clapton, Sting, Carlos Santana, Bootsy Collins and George Clinton, Lenny Kravitz, Chaka Khan (singing Little Wing), Robert Randolph & the Family Band, the late John Lee Hooker and Stevie Ray Vaughan and others.

HAMPTON HOUSE OF JAZZ: Looking for live jazz in a hip club with good food? We're talking real jazz, too, not the "smooth" variety with some fella waving a stick across wind chimes.

Do yourself a favor and drop in on the Hampton House of Jazz, 1113 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, for a taste of upright bass, drums, piano and sublime trumpet, all courtesy of the house band, led by Marcus Hampton, the joint's owner and cousin of vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, the late jazz legend.

Marcus Hampton and his wife, Ms. Rose, the club's cook, opened the Hampton House a few months ago, and it's the Burg's best kept secret. It shouldn't be. The red walls, high ceilings and framed posters of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong are a jazz lover's dream.

The House is closed on Monday and Tuesday. The rest of the week, it opens at 6 p.m., and the band gets going around 8:30, except Sunday, when the jam begins at 6.

Times pop music critic Gina Vivinetto can be reached at (727) 893-8565 or