STORIES FROM THE PARK
PRN Alumni Foundation is comprised of the former employees of Prince, Paisley Park, Paisley Park Records, PRN Productions, NPG Records, Love4OneAnother, any and all of Prince’s companies spanning his impressive nearly 40 year career.
There have been, quite literally hundreds of us in Prince’s employ. The Foundation represents our collective voice.
We are musicians, engineers, managers, lighting directors, wardrobe designers, stylists, makeup artists, drivers, bodyguards, admin staff, valets, drivers (and more!)
This ‘Stories From The Park’ chronicle is a way for our colleagues of all tenures and job types to share a little bit of Prince’s magic with you through our individual voices.
We hope you enjoy getting to know us…we feel as if we’ve known you, Prince’s fans (fam) forever <3
With love and gratitude,
PRN Alumni Foundation
Spotlight: Peggy McCreary
“THERE WAS NOBODY LIKE HIM”
Peggy McCreary Reminisces About Recording Prince and the Front Row Seat from which She Watched Him Conquer the 80s
Written by Tony Kiene
In the mid-to-late 1970s, Peggy McCreary was making her living on the Sunset Strip as a cocktail waitress at the fabled Roxy Theatre. And, before long, she found herself tending the best station in the house where rock stars, movie stars, and other Hollywood elite gathered to socialize and be entertained by the likes of Bill Withers, George Benson, Robert Palmer, and Bruce Springsteen as well as other musical giants of that era.
Sure, there was no doubt it was an exciting gig. But at some point Peggy wondered aloud, “Is this it? There’s got to more to life than this.” So, since she’d long been interested in recorded music, Peggy enrolled at Sound Masters, an audio engineering school in North Hollywood. “By day, I would set up live sound and at night, I continued to waitress.”
Then, one day, Peggy met someone who suggested she get into a studio. While pondering to herself “if only it were that easy,” she replied, “Yeah, wouldn’t that be great.” The gentleman continued, “Look. If you are really serious about it, call this number. I work here and I know they are looking for a gopher.” Peggy heeded his advice and in relatively short order, she had landed a job at yet another one of Sunset Boulevard’s most iconic addresses; Sunset Sound Recorders.
As there were few women in the field, Peggy always assumed that she was hired as sort of a joke. “They made me work really hard,” she remembers, “I knew they were trying to break me.” Since the pay wasn’t all that great, Peggy kept her station at The Roxy. Nonetheless, she was determined to prove not only her mettle, but her skill in the studio. That’s when opportunity smiled on the twenty-four-year-old Peggy McCreary.
Making a Name for Herself
The year was 1977 and on the heels of the critically acclaimed film and soundtrack, A Star is Born (with Barbara Streisand), Kris Kristofferson was recording his latest record Easter Island at Sunset Sound. When the production needed an extra hand, Peggy stepped right up. She immediately got the studio ready, set up the mics and did whatever else was necessary. She even got the coffee.
Thinking that her duties had been fulfilled, she began to walk out when renowned producer, manager, A&R guy, and regular renaissance man David Anderle grabbed her by the arm. Anderle – who at the time was best known for his work with The Beach Boys, Judy Collins, The Doors, and Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention – looked at her and said, “I don’t know who you are or what it is that you do here. But you make my session work and I want you in my studio.” Just like that, Peggy became a staff engineer at Sunset Sound. And, she was able to put the waitressing gig behind her forever.
Only a couple of years into her new career, Peggy was recording the likes of Booker T. Jones (of Booker T. & the M.G.’s fame), Little Feat, Rita Coolidge, Frankie Valli, Van Halen, Bernie Taupin, and Elton John. And, it was out of these sessions that she’d already earned assistant engineering credits on classic songs such as “Little Jeannie,” “Jamie’s Cryin’,” “Grease (Is the Word),” “I’d Rather Leave While I’m in Love,” and a cover of the Stevie Wonder standard “I Was Made to Love Her.” Yet nothing could prepare Peggy for who would walk through Sunset Sound doors during the summer of 1981.
“Peggy Can’t Work Alone in the Studio with this Guy”
A call came into Sunset Sound from nearby Hollywood Sound Recorders (literally a half-mile away), where Prince was in the process of finishing up his fourth studio album for Warner Brothers Records. “Our board went down,” said the voice on the other end of the line, “Do you have a room and an engineer available?” The response was yes on both counts and the only available engineer happened to be Peggy. For her part, Peggy had not yet heard of Prince, but Debbie, the receptionist who took the call from Hollywood Sound certainly had.
“Peggy can’t work with this guy alone,” Debbie exclaimed, “He writes dirty songs.” Although it was the weekend and the receptionist was overwrought with fear, Peggy was up to the challenge. Still, she couldn’t help but wonder what she might be getting into. “In those days there were no sexual harassment laws,” Peggy recalls, “Women in the industry simply put up with whatever they had to put up with.”
To her surprise, in walked a guy who was “extremely polite, quiet… short.” As she would soon learn, Prince wasn’t too fond of change, so having to abruptly switch studios probably didn’t sit well with him. Even so, she demanded his attention. After Prince mumbled something in her direction, Peggy asserted herself and plainly stated, “Hey! If you want me to work for you, then you’re going to have to speak to me.” After the session was over, Prince left without saying much of anything as Peggy thought, “I’ll never see him again.”
Only a few months had passed since her first encounter with the young kid from Minneapolis when Peggy got the word, “Prince is coming back and he’s requested you.” One of the sessions that fall came the day after Prince infamously opened for the Rolling Stones at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Peggy recollects, “Everyone heard about what happened the night before and we knew it was bad.”
One of the things Peggy immediately picked up on were Prince’s capricious and sometimes surly moods. “You could tell what kind of day it was going to be by the way he walked in the room, or even by what he was wearing,” she explains, “The day after the Rolling Stones show… now that was a hard day.”
At another point during those early days, Peggy, who was still somewhat frustrated by Prince’s proclivity for little, if any conversation, asked him if he liked her work. And, in his typical deadpan fashion, Prince countered, “You’re here, aren’t you?” After that, Peggy just assumed that’s how things would be with this mercurial young superstar in the making. She’d also discover, however, that Prince was full of surprises.
For example, one particular session that started off rather dubiously for Peggy would ultimately be counted among her most treasured memories and supply her with a one-of-a-kind keepsake. “It was my birthday and he called me into the studio,” says Peggy, “I was like ‘F%#k!' I couldn’t believe it.”
As was quite common, Prince completed a brand new song in a single session. And, although she was still feeling a little put out, per his usual request, Peggy handed him a cassette on his way out the door. “He stopped, stared at me for a second or so, tossed the tape back to me and said ’Happy Birthday.’ I had no idea that he even knew until that very moment.”
Building a Connection
By the spring of 1982, Peggy had contributed significantly to three new projects; Vanity 6’s self-titled debut album, The Time’s sophomore effort What Time is It, and Prince’s ground-breaking double LP 1999. The way Peggy explains it, she and Prince developed not so much a rapport as “a connection,” at least in the studio. Though the fellas from The Time might have periodically showed up as did Vanity, Brenda, and Susan, such occasions were rare. “Most times it was just the two of us, sometimes for as much as 18 hours a day for days on end,” notes Peggy. That said, it was still hard for Prince to open up, not that he didn’t sometimes try.
Prince, who rarely failed to dress the part of a rock star, showed up at Sunset Sound one evening in a complete suit with black shirt, matching hat, and what, according to Peggy, seemed to be a black lace handkerchief in his breast pocket. “His suit was sort of this copper, mustard color. He looked really nice.” Peggy adds, “Then, right out of the blue Prince asks me, ‘Do you want to go to a movie?’”
A bit surprised, Peggy insisted that he go on ahead and she’d make sure everything was set up to record when he got back to the studio. Prince responded, “Awww. But I have a limo. Let’s go to a movie.” Peggy remembers, “It was as if he were a little kid and I’d hurt his feelings. I saw those eyes and I just had to surrender.”
While on their way to see the French film Diva somewhere on Fairfax Avenue, Prince pulls that black lace item out of his suit pocket and declares, “I’ve got women’s panties in my pocket.” Speechless at the time, Peggy can’t help but laugh about how hilarious Prince thought that was. “He was just so unique no matter what he was doing.”
So Much Soul
On yet another occasion, more specifically an April night in 1982, Prince arrived at Sunset Sound where he asked Peggy, “What you do like to drink?” Bemused, Peggy said that she preferred something known as Rémy Martin, while also assuring him that “You don’t want me to drink.” Prince persisted and per his instructions Peggy ordered her favorite cognac as well as a bottle of Asti Spumante.
Eternally aware the inspiration could strike Prince at any time, Peggy was always prepared. “No matter where he was in the studio, I always had a mic on him,” she illuminates, “Sometimes he’d hop from instrument to instrument then all of a sudden instruct me to ‘Throw some fresh tape up.” Then, as Peggy raced to do just that (a task that took a minute or so no matter how prepared one might be), Prince would often say something like, “Come on girl… you’re blowing the groove.”
So, after Prince and Peggy both had one or two drinks, Prince made his way to the piano where everything was set up and he just began to play… and sing… oh did he sing. The result was the inimitable and stirring ballad, “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore,” which would appear that September as the b-side to “1999.” Peggy reminisces, “I remember his voice and piano sounded so beautiful. And how he kept time with the piano pedal, so amazing. I could sit and listen to Prince play piano for hours on end. He poured every bit of his soul into it and he melted my heart every time.”
For a long time afterwards, not remembering precisely what single the song accompanied, Peggy sporadically searched for it while wondering, “Was the song really that good,” or was it just the alcohol she’d imbibed in that night? Then, years later, while rummaging through the used cassettes at the world famous Amoeba Records – which is ironically only a couple of blocks from Sunset Sound – she noticed a single tape titled, “Prince: The B-sides.” Overjoyed at seeing the song on the track listing, Peggy quickly sought out the nearest cassette deck and her question was answered, “Yes! The song was absolutely that good.”
At the end of 1982, Prince invited Peggy to join him on tour. “I don’t think that he thought I got exactly who he was or what he was about,” admits Peggy, “Which, I suppose was true. He dressed so flashy, even in the studio, whereas a lot of artists looked like they just rolled out of bed. There was never a time where Prince wasn’t Prince. I think he needed me to understand that.”
Excited to see Prince perform live for the first time, Peggy journeyed to the Lone Star State where a New Year’s Eve concert at Dallas’s Reunion Arena was first on tap, to be followed by a January 2nd show at The Summit in Houston. Prince even provided Peggy with a personal handler during her time in Texas. Her “handler” was none other than Carol McGovney, Prince’s management assistant and occasional background vocalist, whom Peggy says took care of all travel arrangements and “made sure I was well taken care of.”
“I got to watch both shows from the soundboard, which for an engineer is unquestionably that best place to experience a live performance,” says Peggy. The soundboard is also where she met the one and only Rob “Cubby” Colby, Prince’s long-time live audio engineer. As for her impressions of Prince on stage, Peggy asserts “I got it! I now understood who he was and it blew me away. He literally made me weak in the knees”
“I’m Gonna Make a Movie”
In the summer of 1983 – while Don Batts, Susan Rogers, and David Z. handled engineer duties in Minneapolis (generally at Prince’s Kiowa Trail home in Chanhassen) – Peggy continued to hold the fort at Sunset Sound. Yet as Prince’s ideas began to expand, for example, he wanted to incorporate elaborate string arrangements, recording became more complicated.
“Sometimes we didn’t have enough tracks, so we brought in another 24-track board,” explains Peggy. Moreover, she had to bring in additional help, which included her then fiancé, David Leonard, whose credits to that point involved studio work Chaka Khan, Hall & Oates, Sheena Easton, The Go-Go’s, and The Manhattan Transfer, among many others.
According to Peggy, Prince never cared about how technically difficult something might actually be to record. His only stipulation was “just make it work.” So in August, as they began to overdub and mix and mix some of the tracks that would make up Prince’s next album (including those recently recorded live at First Avenue), Prince suddenly proclaims, “I’m gonna make a movie.” “Sure enough,” notes Peggy, “when he came back to L.A. to finish editing the album, he’d already filmed his movie.
During those early 1984 sessions at Sunset Sound, Prince and Apollonia recorded “Take Me With U,” to be included on the soundtrack to Purple Rain. And, when the film’s director Albert Magnoli asked him for one more track to round out the album, he came up with what soon chart as his first number one single, “When Doves Cry.”
After an all-day session that yielded basic tracking for the song, Prince and Peggy returned to the studio for day two. “I remember thinking it was a really pretty song, but it was so overproduced. I sort of checked out on it.” confesses Peggy.
The session continued into the next morning, when around seven or so, Prince began to strip the song down. “He began to subtract stuff,” recalls Peggy, “A little something here, a little something there. Then he punches out the bass, looks at me and says, only as he could, ‘Ain’t nobody ever gonna believe I’d do this!’” After listening to the playback, Peggy was amazed by what she heard. The moment Prince left the studio, she made a beeline to the receptionist, Suzanne Edgren, and announced, “Oh my God! You’ve got to listen to this song. It’s otherworldly.”
Prince’s Purple Reign
Peggy had suggested to Prince that he consider holding the premiere of Purple Rain at the world famous Mann’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. And, when that day arrived – July 26, 1984 – Peggy was overcome with excitement. “I would finally be able to relax a bit and have some fun.”
As Peggy was getting ready for the big night, the phone rang, it was Alan Leeds. “Peggy,” he said, “We need you at The Palace. We have a truck set up to record the afterparty.” Aghast, she thought to herself, “You’ve got to be f*%#ing kidding me!” So, Peggy spent the entire evening in a mobile recording truck on South Broadway Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. And thus, she missed the red carpet, the movie, and the entire party.
In spite of her disappointment, Peggy was truly happy for Prince and his extraordinary success. After all, he was the first artist ever to own the number one single, number one album, and number one motion picture all at the same time. And, to have been a part of that remains one of Peggy’s most notable achievements in a career that has witnessed many. Plus, she’d soon have the opportunity to get in on some of the fun.
“Music Literally Poured Out of This Man”
It was February of 1985 when the Purple Rain Tour first rolled into Southern California for a six-night stand at The Forum in Inglewood. “Prince asked me if I wanted to go opening night,” reveals Peggy, “To which I smugly replied, ‘Oh. I don’t go to concerts unless I have a back stage pass and a limo.’” The next thing Peggy knew, she had a ticket, backstage pass, and limousine ride to The Forum where she found herself sitting front row center next to Madonna. “Now that was a lot of fun.”
By then, Prince and Peggy had already recorded some of the tracks that would make up the next album Around The World in A Day. What is more, is that right after the Purple Rain Tour finished up at the Miami Orange (Purple) Bowl they began working on several songs that would comprise Parade nearly a full-year later (including “Sometimes It Snows In April," which was ominously recorded on April 21, 1985).
Of course, it’s not as if Peggy was ever aware of this fact, at least not at the time. “I almost never knew in advance what any of these songs were for,” concedes Peggy, “Prince didn’t tell me.” What she does know, unequivocally, is that Prince was “unlike anybody I’ve ever worked with. He never took a break.”
She recalls a moment where Prince said to her, “The only reason I ever go home is because I know that you need to sleep.” To that, adds Peggy, “Music literally poured out of this man. On the rare occasions that he did sleep, he told me that he even dreamt music.”
(Paisley) Dreams Deferred
Even before construction began on Paisley Park Studios in early 1986, Prince requested Peggy and her husband David serve as his principal engineers at what was to be his brand new state-of-the-art recording complex in suburban Chanhassen. “We were preparing to completely uproot our lives and move to Minneapolis,” says Peggy, “We worked with Frank De Medio (famous console designer) to design the type of board that would best serve Prince’s needs in the studio.”
However, as time went on, Peggy and David didn’t hear from anyone regarding the progress on Paisley Park. After not hearing anything for nearly a year, the young couple – now uncertain of a potential future in Minneapolis – made the decision to buy a house in Los Angeles where they would start a family. “Prince was so pissed off when he found out,” acknowledges Peggy, who responded, “But nobody’s talked to us. We had no idea what was going on.” To that, Prince countered, “It takes a lot of time and money to build a studio.” Still frustrated, Peggy said, “Yeah, I understand that. But someone could have still kept us in the loop.”
For his part, Prince didn’t stay mad at Peggy long and a few months later she received another phone call from Alan Leeds, who told her, “Prince would like you to come to Minneapolis to record.” Although thrilled at the invitation, Peggy had to decline as she was now several months pregnant with her first child.
Peggy still worked on a few more Prince-related projects at Sunset Sound, in particular Shelia E.’s eponymous 1987 release along with Jill Jones’ self-titled debut that same year, both on Paisley Park Records. One of the last times she was ever able to visit with Prince at length, was that spring when her daughter Morgan was around eight-months-old.
“Prince held her and I wish I would have taken a picture at the time,” regrets Peggy, “But that really wasn’t something you ever did… take photos of Prince.” Although, she does have one of Sheila holding Morgan during the same visit. As for Morgan - who now works for a company that is headquartered in Minneapolis – when first asked by her employers to share something about herself that others may not know, she was able to say that Minnesota’s favorite son Prince Rogers Nelson held her as an infant. “She just wowed them with that one,” remarks a very proud mother.
“Mom. Did you really work with this guy?”
As the years went by, Peggy started to lose touch with Prince. She had pretty much left the business to focus time and efforts on raising a family. And, after Prince parted with Warner Bros., Peggy essentially had no viable way to make contact with him, something she truly regrets to this day.
Pleasantly, Peggy’s second child, a son named Eli, made her revisit her time with Prince one day when he took notice of the platinum records that adorned her home studio (including several Prince albums). “My kids just always thought of me as mom, they really didn’t know I had a past life,” she explains. So when Eli asked, “Mom. Did you really work with that guy,” Peggy promptly replied, “Yes I did! For five years.”
So in 2011, when Prince set up shop for an extended run of dates at The Forum (his first visit to the venue since the Purple Rain Tour 26 years earlier), Peggy thought she would give her kids a history lesson as to what her “past life” was like. “I bought tickets for each of them, plus a friend.” “Of course,” she reveals, “I got a little better seats for my husband and I.” While Morgan and Eli both had a wonderful time, for Peggy it was a life-affirming experience. “It was as if I’d stepped back in time. He pulled off a beautiful show and, as always, Prince gave everything he had to his audience.”
By this time, Peggy was well transitioned into a new career of her own in the motion picture industry. As a Foley Mixer (named for Hollywood legend Jack Foley), she is responsible for adding sound effects (such as footsteps, door slams, breaking glass) during the post-production of films, videos, television, and other visual media projects. “I love that I’m still able to work with sound. It allows me to fulfill that creative need.”
“This is Who this Man Was?”
Among Peggy’s lasting memories of Prince – of which there are many – one that speaks directly to his incomparable genius came when he asked her to edit a song. “Mind you,” she says, “There was no Pro Tools back then. No digital editing at all. Everything had to be done with a grease pencil and a razor blade.”
Always nervous when having to slice into a master tape, Peggy carefully sought to cut a quarter inch right on “the kick or the snare, or wherever it was” to remove the chorus as Prince instructed and replace it with something else. She then played it back for him and immediately he said, “Nope. It’s out of time.” “What,” she thought, “How can he tell that.”
Prince then told her to “cut half as much, and then cut half as much again.” So, with those edits made, she played it for him again. “That’s right,” said Prince. She kept the little pieces of tape for a long time just as a reminder of his brilliance. “This is who this man was,” affirms Peggy, “I couldn’t hear it, but he could. There were times I’d wonder if he was just f*%#ing with me. But no, I think he was really that good.”
“The World Has Lost a Treasure”
Sometime after eight o’clock pacific standard time on the morning of April 21, 2016, Peggy’s phone rang. On the other end of the line was Suzanne, the former receptionist from Sunset Sound. “Peggy have you heard,” she asked. “No, what,” replied Peggy. “Prince has died.”
Peggy’s heart dropped, unsure of what to say or do. “I was really having a hard time. I sent a text to Sheila, connected with her, and then somehow managed to make my way to work.”
As people began to speculate as to Prince’s cause of passing, Peggy was certain it wasn’t what some people were saying. “Whenever somebody in rock and roll dies people’s minds turn to drugs,” she observes, “’No way! No f*%#ing way I said. I know this man. He didn’t want this stuff anywhere around him. That’s just not possible.’”
When media reports confirmed the news, Peggy was beside herself. “I was shocked. I was mad. I was mad at him. I was mad at the people around him. For him not only to die, but die that way. I cried that he went like that. It makes me sick. It makes me sad."
When thinking of all the tears she’s shed since Prince left us, Peggy takes solace in the gifts he left behind. “I still marvel that I was able to spend so much time with him, just me and him in the studio,” says Peggy, “I was able to see this young man mature into such an amazing artist and storyteller. It’s just that he had so much more to give. The world has lost a treasure.”
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