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: James “Jaybe” Bryant
Writer : Father Fred Shaheen
James Anthony Bryant, who spent several years working security for Prince, remembers the time the artist asked him to help cast extras for Purple Rain. He says, “it was the best thing I was ever involved with.” A week before his 60th birthday, the basketball player and former security specialist tells us how Prince gave him his break in the business, and how that experience has impacted his life.
Sleeping In My Car.
When James Bryant first started working for Prince, he was charged with the task of watching Prince’s purple house. Literally. The emerging star’s home on Kiowa Trail in Chanhassen was painted purple. “I would sit in my car from 5:00 at night till 10:00 in the morning safeguarding the property,” Bryant recalls in a recent phone conversation. At the time, the Minneapolis musician’s fifth album was in the process of becoming his commercial breakthrough. 1999 would go on to sell three million copies and spend a year and a half on the charts. “After that success,” Mr. Bryant says, “there were always people hanging out and trying to check out where he lived.” One night, when Prince returned home with his Purple Rain co-star Apollonia in tow, the pair decided to sneak up on Bryant at his post. They couldn’t stop laughing when they found him dead asleep in the car. “He never let me forget that,” he says with a chuckle.
Keep The Change.
James Bryant didn’t have his own vehicle at first. “I would rent cars, but that was too expensive,” he remembers. When James approached Alan Leeds, who was managing Prince at the time about the situation, Leeds went to Prince and told him that Bryant needed money to buy a car. Prince in turn gave Bryant $2,000. Upon contemplating his best use of Prince’s money, Bryant decided to buy the “beater” car he spotted on a lot for $250. Prince then instructed him to take it to a local shop for new tires, a tune-up and anything else it needed. “He said, ‘and have them charge it to me!” When Bryant tried to return the remaining $1,750 to Prince, he was surprised by the response, “No, man, that money is yours. I gave it to you.” Bryant has fond memories of working for Prince. On more than one occasion his boss would ask him, “Are you hungry?” Then send him across the street to Perkins to get the “Buttermilk Five,” a favorite meal of 5 pancakes and five scrambled eggs. “He was the most loving, giving boss anyone could ever have.”
He Got Game.
“Prince made me a celebrity,” says Bryant, who began working for the Minneapolis superstar in 1983. His boss christened him “Jaybe,” a name composed of letters from his first, middle and last names (“James Anthony Bryant”). A self-described country boy from Arkansas, Jaybe relocated with his mother and siblings to Kansas City, Kansas when he was 13. The sixth of 13 children (12 birth, one adopted), he would attend college at Arkansas State for two years before enrolling in Minneapolis Community College. “I played basketball. I put my name in the NBA draft, but I didn’t get picked,” Jaybe relates today. A career opportunity arose when the guy running First Avenue, the Twin Cities hotspot, offered him a job working backstage security. “I ran with it,” he says.
Hot August Night
A few months into the new gig, on August 3, 1983, Prince and the Revolution played a benefit con-cert for the Minnesota Dance Theatre. That night, James Bryant must have made an impression on Prince, then on the verge of becoming the biggest music superstar on the planet, by helping him stay cool. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, this show would go down as one of the most celebrated in the artist’s history: “Purple Rain” was debuted in a thrilling performance that formed the basis of the iconic album version of the song. “It was hot, like 90 degrees that night,” Bryant re-members. “I brought in a fan, a pitcher of cold water and some wet towels.” Prince liked that. So much in fact, that Prince not only tipped him $100, but asked Bryant to come work for him. At first, when he heard that Prince’s bodyguard (“Big Chick” Huntsberry) was looking for him after the First Avenue concert, the 23-year-old Bryant didn’t know what to think. “I was scared,” he says laughing. “Did I do something wrong?”
It seemed however to Jaybe that Prince must have thought he did things just right. The music superstar had him looking after the Flying Cloud Drive Warehouse, one of the rehearsal and record-ing spaces that functioned as Prince’s creative base before Paisley Park was built. “I would sign people in and out,” he says. Early on, Jaybe was given the option of getting paid 5 dollars an hour or $250 a week. He chose the hourly rate, a wise decision considering Prince’s prolific work tendencies. “He was always doing something [at the Warehouse] or at his house,” Jaybe affirms. One time during the period when he was preparing Purple Rain, Prince told him to “bring some extra clothes to work and leave them here in case we go out.” Sure enough, after Prince and he spent a night on the town, Prince asked the 6’ 7” Bryant to be his bodyguard. Thus began his stint, alongside the others in Prince’s security team - Big Chick, Harlan “Hucky” Austin, Gilbert Davidson, and one of Prince’s cousins - keeping the fast rising star safe. Jaybe accompanied Prince and the Revolution on the Purple Rain tour, one of the largest treks of his career. It’s the only major Prince tour where Jaybe was able to spend some time on the road. But mostly, he was charged with looking after things at home in Minneapolis.
I Learned From The Best.
Stage hand. Wardrobe. Security. Bodyguard. James Bryant was getting first hand exposure to the ins and outs of the music business from an artist many, even this early in his career considered to be the greatest of all time. “Everything was on point,” he recalls, speaking admirably of Prince’s stage presentation. “I learned everything from him. How to do music, the music business, how to make a group.” When Prince had Paisley Park built in the late 80s, Jaybe ran the in-house film company. He also helped casting Director Lynn Blumenthal on Graffiti Bridge, while heading up security for The Time on that same project. In addition to the business-related duties he was responsible for, James also appeared in music videos by Prince-associates Ingrid Chavez, Brown-mark (in the Prince-directed “Bang Bang”), Patti LaBelle (he plays a gravedigger in “Yo Mister”), and Mavis Staples.
Ain’t Nobody Bad Like Me.
In March of 1982, Prince’s Controversy Tour made its Minneapolis stop at the Met Center in sub-urban Bloomington. The following night Prince would play a second hometown gig at the recently renamed First Avenue (previously known as Sam’s). Bryant and his friend, Scotty P. (A local DJ, not to be mistaken with Prince’s longtime Front House Sound Engineer “Scottie P.” Baldwin) would be awestruck by Prince’s command of both his music and his image. Earlier that day, the pair walked in and checked out some of the soundcheck. Thoroughly impressed, they unanimously agreed they just had to come back to see the concert that night, which included guest appearances by both Sue Ann Carwell and The Time. “I knew I had to get close to that, to whatever Prince had,” he recalls. Later that same night, Jaybe and Scotty spotted Prince roller skating around Lake Calhoun, surrounded by four women. “He was with Vanity, Brenda and Susan. And Sandy Scipioni. I thought to myself, ‘dude is bad like a mug!’” Then he adds, “I started telling people that I already worked for him, that I had a job. I lied!”
Jaybe reasons that he and Prince were possibly able to connect so well because they had some key attributes in common. Each had troubled relationships with their fathers and both played basketball. They also had similar musical roots. Jaybe’s older brother played bass in a Kansas City group (Strange Fruit) and would bring him along on gigs. “He made me his roadie,” Jaybe says. “So I got exposed to all of this music: James Brown, Rose Royce, Parliament-Funkadelic, Larry Graham.” Prince, a little more than a year older than Jaybe, would cut his musical teeth on the records of many of those same artists. And both grew up with and maintained their love of hoops. Jaybe says he and his boss would make time for basketball, in spite of the rigorous work schedule, during breaks at the Warehouse, and later Paisley Park: “That cat would shoot me out every day!” The 6 foot 7 inch Jaybe reports with a chuckle. When they weren’t pitted against one another in a game of Around the World, Jaybe and Prince would team up with the musicians and dancers to rule the court at the Warehouse. So fierce were they that Jerome Benton of The Time assembled a “super-team” including Prince’s brother Duane Nelson to try to defeat them.
Tony, Get On The Mic.
One night, Prince said, “Jaybe, I’m going to do a movie and I want you to help cast.” While the movie already had casting agents in Los Angeles, New York City and of course Minneapolis in charge of that task, but according to Jaybe, Prince wanted to get “club people” in his movie, and that wasn’t happening. So he asked Jaybe and Scotty to help add that missing local flair. Among their recommendations was a trio of male dancers that had been winning local contests on a regular basis. Tony Mosley, Kirk Johnson and Damon Dickson would don police uniforms and cut funky fresh moves during the film’s crowd scenes and musical numbers. Credit Jaybe with getting the trio in front of the casting director. Their appearance in Purple Rain would prove to be only the beginning of their association with Prince, as all three ended up becoming members in the New Power Generation band in the early 90s, introducing rap and hip-hop choreography to Prince’s act. Kirk, in particular, remained connected to Prince until the end of his life and was Best Man at his Valentine’s Day 1996 wedding to Mayte Garcia.
“I’m Going To Join Morris’ Group!”
If you’ve watched the movie Purple Rain, where moving from Prince’s camp to Morris Day and The Time’s was seen as treason, one might have some hesitation in real life in considering a shift from Prince’s employ to Morris Day’s and the Time’s, yet Jaybe did precisely that in 1991. After a brief period of running Jaybe Productions and managing his own musical outfit, Exotic Storm (who released an album on Epic Records), Bryant returned to working with Prince. He stayed till an opportunity arose to tour Japan with Morris Day and Co. as road manager, bodyguard, and head of security and transportation. “I basically ran the organization,” he says. Impressed with Day’s natural on-screen charisma - “a lot of Morris’ scenes in Purple Rain it turns out were ad-libbed,” he affirms - Jaybe helped position Morris in the lead role in the Fox Network sitcom “Hotel Dicks”, which also included Morris’ friend and bandmate Jerome Benton. After shooting two episodes, the show wasn’t picked up. When recalling The Time assembling again after 1990’s release ‘Pandemonium’, Jaybe says, “Me and Morris put it back together.” And how did Prince react to Jaybe’s act of mutiny? “He was mad as hell! He didn’t speak to me for years,” he admits. Eventually he seemed to have softened. “One-time Prince came when [The Time] did a duo of shows in Minneapolis in 1996. “He really liked it. He was happy for us.”
Back In Business.
From 2002 to 2005, Jaybe went to work security for the Harlem Globetrotters. But he returned to music when Morris phoned and asked him to come back and work for him. At one point he was working for the Globetrotters and as Morris’ bodyguard simultaneously “It was just too much,” he says. And then, in February of 2011, Jaybe suffered a stroke. He has since recovered, but the experience resulted in his slowing things down a bit. He still has a hand in the music biz. He has recently been invested in Minneapolis singer-songwriter Patrick Adams along with another project called Dayedream, composed of five singing sisters. Jaybe also hopes to help put on a string of Las Ve-gas shows with the latest incarnation of Mazarati. “I’ve had a good life,” Jaybe says today, reflect-ing on his years in the business. Then adds, “Prince and Morris made sure I did.”
(There’ll Never B) Another Like Me.
Looking back on his time spent in Prince’s employ, Jaybe expresses nothing but awe and gratitude. “I had a good run. I got to work for Prince.” What does he think of Prince’s legacy today? “There will never be another like him,” Jaybe states. “I’ve never seen a person who could do everything, cut a song all by himself, cut a whole album in a week.” He was in employ during the recording of classic cuts like “Raspberry Beret” and the Family album project. One of his most cherished memories is of Prince creating “She’s Always in My Hair” from scratch. “I watched him write the song, program the drums, play guitar. I was blown away.”
He has awesome stories of time spent with a musical legend, to be sure. But Jaybe was privy to more than the machinations of Prince’s unparalleled creative chops. He witnessed first-hand his genuine concern for others, something that never abated till the day of his passing. “The Monday before [his death], Prince called me,” he says. “Said I was going to be hearing from him soon.” His former boss had learned of some financial hardship Jaybe was having after his stroke and was reaching out to offer help.
Today, Jaybe says he feels committed to keeping Prince’s legacy alive.” This cat made me what I am today.”
© PRN Alumni Foundation