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: Dr. Susan Rogers
"A REMARKABLE MAN!”
Susan Rogers Reflects upon her Lifelong Journey in Music, What it was Like to Watch a ‘Genius at Work,’ and Her Personal Vow to lift up Prince’s Legacy at Every Turn
By Tony Kiene
It was an early summer night in June 1977. As the clock drew closer and closer to 10:30, twenty-year-old Susan Rogers knew that her evening was just about over. Standing with friends from work among 17,000 some odd others inside The Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, California, she was witnessing true rock royalty Led Zeppelin on what would prove to be their final North American tour.
Although she desperately wanted to stay – after all Jimmy, John, John Paul, and Robert comprised one of her most beloved bands at the time - if Susan failed to make the curfew that her husband imposed on her, it would result in yet another beating. Thus, she parted ways with her friends and began to stroll toward the exit. However, before she left the building, she turned, stared into the rafters and made a vow to herself, “Someday I’ll be back here. And when I am, I’m going to be mixing live sound for a band."
For the Love of Music
Born and raised in Southern California, Susan was a passionate record collector from the very beginning. “Growing up, my allowance and later my babysitting money, all went to buying records,” she says. Moreover, it didn’t take long for her to realize that she wanted to be in the record-making business one day. “I was never interested in becoming a singer, songwriter, performer,” explains Susan, “Nor did I have any desire to be a record executive. Maybe a disc jockey.”
Around the age of eight or nine, Susan was gifted Sonny and Cher’s debut album Look at Us. On the back cover – in addition to the musicians that played on the record – was a photo of recording engineer Stan Ross, co-founder of Gold Star Studios. Susan instantly took notice. “When I saw they included a picture of the engineer, something just clicked in my mind and I thought, ‘That feels right. That’s for me.’”
On the night Susan made a promise that she would one day return to The Forum, next time in a working capacity, it was not lost on her that some things would have to change beforehand. Number one, she would have to become free from an abusive husband. “He would beat the s#!+ out of me all the time.”
Plus, at that precise moment, she was working in the Biomedical field. “I didn’t know anyone in the music industry at all,” Susan confesses, “For me to pledge that I would one day mix live sound at The Forum was implausible. It was akin to saying ‘I’m going to go to the moon.’”
Thanks to her tenacity and a desire to map her own destiny in life, it didn’t take long for Susan to extricate herself of that bad marriage. And, by 1978 – in her quest to pursue her musical passions – she made a short trek to Hollywood and Audio Industries Corporation (AIC). While she studied audio electronics and basic electronics theory on her own time, AIC trained Susan as an Audio Technician.
The first few years on the job found her primarily repairing recording consoles and tape machines, installing studios, and the like. Then came her first big break. In 1981, Susan was hired as a Maintenance Tech at Rudy Records, owned by Graham Nash and David Crosby (“it was named after one of their dogs”).
“I got to see a lot of famous people come and go back then,” recalls Susan, “Of course, Crosby, Stills & Nash was recording a big album at the time. But then there were others from that sort of soft rock Los Angeles scene; members of The Eagles, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and the like.”
Although she felt that working at Rudy Records was great, it was not where Susan “lived musically,” so to speak. Soul music was her love and her favorite artist in the world was Prince.
“That’s My Job!”
It was the summer of 1983 when Susan received a call from an old boyfriend John Sacchetti. “Susan,” he shouted excitedly, “Prince is looking for a full-time audio tech from either New York or Los Angeles. That’s your job. Call Glenn now!”
Glenn, was none other than audio industry pioneer Glenn Phoenix, John’s boss and founder of Westlake Audio, from which Prince had recently purchased a new recording console. Susan immediately made the call and declared, “Glenn. That’s my job! That’s my job! There’s nobody more qualified for this than me.”
Without hesitation, Susan went to visit Glenn who subsequently arranged for her to interview with Prince’s manager Steve Fargnoli. Prior to that meeting however, Susan and John flew to Minneapolis to deliver the equipment Prince had just ordered from Westlake. Upon her return she met with Fargnoli, who in rather short order decided, “Yeah, you’ll do.”
“We negotiated my contract, salary, everything right there on the spot,” remembers Susan. So, as she hired the moving trucks and made preparations to relocate nearly 2,000 miles from the only home she’d ever known, Susan anxiously contemplated what her future might hold.
On August 3, 1983 (the day she turned 27), Susan’s friends and co-workers threw her a birthday/going-away party. That also happened to be the day that Prince performed his (now) legendary benefit concert at First Avenue, which unfortunately, Susan had to miss. Nevertheless, she was fully aware that a lot of adventure must lie ahead.
A Good Fit
Susan’s first responsibility in her new gig was to install the recording console that she previously helped deliver in Prince’s home studio on Kiowa Trail in Chanhassen. “It was such a small space,” she remarks. “Just a tiny room across the main hallway from his master bedroom. Not your typical studio for sure. And still, he made so much incredible music in there all on his own.”
Although Susan was hired as an audio technician, and a capable one at that, it didn’t take long for her to realize Prince was looking for more. “He expected me to be an engineer and I don’t think he really cared if I was trained as such. That’s what he needed.” Thankfully, there were a multitude of things Susan had in her favor.
First, she was more than up for the challenge noting that “I understood the equipment, I understood signal flows.” Besides, Susan had seen plenty of engineers in action and coveted the opportunity she’d now been given. The one thing she wasn’t sure of at first was “which mic to use” when recording Prince, but that would soon prove to be much less of an issue than she first imagined. “With Prince there was no rule book in the studio,” affirms Susan, “It was all based on feel. If it felt good to him, then it was right.”
Another detail Susan had going for her is that she was a female. “Prince enjoyed working with women,” muses Susan, “Perhaps in part due to our collaborative, less competitive natures. The absolute last thing Prince needed at the time were any obstinate males posing a challenge to his authority, to his artistic instincts.”
It also helped that Susan and Prince grew up on “the same musical street.” Susan would mention the concerts of his that she’d attended. Not to mention that whenever Prince might reference a particular R&B song or album, Susan was already familiar. “That’s the music I had listened to my entire life.”
And finally, Susan was not at all averse to the long days and nights. It didn’t matter if it was 18 hours a day, 24 hours straight, or even longer. “I could hang,” proclaims Susan, “Which made me a good fit for him.”
While Susan notes that Prince loved to use Sunset Sound, when recording in Minneapolis there were basically only two options; his home studio and the fabled warehouses that he leased including the Highway 7 site in St. Louis Park (where “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Computer Blue” were each recorded) and later, the Flying Cloud Drive address out in Eden Prairie.
Recording at these locations presented their own set of unique challenges. “We would truck the console over to the warehouse, which was primarily used for rehearsals,” Susan explains, “The stage set up included the riser in the back which held Bobby, Lisa, and Matt, while Prince, Wendy, and Mark were up front.” And, while everyone’s position had its own mic, the setup required each mic to feed into a splitter snake, which in turn fed into both the monitor mix console and the recording console.
The result Susan relates was that the “signal path was not especially good and there was no acoustical isolation.” As such, although Susan may only be standing 20 to 30 feet away from Prince, she wasn’t able hear sounds in isolation. Essentially, Susan concedes that during those warehouse sessions in Eden Prairie she was “pretty much flying blind” the entire time, at least from a sonic perspective.
And yet in the summer of 1984 – while standing in the midst of the cultural zeitgeist that was Purple Rain - Prince recorded so much “incredible material” at that little wood-panelled warehouse tucked away in the southwest suburbs. Among the songs recorded there were many of the tracks that would make up Around the World in A Day as well as The Family’s debut album. “Prince seemed really happy then,” says Susan, “The volume and quality of his musical output at that time was off the charts.”
“Let’s Get One Thing Straight…”
The monotony and methodology of the recording process can easily blur or even erase certain memories. Says Susan, “It could be such a grind, day in and day out. And most of the time you were operating on such little sleep.” Not that it wasn’t an amazing experience.
Susan continues, “To see Prince move from the drums to the keys. Then on to the bass and ultimately the guitar before putting down these amazing vocals. I thought this must be what it’s like to observe a painter. I was literally watching a genius at work. And it was never lost on me how truly fortunate I was.”
That said, she loves to take stock of those ordinary, everyday moments in time when Prince was simply being Prince. One such occasion took place at the Flying Cloud Drive warehouse where she was hanging out with “Cubby” Colby (Prince’s live engineer), drum technician Brad Marsh, and a few others.
“The guys were talking about someone on the crew they thought was an a$$hole,” states Susan. Unbeknownst to any of them Prince had sauntered into the room and overheard their conversation. “Wait, who’s an a$$hole,” he asked. The crew, not wanting to throw anyone under the bus before the boss said nothing. In response to their silence, Prince, unabashedly proclaimed, “Let’s get one thing straight right now. There’s only one a$$hole around here and it’s me!”
“Prince was 100 percent right to say that,” Susan reflects, “Everyone that worked for him had to recognize that he was the boss.” Be that as it may, Prince wasn’t looking for “yes-men” (or yes-women for that matter). “That wouldn’t work,” she says, “You had to tell him the truth, even if it was bad news he generally took it in stride. But above all, Prince was the captain of the ship and I believe we were all at ease because of it.”
In November of 1984 - following the massive success of Purple Rain and its indelible soundtrack (which remained atop the Billboard 200 Chart for six months) – the Purple Rain Tour opened at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. And, Susan was along for the ride carrying the official title of Electronic Technician. But her engineering duties were still required. “I was with Prince nearly every day for four years,” she notes, “That’s because he recorded almost every day even when he was on tour.”
As the tour crisscrossed the country, ultimately visiting 33 cities (and a total of 98 shows), it finally made its way to Susan’s native soil in February for a sold-out, six-night stand at The Forum. During one of the concerts, Saturday the 23rd, both Bruce Springsteen and Madonna would grace Prince’s stage. Yet it would be that first LA show, February 18, 1985, that would live in Susan’s memory forever.
In late June of 1977 – the very same week she saw Led Zeppelin play The Forum - there is no way Susan could have ever known that a nineteen-year-old Prince Rogers Nelson was in the process of signing his first professional recording contract with Warner Bros. Records. Had she been aware, the serendipity of that particular reality would have come in a distant second to an even greater truth. Susan Rogers, as she swore she would be, was back at The Forum.
She wouldn’t be mixing live sound, but to her mind Susan was doing something even more gratifying. “My job was to record the shows from a mobile truck outside of the building,” reveals Susan, “From an engineer’s perspective nothing could be better.”
After the soundcheck preceding that first show in Los Angeles, Susan made her way into The Forum and then into Prince’s dressing room. Per usual, she was there to provide him with a cassette of what she’d just recorded.
With just the two of them in the room, Susan, while mindful that she didn’t want to take up too much of his time, decided to tell Prince a story. The story about the violent ex-husband, a preposterous curfew, and the seemingly impractical promise she’d made to herself some seven-and-a-half years earlier.
“More than anything,” recognizes Susan, “I wanted to thank Prince for enabling me to fulfil that very promise.” Though she doesn’t recall whether or not Prince said anything in response (“he might have uttered something”), she’ll never forget how they looked at one another in that moment. “This was one of those times where you saw who Prince was at his very core… saw his empathy, his essence, his humanity.”
Susan continues, “Here we were, two people who had grown up without privilege, without opportunity. And, what I saw in his eyes as they reflected back at me was confirmation that he understood my story on a visceral level and had to overcome so many obstacles himself. But we both worked our asses off and we made it!”
What is more, is that not only did Prince and Susan realize their own ambition, but Prince’s vision for his career thoroughly empowered countless others in successfully establishing their own. Adds Susan, “In achieving his own dreams, Prince allowed the dreams and aspirations of so many people to come true.”
I’ve Been to the Mountaintop
It was April 1985. After 22-weeks on the road the Purple Rain Tour was over and Prince’s follow-up, Around the World in A Day, was about to hit the record stores. Always a step ahead, Prince was already planning what would become the Parade album. But things were a little different now. Once they had returned to Minneapolis, Susan began to notice what she refers to as a “sea change” in Prince’s universe.
“His world had gotten so much bigger,” observes Susan, “He was more serious. Problems were more urgent. With Purple Rain, Prince achieved a pinnacle. Now the world wanted to see what was next. Could he climb that mountain again?”
The initial response to Around the World in a Day suggested a number of critics (and perhaps some fans) were bewildered by Prince’s latest effort. But to his eternal credit, as Susan relates, “Prince was astute enough to hang in there, to stay the course.”
“Critics like to make predictions about where an artist will go next,” says Susan, “But Prince was as wise as he was intelligent.” And, although sales may have suffered and others may have not understood, “Prince always kept a cool head. There was always a vision, a big picture, which is one of the things that made him such a joy to work with.”
Fun with Prince
Notwithstanding such platitudes, Susan admits that Prince could be difficult. “Sometimes he was mean. He could be cold. He might embarrass you. He could even be a brat. Yet none of these things are unpardonable sins.”
Susan speaks to occasions where she was operating on little or no sleep to which Prince might say, “I know you’ve been up 24 hours, but I’ve got another song so we’re gonna go around again.” For Susan’s part, she always recognized that was what she’d signed up for. It was part of the job. In other words, she says simply, “We were there to make Prince records.”
So, if Prince was in a dark mood, Susan comments, “You just let him be. However, during the time I was with him, he was usually in a pretty good mood.” Likewise, in spite of the arduous and oftentimes tedious work, there was always time for fun. And, perhaps no one could be more fun (or funnier) than Prince.
For example, there was a day at Sunset Sound where Prince was reading an article about himself out loud to anyone who was within earshot. “He was in the control room with Wendy and Lisa,” recalls Susan, “There may have been a few others around. I believe it was one of the bigger magazines, maybe Time.” As Prince read on he came across phrase that rankled him; “the diminutive singer.”
“Why do they always call me diminutive,” Prince wondered aloud. He soon took umbrage at another untruth when the author of the piece commented that Prince stood 5 foot, 2 inches tall. “There they go again,” he implored, I’m not 5’ 2.” “Well, asked Wendy, “How tall are you?” Prince’s response, “I’m 5’ 3!”
“Everyone had a good laugh over that one,” Susan remembers, “Still. Prince was completely serious. He wanted to let the record show that he was indeed 5’ 3”.
Another time, as was often the case, it was just Prince and Susan in the studio. “We were at Sunset Sound and we’d just finished recording a new song. Prince was really excited to listen to the playback so I made a cassette and we jumped in his car.” The car was no ordinary vehicle, but rather a cream colored convertible Rolls Royce with slate blue and teak interior. “It was so beautiful,” lauds Susan.
With Prince at the wheel and Susan in the passenger’s seat, the duo first made their way up and down Sunset before crossing over to Santa Monica Boulevard. On the way back to the studio, to Susan’s considerable surprise, Prince pulled into a 7-Eleven. “He reached into the glove compartment, pulled out a wallet, and asked me if I wanted anything,” Susan laughs, “I told him I was fine.”
Amazed by the moment, Susan kept an eye on Prince through the glass exterior of the store as he made his way to the checkout line. “He was wearing this pale lavender chiffon tunic, with matching bell bottoms and his trademark boots,” she says, “Naturally his hair and make-up were flawless.”
Then, as Prince waited for his turn to pay, the gentleman in front of him kept turning, staring at the purple-clad superstar. Susan saw that this guy eventually said something to Prince, who politely smiled. The expression on Prince’s face grew wider as he returned to the car. Visibly amused, Prince said to Susan, “You won’t believe what that guy just said to me.” “What,” Susan eagerly asked to which Prince replied, “He said, ‘Yo man. You look a lot like Prince, only shorter.’”
“It was so hilarious,” Susan giggles, “We laughed and laughed.” She reminds us that Prince had a really good sense of humor about such things. In her mind however, with regard to the poor guy in the 7-Eleven, there was only one thing on her mind. “Dude,” she pondered to herself, “Who could you have thought this possibly was rolling through Hollywood in a convertible Rolls decked out in perfectly in this pale lavender. I mean really?”
Unlocking The Vault
In lieu of Prince’s prolific nature, Susan made the suggestion early on in her tenure that Prince catalogue and store all the treasures he was creating. Thus, the legendary vault was born. “At Sunset Sound, songs were easy to document,” Susan explains, “It was a professional studio with a labeling system and a filing system.” But at home in Minneapolis, there were no assistant engineers. More often than not, it was just Prince and Susan flying through session after session in his home studio along the shores of Lake Riley.
As she has repeated in numerous interviews, Susan was always nostalgic about gems like “Wally” and “Moonbeam Levels,” the latter of which received its first official release on the November 2016 collection Prince 4Ever. Yet there are so many others. Songs like “Splash,” “Data Bank,” and “Crucial” immediately come to mind. “And, I just loved “Sexual Suicide,” she adds.
To this day, Susan marvels at Prince’s accelerated output. “He worked so much faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. Prince could do in mere days what it to other months to complete. And rarely, did he leave any song unfinished. He took it across the finish line.”
Although Susan left Prince’s full-time employ in 1987, she continued on a number of related projects. Over the years, in addition to a multitude of artists on the Paisley Park roster (like Sheila E., The Family, Madhouse, Jill Jones, Eric Leeds, and Dale Bozzio), Susan’s engineering and technical credits include a who’s who of Prince associated artists such as André Cymone, Sue Ann Carwell, Jesse Johnson, Mavis Staples, Patti LaBelle, Candy Dulfer, Sheena Easton, Tevin Campbell, and of course, Wendy and Lisa.
That said, her talents took her well beyond the purple cosmos. Among Susan’s first gigs post-Prince was The Jackson’s 1989 release 2300 Jackson Street, an ode to the family’s famous home in Gary, Indiana. Additionally, Susan went on to work with the likes of Queen, India Arie, David Byrne, Barenaked Ladies, British trip hop innovator Tricky, and noted Twin Cities icon in his own right, Paul Westerberg.
Having spent more than two decades in the music industry, Susan decided to leave the business and set her sights on another goal. In 2000, she started her academic career at the University of Minnesota before moving on to earn her Ph.D. in psychology from Montreal’s McGill University where she studied the sciences of psychoacoustics and music cognition.
Today, she is a tenured professor in Music Production and Engineering (MPE) at the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston where she also serves as director of the school’s Music Perception and Cognition Laboratory. This, as some may know, is the same college where Prince endowed a memorial scholarship in the name of Frederick Cameron Weber, a young Berklee student who was killed in 1988 after being struck by an automobile as he waited in line to purchase Prince tickets during the Lovesexy Tour.
Following Prince’s own legacy of giving, Susan, along with one of her own protégé’s (Berklee graduate Matthew McArthur), established the City of Boston’s first nonprofit recording studio, The Record Company. The studio’s mission is to “remove the technical and social barriers between Boston’s music makers and their creative visions through truly affordable music workspace and professional development programs.” And, in what would certainly warm Prince’s heart, The Record Company sets its designs on our most precious generations by offering free music technology courses to local youth.
“He was So Easy to Love”
For the spring semester of 2016, Susan took a sabbatical from teaching. Life was good. In fact, she’d just been able to catch up with Wendy and Lisa as they’d been at Berklee as artists-in-residence in the MPE department. Susan even moderated the musical duos ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) Day Event on April 7.
“It was so great to see them,” says Susan, “It had been more than 20 years since we were together. To sit and swap Prince stories, while reminiscing about the old days was so much fun.”
A week or so after Wendy and Lisa left campus, Susan was working in her cognition laboratory where she was testing a participant. It was Thursday morning, April 21.
“All of a sudden my phone started to blow up,” reflects Susan, “Then, almost immediately, a call came in from the Media Relations department at the school. I was receiving several requests for interviews. Prince had just passed away.”
In the wake of her utter shock and sadness, Susan came to realize something profound. That she and so many more from the Prince orbit had a complicated question to answer; “Would she talk about her former boss publicly? And if so, to whom?”
When Prince was alive, Susan deliberates “It was not our job to talk about him. He was more than capable of talking about himself.” Still, after a great deal of thought, she personally decided “yes,” she would speak about him. More to the point, she would talk to just about everyone that asked.
The reason? “Because I feel an obligation to tell the truth and let the world know who and what this man truly was,” declares Susan. And who was he? “Prince was a very good man, a remarkable man!”
Susan acknowledges that she’s not out to canonize Prince. Nevertheless, she thinks it critically important for those who want to, to continue spreading the word about his life, his legacy, and his love for the world. “The more we collectively talk about him, the better we can create a narrative. It’s not about controlling the narrative, mind you. But allowing a narrative to exist.”
“I cannot help but to remember how seriously Prince took his responsibilities to his employees,” shares Susan, “He did so much for all of us who were lucky enough to be part of his life. This is the least we can possibly do for him.” To Susan’s credit, she is doing that and more (along with many of her colleagues), by serving on the PRN Alumni Foundation’s Board of Directors and helping to further Prince’s enduring commitment to philanthropy, music education, and social justice.
Susan’s final thoughts about her late boss? “He was so easy to love. I loved him then and I love him now. And, I am so, so proud to have worked for him.”
© PRN Alumni Foundation