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The Man Who Discovered Prince Explains What It Was Like to Discover Prince

Read an excerpt on what it was like to hear Prince before the rest of the world, from 'Famous People Who've Met Me,' a memoir by Owen Husney, the man who discovered Prince.

by Owen Husney
Apr 6 2018, 7:10pm

Famous People Who’ve Met Me is a memoir by Owen Husney, the man who discovered Prince. The book is a collection of bizarre (and true) stories from Husney, who’s worked in the music industry for the past four decades as a manager, agent, concert promoter, and musician. The book features stories about everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Elvis to Prince. It releases on April 7 via ROTHCO Press, but we’ve got an excerpt below, which is about the first time Owen heard Prince. We’re not going to lie, it’s pretty fucking good. Pre-order the book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

September 1976:

Chris Moon pressed play and messed with the volume while I shuffled through the papers on my desk. I had been to this party before. Usually it was the artist themselves, a band, or the parents of some young kid. They were all hoping for the big time so they came to see me, the music guy. Stopping the player mid-song my answer was always the same, “That shows real promise but it’s not quite ready yet. Come back in maybe three to four years.” But as Chris’s cassette rolled on I was compelled to hear more. It was that feeling when you bite into something so great you immediately take two more bites before swallowing the first one. Or, the first time you try cocaine and it works.

"It was that feeling when you bite into something so great you immediately take two more bites before swallowing the first one. Or, the first time you try cocaine and it works." —Owen Husney

As a former musician I listened with a different set of ears than most. I was able to pick apart subtle nuances that separated greatness from fiction. It was hard to fool me. What struck me about the song was that the intro was not only memorable but also methodically original. For sure, the demo was not record ready, and possibly too long, but someone had endeavored to create a new instrumental sound and tonal quality. Whomever it was they were obviously borrowing from sonic elements of the day; Sly and the Family Stone, Santana, perhaps a bit of Hendrix - but the end result was they had created something entirely new. With a mix of guitar and keyboards - working together harmoniously – the music defied comparison to other acts of the day. The vocalist came in singing the lyrics, “Angora fur, the Aegean Sea,” with such an endearing and vulnerable male falsetto that I wanted to simultaneously hug him, protect him, and sign him – even though I had no idea who he was. I could tell the singer was black but the song itself crossed many barriers where most artists of the day either refused to go, or just plain lacked the ability to get there. It was definitely a fusion of R&B, Pop, rock, and Soul. I was in shock and remember thinking; damn I hope he’s not nasty looking!

“What’s the title?” I asked, as the song drifted into the chorus. “Soft and Wet,” Chris replied, like someone who had lived with it for so long it had finally become an appendage. Perfect, I thought. Whoever crafted this track knew exactly what they were doing with the title. Yeah, it could mean that, or it could just be your dirty little mind going there. Plausible deniability - pop music genius!

“So, who’s the band?” “It’s not exactly a band,” Chris shot back. “Shit, you mean it’s a bunch of studio musicians?” “No, not exactly.” “Then what is it?” Chris cocked a sly smile and looked directly in my eyes. “It’s one kid. He’s just turned eighteen, and he’s playing all the instruments and singing all the vocal parts. We co-wrote the lyrics and recorded it at Moonsound, my 8-track studio just down the road. Still in shock the only question I could muster was, “Does he have a name?” “Yeah, Prince Nelson.” “Really!!” I said, almost losing my big man cool. “You come in here telling me you’ve got a Stevie Wonder one man band, who writes the music, sings everything, and he’s the Prince of some country? How does the fairy tale end?” “No, he’s from North Minneapolis. He and his friend Andre both live in Andre’s mother’s basement - Prince is his real name.”

I hunkered down in my couch while Chris carried on, “He came to my studio last year with a band called Champagne. We struck up a relationship during the process. After a week or so he absorbed all the information he needed to record by himself.”

“No, he’s from North Minneapolis. He and his friend Andre both live in Andre’s mother’s basement - Prince is his real name.”

I desperately wanted to believe this fairy tale. “So, what did you do?” “I gave him the keys to my studio. I told him he could let himself in after school and do whatever he wanted. Our deal was that in return we’d work on songs together, make a demo tape, and get him recording deal.” “And what’s in it for you?” I said, the wheels turning. “All I want is co-writing credit.” “And what can I do for you?” Just then my receptionist came through the intercom. “It’s the Chevrolet client and he needs to speak with you ASAP.” “Tell him I’m out of the office and take a message,” I said, muting the speaker. “Chris, what else is on that cassette? Let’s hear everything.” We both sat silent as, “My Love Is Forever” and “Aces,” filled the room with undeniable talent. “How old did you say he was?”

The is the letter Owen Husney sent just after signing Prince to Warner Brothers, hoping to "set the tone" with the head of publicity at the label that they were not to refer to him in any other way than "Prince," no last name, no nothing. It was to create mystique, because that's who Prince was.

I already knew what I could do for Chris and the vulnerable artist on that tape. But first I had to meet this Prince Nelson. “Where is he now can we call him?” The one thing I learned in this business is that if you’re into a project you move fast – no, you move at lightning speed. If you don’t, you lose. “Right now he’s at his sister Sharon’s place in New York.” Chris said. We’ve been trying to get a record deal with the demo but we’re not having any luck.” Chris continued. We just can’t believe that no one gets it That’s why I’m here to see you.” Chris continued, looking a bit dumbfounded. “We need a music business and marketing guy. We need you.” Once his spiel was over Chris too sank into the couch. “Then we need to call him right away. Here, use my phone. Just dial 9, and call straight out. Don’t worry about the expense.”

“Prince, it's Chris, I’m here with Owen Husney at his office.” I overheard a deep voice on the other end mumble something. Was this the same voice I just heard singing in that vulnerable falsetto? Wow! “You know, the music guy I told you about. He likes the tracks we cut and would like to say hello.” The deep voice mumbled something and Chris handed me the phone.

“Hey Prince.” There was a long pause and the deep voice spoke. “Yes.” That was it? Just yes? “I really like what I heard,” I said. “Thank you.” That’s it? Thank you? There was nothing mean in his response. In fact, he was quite polite, if not a bit calculated. “Well, I’d love to get together with you when you’re back in Minneapolis and hear some more music. What I just heard was great.” There was another long pause for me to wade through. “Okay.” “Okay then, and Prince?” “Yes.” You’re young and this is a funky business. I will protect you.” I don’t know why I said that; it just came to me from deep inside. Chris got back on the phone, “Uh, huh, yes I will Prince. Okay bye.”

Chris put down the phone, turned to me and said, “He’ll be back next week and he said to tell you he’d rather come to your home than meet in your office.” After Chris left I sat back down on my couch and listened to the demo at least another twenty times. It was then that I decided if Prince Nelson signed a management contract with me it would take every waking hour of my time to get him signed. And then the thought hit me again, gosh, I hope he’s not nasty looking.