In 1984, “Purple Rain” was the hottest movie in America, turning a semi-unknown Minneapolis musician named Prince into a worldwide superstar. In the year that followed, he assembled several bands composed of his talented friends and lovers.
The most promising was a multiethnic, multigender five-piece dubbed “The Family,” featuring Susannah Melvoin (Revolution guitarist Wendy’s twin sister), sax man Eric Leeds and three members of The Time: Jerome Benton, Jellybean Johnson on drums and St. Paul Peterson on vocals and bass. Their stylish debut album featured the up-tempo hit “Screams of Passion” and the original version of “Nothing Compares to You,” a song later made famous by Sinead O’Connor.
Thirty years later, the band plays on, funkier than ever. Now rechristened fDeluxe (Prince owns the original trademark) Miss Melvoin, Mr. Peterson, Mr. Leeds and Mr. Johnson have released two albums and are in the midst of planning a tour to mark their debut album’s three-decade anniversary.
Miss Melvoin and Mr. Peterson discussed the band’s history, time with Prince, and new albums “FM Static” and “Live & Tight.”
Question: Can you believe your debut album is 30 years old?
SPP: I never would have predicted that when I started in The Family at 17 years old that I would be playing with the same guys and gal 30 years later.
Q: How much of the debut record was developed before you guys got there?
SM: Prince had the idea for the band first, [and] then he went in and wrote those tracks literally within days before we went to cut it.
SPP: I was living at my mom’s house. I would get deliveries of cassette tapes to the house for me to learn the vocal.
SM: He was recording those tracks in the moment. When Paul got the tapes, they were hot off the presses, basically. What was so brilliant about it was that the record was coming out of Prince in such an immediate way. He was writing something that was going to last. We were lucky enough to be with him in that period where he was prolific.
Q: What keeps you guys making music together?
SPP: There is an undeniable chemistry. We have a serious creative push-pull relationship. She and I don’t always see eye to eye. She will piss me off because she makes me redo stuff, but it makes it a better record.
SM: We’re both individual sides of the coin. I don’t think the record would be what it was if either one of us did it on our own. What goes on between me and Paul is first the appreciation of each other’s company. On another note, we do make each other laugh so much.
Q: What will the band be doing to mark the anniversary?
SM: We are in the midst of planning and trying to find what the real options are for us. As a live band, there is no doubt in our minds that if people came out and saw the show, we would be on the road all the time. It is easier said than done, but right now we think this in an opportunity that can’t be missed anymore. The anniversary seems like the perfect time.
The big issue is who are we? We are a live band that can blow everybody off the stage. Thirty years ago, we were in a pop band.
Q: You are now fDeluxe because you can no longer legally use the name The Family. Is the name change a stumbling block?
SM: There are people who wish we could have kept the name The Family and that this thing could have just blown up. There are the others, including ourselves, who say, “It’s OK.” Because we are relevant. We’ve been fDeluxe working for the past three years to stay relevant. We have fire in our blood and want to be better musicians, performers and songwriters every day.
Given the name fDeluxe, we’re like, “OK, that’s what it is. So let’s get out there.”
SPP: It’s a new brand that we feel made us move forward. I think it was a blessing in disguise. I don’t think we lost any of the old Prince fans, because if they truly are fans of ours, then they found us.
Q: One of your newer CDs is an album of covers called “FM Static.” How did you decide what songs to cover?
SPP: I was really terrible with deciding what to do. I needed direction. Susannah had the clear vision for what she wanted to do. Our producer was a big help in picking out these songs. It was supposed to be a collection of things that haven’t been covered very much by artists we love. We put our own spin on [those songs].
Q: Any chances of new original fDeluxe music this year?
SM: If we can get out on the road, we can then make the record we really want to make. But we’ve got to get out. To use our own money to make a record makes no sense. We don’t make any money selling records. Those days are gone.
SPP: The way you sell CDs is by gigging. Do I think we should make new music? Of course. Is there a demand for it? I think there is. But we want to be smart and strategic. It is definitely on the table for discussion.
SM: If Iggy Pop can get out and writhe on stage at his age, we can too. There is no stopping us. Our age isn’t a factor.