Matt Fink, better known as Dr. Fink, recently answered a house call for an interview with “Dyes Got the Answers 2 Ur ?s.”
Fink played keyboards in several incarnations of Prince's band from 1978 to 1990 –before The Revolution and through the beginnings of the New Power Generation. He also received co-writing credits on Prince songs such as “Dirty Mind,” “Computer Blue,” “America” and “It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night.” Yet, through all the lineup changes and different looks for other band members, his persona remained the same: a specialist of the rock-and-roll variety.
After leaving Prince's band in 1990, Fink did a five-year stint with Dominion Records, a subsidiary of K-Tel Records. He has also created music for radio and TV commercials and has done voice over work. In addition, he does mastering and production work for other artists at his recording facility StarVu Studios – including work with his son Maxwell Fink's band Q the Clique. He released his first and only solo album, aptly titled “Ultrasound” in 2001.Recently, he joined other original band members --Bobby "Z" Rivkin, Andre Cymone and Dez Dickerson – for a reunion at Bobby Z's Benefit 2 Celebrate Life March 9 at First Avenue in Minneapolis. The same place where, nearly 29 years ago, as a member of Prince and The Revolution, he made musical history filming concert scenes for the movie “Purple Rain.”
Fans can now find him “playing himself” in The Purple Xperience, a Prince tribute band, with upcoming dates in Minnesota and Georgia-- including a concert April 5 at Neisen's Sports Bar and Grill in Savage, Minn.
K Nicola Dyes recently spoke with Fink by telephone, where he discussed The Rebels album, his favorite tour moment and how he became a “doctor”:
Growing up in Minneapolis was, I'd say, a lot of fun. There were a lot of good things about Minneapolis...You had four seasons here. You had a lot of summer activities. We have a lot of lakes here in state of Minnesota... It was great growing up in the Midwest.
I started playing music pretty early on, officially taking piano lessons at the age of 7.
When I first met Prince it was at the audition to try and get the job to work for him. He was in early stages of his career with Warner Brother Records and his first album had just come out...He just needed one more keyboard player and he was rehearsing in the basement of someone's home at the time, a gentleman named Pepe Willie.
I never imagined that he would have become as successful as he did when I first started working with him.
The Capri Theater concert (laughing), well...is a great memory, because, it was our very first show as a group. One of the shows went off very well and the other show had a lot of technical problems. It was a little awkward, because, Prince wasn't used to being put into the position of trying to kill time. I just remember that Warner Brothers told us after the shows that we needed more rehearsals before we went on tour...
The Rebels album...I know I never gave my copy to anybody. I know that I have my cassette... (It) was recorded in 1979 at a studio with brand-new facilities that had opened up in Colorado Springs, Colo. I don't remember why Prince chose that place. All of a sudden, he said, "we're going to Colorado and I want to make another record with you guys. I'm going to create a separate group." I think (his) second album had been out for a while.
I do know that he was trying to do (this album) without Warner Brothers permission and when he presented it to Warner Brothers they did not want to release it... He is so creative and he wanted another outlet for his work, which, of course, became Vanity 6, The Time and other artists down the road...
Dr. Fink on the Black Album (before its official release in 1994): He handed us copies of the Black Album and said "here you go, learn this." I didn't do anything on that album. We did start working on songs for live performances. But, a few weeks into that rehearsal, he told us to stop.
American Bandstand was a dream come true for all of us, a bunch of kids from the Midwest. That was the show that could make or break careers back in those days. All I know is that I was enthralled (to be) in Los Angeles. I had relatives out there, but, I had never visited them... [M]y first experience in Los Angeles was in Prince's group. There I was: 21 years old and getting to experience the Los Angeles scene; I was like a kid in a candy store.
(The performance) was a little scary, because, you want to do the best you can. Fortunately, in those days, you didn't have to sing live. I do recall, Prince asked the band ahead of the show, that when Dick Clark (the show's host) came to interview us after we performed, he didn't want us to say anything.
Prince had a bad cold that day. So, when it came time for him to talk, he had taken antihistamines, he had been dancing around and he was all dried out. Clark asked him how many instruments he played and he said something like “thousands.” Clark asked him another question and he just held up his fingers. We're (the band) all watching this going “Oh my God, what are you doing? You're going to blow it.”
Warner Brothers flew the band home that day, but, Prince stayed in LA. We're all sitting on the plane saying “what was that?”
(Sometime later) I asked Prince “what was going on there?” he said “I was... dried out and I had taken the antihistamines...”
One thing people don't know about me... is that I am highly accessible and that they can get in touch with me. Once in a while, I get people calling me on my studio line. They will say “can I speak to Matt Fink?” and I'll say that it's me and they say "it is? You actually answer your own phone?” I'm not unlisted. If you want to reach to me by e-mail or phone, I'm very accessible. After having worked with Prince for 12 years, they seem to think that I am not active in the industry anymore. But, I'm playing again.
|Back album cover for Prince's Let's Work 12" single.|
The Purple Experience...About two years ago, I did a special event for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Willie, of the band 94 East, and we all flew to Raleigh, N.C. (Some of the people I was playing with) said “you know, Matt, we've been thinking lately that we want to do a Prince tribute band” and they wanted to know if I'd be interested. I said “not really.” I didn't think it was appropriate for me to be in a tribute band playing myself. I also wanted to make sure I wasn't going to ruffle any feathers by doing it.
(At first), I just wanted to play (with The Purple Experience) once a month. We got underway with rehearsals in early fall of 2010. By about March of the following year, we shot our promo video. We went through a couple different drummers, (but), regardless of those little details, the first show took place for the group in November 2011. It was at the Feather Falls Casino, just north of Sacramento, Calif.
I recently made a conscious decision to do some shows in the Twin Cities. We're having a lot of fun doing the Prince music. Prince would be proud, I think. Or not. It depends...
I became Dr. Fink when we were on the (Fire it Up) tour with Rick James, when we were his opening act. We had done a a couple shows with James and I was wearing a jail outfit. James did this song called "Bustin Out (On Funk)," which was about a cell block, he wore a prison jumpsuit and Prince saw this during the show. He took me aside and said “the headlining group is wearing the jail suit. Since we're the opening act, I think you're going to have to change your image. Do you have any ideas?”
I said “maybe.” In one video I wore a tacky looking paratrooper's jumpsuit. It was actually Prince's, but, didn't fit him. I (had also worn) a black-and-gold suit with tails a la Elton John. He said “nah...it's been done before.” I was also looking at trying to do something in black leather, but, there wasn't enough time to get that together (on the road)...
(Another idea) was a guy in a doctor's suit. He perked up on that one. He said “why don't try you try on a doctor's suit and you can become Dr. Fink.” He sent his wardrobe person out in Chicago-- we were on the road-- who brought back a pair of scrubs, a stethoscope and a mask.
|Dr. Fink and Prince in 1981. Courtesy of tumblr.com.|
People often wonder what Prince is really like, but, if you want me to answer that question, you'll have to talk to me another day! Just kidding. Prince had a great sense of humor and he was a practical joker.
I'll never forget: there was a music critic named Jon Bream (for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune). He wanted to come backstage and talk to Prince and the band. Prince wanted us to put on a fake fight. Bobby Z starts arguing with me and then Dickerson (Prince's former guitar player) comes over to break us up. The next thing you know the table with all the food goes over...Bream was completely horrified. We laughed really hard about it.
Another time, I know that Prince and Andre (Cymone, former bass player in Prince's band) were working with a producer named Tommy Vicari. One time, they had this tape recorder sitting in this dryer and it had muffled sounds recorded on it. (Prince, Cymone and Vicari) were sitting in another room and Vicari goes to see where the noise is coming from. He opens the dryer and he sees a tape recorder with built-in speakers. I heard that he walked out the door and never came back. The reality is that (Prince) didn't want working with him in the first place and he wanted to be producing himself.
My approach to music is that whatever I 'm working on at the time, I try to do the best I can. I'm a perfectionist, much like Prince. I try not to have any flaws in there if I can help it; I make sure that, from a technical aspect, that everything sounds right.
My musical influences, there are many of those. I studied classical piano and some jazz piano later on...My parents really liked jazz, Latin pop and Broadway (show tunes). My mom was also a big Beatles fan and she encouraged the pop music of the day to be played around the house. I was about 7 years old when she took me to see a double feature of “Help” and “A Hard Day's Night.” We saw it two times.
I remember before my 6th birthday, The Beatles debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show... I also enjoyed all the British Invasion music. Whatever was playing on the radio we always listened to it. There weren't too many things I would turn off. I was in my first band by the time I was 12.
Before Purple Rain we spent four years as a group building the brand touring and supporting everything we did... We brought joy to people and entertained everybody the best we could. Fortunately for (Prince) and us, he was able to lead us to the movie side of things (with "Purple Rain")...
The idea of doing a movie almost didn't happen, because the music company wasn't sure (about the idea)...
My favorite tour moment --even though it was scarier than hell-- was the time we opened up for The Rolling Stones (in 1981). It was a defining, character-building moment. Mick Jagger was a big Prince fan at that time and he wanted to introduce Prince to a larger audience; he wanted to introduce him to The Rolling Stones' fans.
The LA Coliseum shows were met with (hostile fans). I would say that the majority of them were Hell's Angel's down in front. There were some people who did enjoy the concert.
They were throwing hard objects: I saw a fifth of whiskey bottle that missed Prince's head by eighth of an inch. We had to leave in the middle of our set. The second time around we almost managed to finish our set. Nonetheless, that was one of my favorite concerts, with the Hollywood luminaries that were there and being around rock royalty like The Rolling Stones.
I'd say a close second would have to be the whole "Purple Rain" Tour. No matter where we played we were always sold out. There were some memorable moments (on that tour) as well.
|Prince's and his band play at the LA Coliseum during The Rolling Stones North American Tour in 1981.|
Dr. Fink on band lineup changes: The only adjustment that would take place (for me) would be with the different keyboard players. I had to teach Coleman the parts that Gayle Chapman played. I taught Boni Boyer the parts that Coleman played and so on. Usually there would be just a keyboardist rehearsal together, before we would rehearse with rest of the band. I was usually in charge of that. Prince always kind of outsourced that job to me.
The Revolution is that band I feel, chemistry wise, was one of the best groups (that played) with Prince... I also felt (it worked) looks wise; the fact that there were two women, it was like the configuration of Fleetwood Mac. Also, at that time, we were trying to break down racial barriers in music and entertainment-- people like Prince and Michael Jackson. You black radio stations and white radio stations...
Bootlegs... I don't know if I really approve of all that; I don't think I should approve of it. It dilutes Prince's legacy in way. I don't know if hurts him in a financial way at all. Every artist on the planet is being hurt by file sharing. But, how those (Prince) songs got out there, I don't know....
Somebody made a statement (around 2005) on the Internet and accused me of doing that (leaking bootlegs). I thought that was really unfair... I want to make sure that if anybody saw that blurb about me, that's absurd and completely wrong.
There are some people who think that (Prince) is releasing them. If he is, that's his prerogative. I don't like the fact that all over the planet that there are people stealing intellectual property. This has been a topic of discussion as of late... I'm not a fan of bootlegs, even though people keep sending them to me...
Given a chance, right now, I would really want Prince to perform with The Revolution again. We've had two Revolution reunions ( without Prince in 2003 and 2012). If I had my way, I would've done a Revolution album twenty years ago... All members of the band at one time or another have approached Prince (about it), but, that's something he doesn't want to do...
Songwriting comes to you when the inspiration hits, I guess. You can't force hit songs...You have to try to write from the heart more than anything. Sometimes I've tried to work what I think it a good hook into a song and it doesn't really work. You have to work from the heart, which, is why I think Adele has broken through in such a big way. She wrote about relationships... and it came from her heart... It is also possible to come up with hit songs that are contrived, so, I shouldn't say you should always have to write from the heart. That's also perfectly okay in my book.
After Purple Rain Prince came to the band and said one day, after a concert, "I'm going on a two-year break; We're going on a two-year hiatus. The rest of you can do whatever you like for a two-year period... You'll be on a retainer..." I thought we should have given the fans more in (other parts) of the world. The rest of us were a bit miffed with that decision.
After the tour ended, about two months later, he called for all of us to come to Minneapolis. He said "well, here's the next album" and it was Around the World in A Day. He had been recording it-- he had brought in Wendy Melvoin, Coleman and her brother (David Coleman), he had also been brought in to do some strings on the album. I'm not sure they knew what the songs were for. At that time he was really utilizing Wendy and Lisa in the studio, the rest of us, not at all. He said "here's a cassette for all of you. Please start learning the songs." We said "does this mean that we're going on tour?" He said yes.
The two-year break that he said was going to happen never did. Maybe he was planning to do something without us. He was in the studio recording the whole time.
Dr. Fink on the unreleased Madhouse movie: (It was called) “Hard Life.” It showed a couple of criminal-element characters going through their day-to-day lives. It was just a short film about a couple of street thugs (played by Greg Brooks and Wally Safford). My mother appears (as a character) at the beginning of the movie. She's a woman who is a patron at a club and she walks (outside) and acts like a mean, prejudiced white woman. She mistakes them for valets and she makes disparaging remarks. They end up beating her up (laughing). Both of my parents were theater people, my dad was in the Madhouse music videos. I did play (with Madhouse) on the Sign O' the Times Tour and I performed on one of the songs of the second album, I think it was “16.”
My biggest regret...well, I don't really have any regrets. If I did, it would be that I did not release a solo album until 2001. If you think about it, it took me 11 years to do something. Ultrasound was released Sept. 10, 2001— the day before the 9/11 attacks-- and it took awhile for it to get out there.
As you know the music industry is a bit age prejudiced and at the time I was 43. But, I did make an attempt to get label support. There was a moment... when I did have a band together. But, I did give up on it at that moment in time. I was so busy in the studio and all of those distractions combined put the kibosh on Dr. Fink and Ultrasound.
I left Prince's band because I had just signed a contract with another company to produce a record. Later, Prince had made the decision to do Rock in Rio. If I backed out of my contract, I stood to lose a sizable amount of money. I made the decision that I just couldn't get away to do that. I told him he would have to find someone to fill in for me.
Once they brought in that other person, Tommy Elm-- or Tommy Barbarella -- to fill in for me, they never let him go. In a way, it was (a combination) of self-imposed leaving and being let go by Prince.
My legacy is that I was in a band that was a significant part of music history; (we) brought innovative music to the forefront in the 1980s.
I don't understand that the human race, after all this time, has not figured out how to live in peace. I don't understand why religion is still bone of contention after all this time. What's the point? We are such a speck of nothingness, that we keep forgetting that's the perspective from where we are. Time, as we know it, is an illusion...
There's probably billions of other planets that have life on them in varying degrees of evolution. This is something we forget in our everyday lives... That's how I look at life right now...
|Dr. Fink. Courtesy of thepurplexperience.com|
Upcoming Purple Xperience concerts:
April 5, Neisen's Sports Bar & Grill, (opening act: Q the Clique), Savage, Minn.
July 26 and 27, 37 Main, Beauford, Georgia
August 17, Minnesota Legends of Music Concert, St. Louis Park, Minn.
For more information on The Purple Xperience click here visit their website.
Stay beautiful, Kristi
Lead photo of Dr. Fink courtesy of mozartandfriends.com.