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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Mad for Madhouse

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Wax Poetics, the true music-lover’s music magazine, celebrates its tenth anniversary this month with a special issue devoted to Prince. Naturally I crashed the party, with a nearly 5,000-word feature on the late-1980s Paisley Park Records jazz band, Madhouse. Wax Poetics #50, freshly resized and redesigned, should start showing up in bookstores and magazine shops everyplace next week.

M’man Michael A. Gonzales rapped with Jesse Johnson, the former Time guitarist who needs no introduction. (This year Jesse joined The Testimony, D’Angelo’s new band. Watch for them at the Essence Music Festival this summer, rumor has it.) Dean Van Nguyn, editor of Dublin’s One More Robot, interviewed the inimitable Morris Day. ?uestlove ran through 33 reasons why Prince is hiphop. (A mag dedicated to Prince without ?uestlove woulda been as bogus as a mag dedicated to Prince without MML.) Wax Poetics highlights The Family, Larry Graham, Andre Cymone and more. Seriously? Get it before it completely disappears.

My Madhouse article came about because it may be another 15 years before I get a shot at a 10,000-word Vanity Fair story. Four years ago I decided to start work on my dream story, something personal that only a handful of people (the right handful, of course) would even get: an exposé on the cult group Madhouse. For those who don’t know, Prince plays every instrument except sax on their 1987 début album, 8, and nearly everything on the followup record, 16. There is no Madhouse. It’s Prince, with ex-Revolution saxophonist Eric Leeds.

Prince wrote, played and produced these tunes at the tail-end of the most monumental creative peak of his career (1982-1987). Don’t bother trolling iTunes for the music, it’s not there. If you’re interested in hearing Madhouse, then YouTube is probably your best bet. This year I promise to start bugging Rhino to produce a killer Paisley Park box set.

And but so, “Syncopated Strut” is the Madhouse story I would have written for Vanity Fair if Graydon Carter had any idea who I am. I interviewed Eric Leeds in Paris, and his brother Alan Leeds (tour manager to James Brown, Prince, D’Angelo and more). I spoke with ex-Revolution keyboardist Matt Fink; sexy Madhouse cover girl Maneca Lightner; and saxophonist James Carter.

Did I mention the entire story is uncut and online for free? Nearly twice as long as the magazine version? See WaxPoetics.com.

(P.S. Love the image above, a modern take on the flavor of photographer Richard Litt’s classic Madhouse albums for the ever elusive, never released 24. If you’ve never seen the originals, scroll through Facebook’s Mad 4 Madhouse fan page, administrated by you-know-who.)

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