fDeluxe's St. Paul Peterson talks about the Minneapolis Sound, working with Prince, and the rebirth of the Family

Shortly after Purple Rain put Minneapolis on the map of the music world, Prince formed a little short-lived band called the Family. They would only record one album and play one sold-out show at First Avenue before disbanding, but their impact is still felt to this day.

Though the musicians occasionally played together in other projects after their split, no one expected to hear anything from the Family again. But that's all about to change this week, as four of the core members of the Family reunite as new band fDeluxe to release their debut album (or second album, depending on how you keep score) at the Loring Theater this Friday night.

The Family was formed by Prince and shuffled together members of the Time (whose leader, Morris Day, had just left the group) and Prince's then-fiancee Susannah Melvoin, the twin sister of Revolution guitarist Wendy. They only released one album as a group, simply titled The Family, before lead singer St. Paul Peterson left the group to pursue a solo recording career with Warner Bros. and Melvoin joined the Revolution, but their record spawned a gigantic hit ("Nothing Compares 2 U" went mainstream when Sinead O'Connor covered it in 1990) and is still regarded as highly influential by musicians like the Roots' ?uestlove.

To learn more about how the Family was formed and what was happening in Minneapolis in the mid-'80s, we caught up with St. Paul Peterson, who filled us on some details over the phone from his home in Edina, Minnesota as fDeluxe were getting ready for this week's show.

Gimme Noise: How did you get the nickname St. Paul Peterson?

St. Paul Peterson
St. Paul Peterson: It's a total Prince nickname, he's the one that started calling me that. Right after the record we did in '84 with the Time -- I was in the Time for one record, and after the Time broke up he put us all together in a room and pointed at me and said, 'You're going to be the lead singer for this new band.' At that point, he basically renamed me, or nicknamed me St. Paul.

It really happened just like that, he pulled you into a room and the band was formed?

It's true. Morris Day left the Time. We had just completed Purple Rain, and I had a double-platinum record on my wall at 18 years old, talk about lucky, so we didn't know what was going to go on. He decided. Prince was brilliant at pooling people together, and basically writing a book, so to speak, and we would play his characters. And this book, the Family, that he wrote, was one of his finest records, and the cast of characters that he put together have been my lifelong friends. I don't think he expected that to happen -- nor did any of us. It just worked out that way. I've known and played with Eric Leeds and Jellybean for 25 years, and known Susannah and her musical family for that long as well. It was pretty darn cool the way it all worked out. We like each other, we're friends.

Tell me how you got into that situation in the first place. How did you meet Prince?

I had just graduated in June from Holy Angels, and I was hanging out with my best friend Brett Ward up in Breezy Point, and I got a phone call from my brother-in-law that says, "Get down here, you have an audition with the Time." I'm like, "Huh? Leave my vacation?" [laughs] So I did exactly that. My brother-in-law's first cousin is Bobby Z. I was playing out six nights a week in bars at that point, all throughout high school from 10th grade on, and I'm the youngest of the Peterson family, so we had some notoriety around town. In fact, my brother Ricky turned Prince down to be in the Revolution, even before the Revolution, many, many years ago. So I think he had knowledge of who I was. I came home from vacation, I had to learn -- the rehearsal tape didn't come in time -- so I had to learn 10 songs or thereabouts, to play 'em, sing 'em, memorize 'em, and dance at the same time. You know, this little green kid from Richfield, Minnesota going into this unbelievable African American band -- talk about intimidating. Prince wasn't there. Passed that audition, moved onto a second audition and he was there, and the rest is history, as they say. Evidently, I passed the test. It was fun.

The Family circa 1985
There is so much lore surrounding that era of Minneapolis music. Can you shed some light on that time period, for those of us who didn't get to experience it first hand?

The '80s in Minnesota was pretty darn incredible. You had a lot of bands that were coming out of here. Obviously he was the main guy that was rocking it at that time, but the Minneapolis Sound really started to be a thing. Kind of like the Motown Sound, or the Memphis Sound, or anything like that. So to be ingrained in the middle of that -- I mean, from the time I joined the band, two months later I was in Purple Rain and had a double-platinum record on my wall. So that's how fast things were moving at that point in town. And that was all because of him. He was on fire. I caught him at the peak of the peak of his notoriety. He kind of had it goin' on back then. [laughs] So there's no doubt that everything he touched turned to gold, and people were clamoring to just see and be a part of that in any shape or form, whether it would be as a fan or be lucky enough to be in one of his bands. I mean, the guy's brilliant, and it was an incredible time to be a part of that.

It's actually music history now, you know. My nephew has to remind me who's in my band. He says, "Uncle, do you realize that you were in Purple Rain?" It seems like so long ago... But yeah, it's an honor to be able to say that I've done that, that movie's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I played a very small part of it, but I'm still there, and it's something that I can be proud of and tell my kids about. It was a magical time, it really was. Minnesota was just buzzing with excitement, and everyone wanted to come here to get famous, which was very cool. They weren't clamoring to go to the coasts, to L.A. and New York to get famous, they were coming here to be a part of the Minneapolis Sound.

Did it feel, at the time, like history was being made?

When you're in the middle of it, you're trying to do your best to hang on because things are moving so quickly. And I was right in the middle of it, so it meant rehearsal six days a week, 10 hours a day -- especially during that time, he was meticulous and wanted things perfect and right, and the people that he had hired underneath him -- Jesse Johnson being the person for that time -- he cracked the whip hard on us. Basically, I was all set to go to the University of Minnesota, and I just changed colleges and went to the Minneapolis Sound College of Prince and Jesse Johnson instead. It was the smartest decision of my life. It was an incredible time.

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