"Every Aspect of His Life Was Set to Be a Star": BrownMark, Bassist of The Revolution, Remembers Prince

Six Degrees
Owen Murphy
photo by Peter Lodder

Bassist BrownMark began his musical career in 1981 as a member of Prince's backing band, The Revolution, and it's a role that he has returned to in the wake of Prince's passing, along with drummer Bobby Z, keyboardists Matt Fink and Lisa Coleman, and guitarist Wendy Melvoin. While Prince has worked with many backing musicians throughout his lengthy career, this is the line-up that appears on the classic album Purple Rain, as well as Around the World In a Day and Parade. Months after Prince's death, they reunited for three "triumphant, emotional" shows at the infamous First Avenue club, where Purple Rain was filmed, and the group found it so cathartic, they haven't stopped playing since. 

As we celebrate Six Degrees of Prince today, we're proud to share an interview conducted by Owen Murphy, producer of The Morning Show on KEXP and a former Minnesotan himself, covering Prince's legacy as an artist, an entertainer and, of course, as a basketball player. Wait until you hear what Prince had him do for eight hours a day.

KEXP: What does Minneapolis mean to you as a musician who's a member of The Revolution?

BrownMark: What does it mean to me? I mean, it is where I started. It's where I got my musical background from. The thing about Minneapolis is... there was segregation in many parts, but actually, it helped me develop the kind of style that I developed, helped Prince develop his style. Because me and him are very much alike in the same atmosphere and we view music same way, we think about it the same way. It's kind of a mixture of rock, R&B, punk rock — I mean, just a mixture of all the genres — but it's probably because that's all we were exposed to. We didn't have a black radio station that stayed on all day, every day. It was certain hours of the day, so we only got glimpses. And so we spent a lot of time and record stores and things like that to get our hands on the latest soul music or our indie music. But yeah, I grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, Peter Frampton, all those guys. 

So, what does it mean to you to represent the music of Prince and the Revolution on stage with current or former members of The Revolution?

It's closure for me. You know, it's definitely closure. His passing was a shock to all of us. And there was no closure to it. There were a lot of unresolved issues that I had with him in life and in friendship. Me and Prince were like brothers and we had an up-and-down relationship. I hadn't talked to him in a little while. And for him to pass away just hurt because, you know, I never got to have that last conversation with him. So that bothered me deeply. 

But yeah, being in this band and playing this music — I mean, we all helped create it. Prince was definitely our leader, but I'm just as much a part of it. I helped create those bass lines. I helped create the bottom end that people feel. I helped create the dynamics that The Revolution has. And so it's a big part of me. And when we play the music together as a whole onstage, it's kind of a healing for me. It helps me get past everything that was going on in my life and it brings back all the good memories. We used to have such a good time recording and jamming together. So yeah, it means a lot to me, really does. 

What would you have liked to have said to him? 

You know, just, thank you for being a big brother. Thank you for opening my eyes to a world that probably would have taken me another decade or so to explore. He was ahead of the game, ahead of the curve, and I was just getting started when I got involved. And so he was worlds ahead of me and he exposed me so much, so many things that I didn't know about the industry, about music, about writing, about producing, and work ethic. How to put together a solid band with a good work ethic. So many things, I just didn't know how to do it. When I met him, it was like a crash course. He taught me well. 

What was the number one lesson?

Number one lesson for me was, anything that you want, you have to go get it. It's not going to drop in your lap. You can't think you're so good that everybody is going to run to you. You can't think that you're so great that when you put something out, everybody's automatically going to like it. He taught me that. They're building blocks and you have to start with a foundation and then you map it out and you go get it. You don't let anything stop you. That's what I did with everything that I pursued. And the interesting thing is, it's a formula for success, because yeah, I never in my own personal life reached the success that The Revolution did, but I never had problems getting record deals and never had a problem getting publishing deals. I never had problems getting other groups record deals. My success rate was almost 90 percent. And, you know, I attribute that to the work ethic that he taught me, because there is a formula to the madness. Look at [Grammy-Award winning songwriting and record production team] Jimmy [Jam] and Terry [Lewis]. I mean, they attached to the formula very quickly. Jesse Johnson [original member of The Time], as well. A lot of us who were really inspired by Prince, we were able to really grasp onto his work ethic and the formulas that he used for success. 

Is there a song that you play now with The Revolution that, from your point of view, is quintessential Prince? 

Oh, so many of them. "Venus de Milo" and "Father's Song" or "Computer Blue." "Darling Nikki," the original album track. It's phenomenal, I mean, because that's not The Revolution, that's Prince. And when you listen to the musicianship, it's just incredible. He was a genius, he was a musical genius, and there's no doubt about that. 

photo from Dr. Fink’s personal archives of BrownMark rehearsing with Prince & The Revolution.


What do you think made him a genius?

I think some people are just born with a different set of tools upstairs. I mean, his brain was just wired differently than us. And I say that because, I'm a pretty active, aggressive, zealous guy when it comes to getting what I want. That's how he found me. I mean, I was very aggressive in my style, the way I looked, in every aspect of the music. It was part of my life. And because of that, I was noticed. But he was on a whole different level because, when I met him, I looked at myself and I said, Holy crap, I got a long way to go. I mean he was just... I don't know.

To give you an example, when I first got in the band, one of the first things that he did was had me come to his house and stand in the mirror for eight hours a day. I mean, a whole first week. That was what we did. We stood in front of a mirror and he showed me how to do poses and how to look at myself and understand how I walked, how I slouch, my body language, what does it say, what is it speaking to the artist. And he would teach me that stuff, and I was just blown away. I was like, who does this? I never ever would have thought of standing in front of a mirror for that much time looking at myself. But it really taught me how the audience sees me and so that helped me when it comes to performance. I know what I look like to the audience. It's not a surprise. So that's the kind-of stuff that made him Prince. 

So, he was more than just a musical genius, he was a performer at all levels. Almost a Svengali or like a ringleader of sorts? 

Totally. Totally on every level. I mean, down to the make up, the hair, the eyelashes. I'll never forget the first time I got my hair done, because I'm used to just going to my sister's friends and, hey, can you hook my hair up? You start dealing with Prince and you're going to hairdressers once a week, getting deep conditioners and things. I've never done stuff like that. I didn't understand it. Once it locked in and I realized why, it's because every aspect of his life was set to be a star. He had to be bigger than life to everyone. And that's the way he saw things: "I'm bigger than life." All the way down to his makeup, everything that he did. I don't know if you've ever seen him wear the same clothing twice. He had a whole crew that all they did was create clothes for him, create styles. He drew a lot of his own styles. He had clothes made constantly. Over at Paisley [Park], it was like a workshop. He always had a different outfit on. Never ceased to amaze me. 

You know, one of the most famous stories is the story of Charlie Murphy playing basketball against Prince and the crew (as parodied in this 2003 sketch for Comedy Central's Chappelle’s Show). I don't suppose you were part of that game, were you? 

No, no. [laughs] I was out partying that night. I remember it because me and Micki Free were best friends, and I remember Micki telling me he's going to play basketball. He's going over Prince's house and they're going to play a game of ball. I didn't go. I knew better. That boy could play some basketball. I got tired of being beat. [laughs] He's really good. He was a star basketball player on North High School's basketball team. 

What was his signature move?

You know, what it is, he's, you know, he's 5 feet 2 inches. I'm six feet tall. He could just get around you. You can't get down on his level. He handled the ball so well, it was difficult to get up under him. His movements were quick — he could get through your legs, he could get around you very quickly, and there's just no stopping him.  And he could shoot.

The low dribbles are killer, too. That's a hard one. People don't use it. I mean, that's early '70s basketball right there, the quick little dribble. You go back and watch like Knicks vs. Lakers, '72 finals. All of them are doing the low dribble to sneak by each other.

Remember when [basketball player Stephon] Marbury was playing the [Minnesota] Timberwolves? 


That's how he was. I mean, he was just low to the ground and fast. That reminds me of Prince. That's how he played. 

The Revolution, today // photo by Kevin Estrada


How would you like people to remember Prince? 

I would like for people to remember that he was a pioneer in the field of music. He broke all barriers. I'd like people to remember him as a person who brought to the world the true meaning of crossover. There are racial barriers to music. It's just music — you love it or you don't. Enough with all the barriers because that's how we grew up, with barriers, you know, boundaries. I'd like people to always remember him as a pioneer of that. And being yourself. Stop trying to be like everybody else, stop trying to copy what everybody else does. Monkey see, monkey do. Prince was never like that. As he used to say, I blazed my own trail and that's exactly what he does. He doesn't copy. He burns a new pathway every time he reinvents himself. Some of it worked, some of it didn't, but it didn't matter to him. That's the true nature of his love for music. 

What is the live show like with The Revolution?

You'll love it. And here's what I get from most fans: the only thing missing is Prince because we're no different. We were The Revolution then, and we're still The Revolution now. Nothing has changed. We have the same energy, we have the same musical drive and zealousness that we had back then. The only difference now is we're way more seasoned players than we were back then. 

So, the show is very dynamic, very powerful, and when you come out to see it, you will feel his presence there. You will feel like, wow, he's the only thing missing, but he's here, you know, because you could feel him through the music. 

And I sing vocals on certain songs. Wendy does vocals on certain songs, and Lisa. And then we have a guest singer that comes out and they sing certain songs. And it's really a powerful show. But the most powerful thing about the show is how the audience takes on Prince's position. I mean they sing so loud throughout the entire show. 

And sometimes when I'm on stage I have to laugh because there's words and gestures and ad libs that I've forgotten about. And they remember everything from the movie you know and they were out there singing it verbatim. So it's pretty funny. It's pretty exciting. 

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