“Prince would have the Presidential Suites, but he wouldn’t sleep in them…”: Prince and The Revolution drummer Bobby Z on what it was like being in a band with the Purple One

Prince on the Purple Rain tour
(Image credit: Prince Photo by Richard E. Aaron/Redferns)

American drummer Bobby Z got to see how one of the all-time greats operated at the peak of his powers – he was the man behind the kit in Prince’s original backing band The Revolution, a key member of the Purple One’s group as he became a worldwide superstar in the 80s. Speaking to this writer a couple of years ago, Bobby Z. looked back to the jaw-dropping tour Prince and The Revolution embarked on in the aftermath of the all-conquering album Purple Rain and he said the first thing that came to mind was the hours of the day that the band spent working.

“Prince would have the Presidential Suites but he wouldn’t sleep in them,” Bobby Z remembered. “He just wanted to make sure that as soon as the equipment was set up, by 2pm we're back on stage either soundchecking or recording, learning a new song or changing the show. We would do that until doors - people would be pounding on the doors! Then we would have an hour for hair and makeup at dinner and back on stage. Then later in the tour, he did these infamous after parties. Rinse and repeat the next day. It was a blur but an incredible moment.”

Bobby Z says the band knew they were in an imperial phase, playing out of their skins every night. “It was a Ferrari, tremendous horsepower and agility. You could do audio commands, visual commands, we could go 16 bars somewhere, come back, four bars somewhere else, tempo breaks, stops, cues, changes, all of them on the fly, pretty flawless.”

Before the shows began, the drummer recounted, Prince would be pacing back and forth, ready to pounce onstage. “We're making history and he got his adrenaline and excitement up, which drags you with it,” he said. “You just didn't want to make an error, you wanted everything to be perfect. The tension of all that was equal to the elation of a good show after but he definitely took this as a life and death situation. There was a life and death approach to it that most musicians don't have… with Prince, it was like a mountain, you're climbing Mount Everest every night. It was a work ethic that other people didn't have.”

Witness their brilliance for yourself with this clip from Prince and The Revolution live in Syracuse in 1985:

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.