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27 July 2013

Eye No: Frank J. Morris III Talks 2 Beautiful Nights

  Who is the man with the wealth of knowledge on Beautiful Nights?
  Frank J. Morris III, of Southfield, Mich., has been a mainstay on the Facebook group since it started last fall. He gained popularity on the page by being able to quickly answer fan questions, identify photos and with the infamous Prince-related “Question of the Day” threads between him and Marcus Scott that were a staple on the page in the spring.
  K Nicola Dyes conducted an interview with Morris in May where he discussed how he became a Prince fan, how he acquired his information and why he doesn't want people to think he's a “know-it-all” :

  ?: Tell me about yourself.
  FM3: I was born and raised in Detroit. I have two kids, a 7-year-old girl and 4-year-old boy. I work (giving patients) dialisys, but, music is my hobby.
  I play guitar, bass and keyboard. I've played guitar since I was 11 years old and (learned) the other instruments throughout my teenage years. I do a lot of solo gigs at coffeehouses and opem mic (nights). I was with a band called The Spiral Effect for a year and a half.
  ?: When did you discover Prince?
  FM3: Like everybody growing up in the '80s, (I liked) Prince and Michael Jackson. But, it was more Prince for me. I discovered him when I was three years old, after I saw "Purple Rain." I can't explain what had me so mesmerized. Maybe, it was the way he commanded the crowd (in the film).
  I had a Prince-themed birthday party when I was five years old. They (my parents) bought me a Prince birthday cake, a Prince poster and I got my first guitar. Once I got older and developed an interest in playing music, I leaned more toward Prince, because, he was an instrumentalist, whereas Jackson was more of an entertainer.
  What did it for me was when I read the credits for Prince's (self- titled) second album and (the liner notes) said he played everything on the album... I remember my mouth hit the floor. I was going around showing the liner notes to my family and said “Did you know Prince played all his own instruments?” They said “Yeah, we knew that.”
  That just made me respect him more as a musician; that (he) could be that disciplined to play all (his) own (instruments) on the record. It made me respect music more. As I got older, I found out that people like Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney had been doing it for years. But, I guess (there was) something about the way Prince did it. (He) melded all these different styles and genres (of music) together, but, made it his own. That just stuck out (for) me.
  For a while, all I listened to was Prince. I had a conversation with my dad, where he said, “You know, Prince is great, but, there are other people that you should get into as well.” It wasn't until my teenage years, I think I was 12 years old, that I discovered Jimi Hendrix. So, for a while, all listened to was Prince and Jimi Hendrix. Then, when the movie “What's Love Got to Do With It?” came out (in 1993), I was on this kick where all I listened to was Prince, Jimi Hendrix and Ike and Tina Turner (Laughs).
  I was (later) reading up on Prince's influences, then that's when I would go back and listen to the people that he listened to...He does so many different styles and genres of music. How can you not like rock music if Prince plays rock? How can you not like funk when he plays funk? I went back and got into Sly and The Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield and Miles Davis because of him. My appreciation for this music can all be traced back to me discovering Prince.
  ?: How did you get into Prince's unreleased music?
  FM3: I discovered the world of unreleased Prince music in 1997, when my mother bought me an issue of (the now defunct) Uptown Magazine. I had never heard of that magazine when she bought it for me. I looked on the last page, through the back issues and there was an issue called the “Bootleg Issue.” I was like “What is a bootleg?” There was stuff out there that I hadn't heard about?
  I didn't actually hear my first bootleg song until 1998 when I moved back to Tennessee to live with my father. When I went down there people already knew that I was a huge Prince fan. They would see me in the hallways and said “You need to go see Mr. Brown.” Garland Brown (then a teacher at Morris' high school) was a huge Prince fan and he (now) posts on Beautiful Nights. I went and found his classroom. It was immediately like kindred spirits, like "Oh my God, I never knew somebody as young as me was into Prince.” Of course, we asked each other “Do you have this? Have you heard that?” We were going toe to toe.
  He brought me a tape of some unreleased songs that I had never heard before. I just flipped out. From then on, I was on this treasure hunt, like “What else is out there?” It just became a fervor for me.
  It actually came at the right time, because, for me, personally, the late 1990s for Prince were kind of musically shaky. I was not really interested in the stuff he was doing. The experimental wave he rode from the 1980s into the 1990s had kind of died down. He didn't seem as inspired anymore. I found myself losing interest, but, when I found those bootlegs, they kept my interest. I felt that until he found his way back to being the great artist I knew he could be, this gave me an opportunity to see all these unreleased concerts and hear all these unreleased songs. It still kept me interested in him.
  I think he (Garland) said he knew a guy in Nashville. He used to go to Tower Records every other weekend and just check out what was there. I know they sold Uptown Magazine up there. I think the guy who worked at Tower Records was his connection (for unreleased music). A lot of places up here (in Detroit) didn't sell Uptown. You had to find it at these little mom and pop record stores. The place (that sold it) here was called The Record Collector and they ended up getting shut down for selling bootlegs. There was a raid and the whole thing was shut down. For a while, I didn't have an outlet to get my magazines. I had to order a subscription.
  ?: Do you remember the first unreleased Prince song you ever heard?
  FM3: I remember he (Garland) gave me a cassette -- this was back when folks were still listening to cassettes-- and if I'm not mistaken, I think the first song on there was “Rebirth of the Flesh.”
  I remember he had been telling me about that song for a while. I think he had to dig the tape up out of storage and every day I went to his class and said “Hey, did you find the tape yet?” and he would say “No, no, not yet.” He had hyped up “Rebirth of the Flesh” so high, that I could not wait to hear it.
   When I put the tape in and heard that first beat of the kick drum...I was just blown away and said “What the hell have I been missing?” Even some of the first 12-inch singles I heard, I heard from him. I had always known that there were 12-inch (versions) and remixes for “Pop Life,” “She's Always in My Hair” and (songs) like that. But, I had never heard them until he hooked me up with a tape with all that stuff on there.
  One day, I think it was during winter break (in Detroit), my mother had to go (to work) to pick up her check. Since me and my brother were out of school, we rode with her. I said “Can we stop at The Record Collector?” We went in there and that's when I saw my first Prince concert bootleg, which was the Detroit birthday show.
 The rest of my collection basically came from trading with people over the internet. Once I started building up a collection, I was able to parlay what I had for more stuff.This was during the early days of eBay, around 1998 and 1999. I was on eBay constantly trying to see what I could find and get my hands on. When I would get something, I would take it and trade with somebody. This was before Prince was coming down on Web sites for bootlegs. So, you could openly ask people “Hey, where can I find this bootleg? Does anybody have this and can you hook me up?” It was more open. As a result, you were able to build your collection.

  ?: How did you learn all the information that you know about Prince?
  FM3: I love reading. I will read up on and research anything I have an interest in all day long... It's not enough for me to know something on the surface. I need to know why this happened, what was going through your mind when you were doing it and stuff like that. I retained a lot of this knowledge over the years just by reading so much.
  (It) really goes back to that first issue of Uptown Magazine I received. (The magazine) had great attention to detail. When you were reading those magazines, it wasn't like you were reading a magazine in a supermarket and getting superficial information. The information they gave you (made) you feel like you were right there in the studio with Prince and his personnel while these things were happening. Uptown Magazine had a really good investigative team that really got down to the bottom of a lot of things.
  I also read the different forums on and, where people asked questions and somebody who knew about whatever the person was asking would would come in there and answer the question. A lot of information came from Prince himself, as far interviews he did, as well as interviews with band members over the years. Another valuable person was Mr. Brown. He knew a lot of stuff that I didn't know, because, he knew a lot of people in the industry who knew “stories behind the story.” He told me information that I had no access to and no knowledge about. I guess it boils down to me just paying attention and just making full use of a lot of the information that was out there.
  This can get annoying to some people where they would say  “Yeah, I remember when this album came out” or “The first Prince album came out in 1977, I remember that day.” I would say “Ummm, actually it was 1978.” So, after that, people just treated me like a stickler for details. It just came from reading and retaining a lot of that information.
  ?: What's your favorite Prince album?
  FM3: That's a hard question and I always cheat when I answer this, because, I always say Parade, Sign o' the Times and Lovesexy. It's hard for me to separate those three albums. It's almost like the trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. That's how I feel about those three albums.
 I say that, because, I feel those three albums represent a turning point in his artistry and career. As great as the albums before and the albums after were, those three albums represent him at the peak of his powers, where he was so in touch and in tune with his music that I can't separate them...Those three albums tell one whole story. You can't have one without the others.
  ?: What kind of story do you think those albums tell? What makes you feel like there is one continuous story?
  FM3: I'll start with Parade: That's when he really allowed Wendy and Lisa to have more of a role in the studio with him and I think the three of them together just created some the most amazing music. With the Parade album and that whole time period, I think that's when he allowed himself to kind of open up and allow other people's influence come into his music to get across whatever he was trying to get across.
  There was a lot of experimentation. There are things on that record that you didn't hear before in his music, period. At that time, it seemed like he was the only artist adventurous enough to do some of the things he was doing. I couldn't hear anybody (else) doing a song like “Do U Lie?” I couldn't hear anybody else doing “Christopher Tracy's Parade.” “Venus De Milo” is just gorgeous, almost brings you to tears. He was an amazing artist and musician before that, but, with the Parade album he tapped into something within himself that wasn't there before.
  He wasn't trying to go after another hit; he wasn't trying to do a “Purple Rain Part 2,” it wasn't anything like that. He got to the point where he wanted his audience to grow with him and he knew after Purple Rain, (some) people were only buying his music, because, he was the “flavor of the month.” He switched it up rather than continue in that vein. He showed people “Okay, I can do that, but, I can do this as well.” 
  That gave me tons of respect (for him), because, he alienated most of those people who bought Purple Rain. You knew then who his core audience was, because, those were the people who wanted to be challenged and who wanted see “Well, okay, you've done Purple Rain already, what else can you do?” He didn't hold back.
  I think that the creative wave he was on lasted through (recording) Sign o' the Times and Lovesexy. Lovesexy was an even more challenging record than Sign o' the Times, because, it was more experimental and it had elements of jazz fusion. I think those three records had things he hadn't done on any of his previous records.     
   On some of his records, like 1999, Purple Rain (and) Around the World in a Day, you can pick out certain songs: “When Doves Cry” and “Paisley Park” had similar elements. “Paisley Park” has no bass, the drum beats are kind of the same. I have said “America” almost sounds like “Baby, I'm a Star.” On each album, I picked out something and said “He's done this before.” With the albums Parade, Sign o' the Times and Lovesexy  he was almost in uncharted territory that he and his audience had never been in before. He made it work.
  ?: How many times have you seen Prince in concert?
  FM3: Last weekend (April 27) in Las Vegas marked my 18th concert. (The first time was) December 27, 1997 on the “Jam of the Year” Tour in Detroit.
    ?: Do you think that growing up in Detroit and your love for Prince's music are linked?
  FM3: I would say so. I always wished I was older growing up in the 1980s in Detroit when Prince was doing his thing.
  I don't know how it was in other cities, but, in Detroit, you couldn't turn on the radio without hearing Prince on some station. Like I said before, when other stations were playing “Kiss” and “When Doves Cry,” we were hearing “Automatic,” “Lady Cab Driver” and “Private Joy." I think it made the atmosphere for being a Prince fan just a little bit different. It seemed like even though he was from Minneapolis, he was “ours.”
  That's an interesting question, because, I think it would've been different if I had grown up in a different city and been a Prince fan. It's weird to think about how it could have gone. But, I think that me being in Detroit at that time does have a lot to do with it.
  There was a radio DJ here called The Eletrifying Mojo and he really helped break in not only Prince, but, other artists of the “Minneapolis Sound.” He wasn't just playing the hits, he was playing the album cuts as well, so, it gave people who were probably on the fence about Prince and some of these other artists a chance to say “Okay we know what the hits sound like, let's hear what else he sounds like.”
   It gave people a chance to hear who Prince really was outside of the hit maker. As a result, it made people go out and buy the albums. Once (listeners) found out he was a multi-instrumentalist (and) wrote all these songs for people, it gave (listeners) a deeper appreciation for him as an artist.
  One of the examples that I point to is when Prince was doing the “Dirty Mind” Tour (in 1981),.People were used to the cute R&B and Pop hit maker with songs like “Soft and Wet” and “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” DIrty Mind's shock value alienated a lot of people. As a result, on that tour, he was playing a lot of theaters and small clubs. But, because The Electrifying Mojo spent those two years breaking Prince in, by the time he got to Detroit he sold out Joe Louis Arena, which held about 20,000-30,000 people, whereas in other cities, he could barely sell out 2,000-or-3,000-seat theaters and clubs.
  Prince knows that and he's had a great love affair with Detroit, especially throughout the 1980s. Even after “Purple Rain” premiered in Detroit, I don't know how they did it in other cities, but, they gave out posters to the people here. Billy Sparks (who played the club owner in “Purple Rain”) is from Detroit. His two former backup dancers--who started off as bodyguards--- from Parade and Sign o' the Times, Wally Safford and Greg Brooks are from Detroit. A lot of people who were instrumental in his early career, like Quinton Perry, a concert promoter, whom people probably wouldn't if they heard the name, is from Detroit as well.  
  (Prince) used these Detroit connections and it helped break him in, that's why when he kicked off the “Purple Rain” Tour, he kicked it off here in Detroit with seven concerts, if I'm not mistaken. When he played Detroit for his birthday, he wasn't on an official tour, he would do these different concerts, popping up in different cities and they called it the “Hit and Run” Tour. He said on stage that night “I could have stayed in Uptown (a neighborhood in Minneapolis) and partied, but I wanted to come here and party with ya'll.” 
  That was his way of giving back to the city for all the love we had shown him over the years. He played the Cobo Arena, but, the ticket demand was so great that he had to play an extra show at a smaller place before (the birthday concert), just to meet the demand. I also think the “Sign o' the Times” movie premiered in Detroit before it played anywhere else.
?: What's your favorite live performance by Prince? Which one really strikes you every time you watch it?
  FM3: I would say the concert at First Avenue on August 3, 1983, when he first premeired five songs from Purple Rain. That's a good one for me. There's another smaller concert from October 25, 1984 at First Avenue that a lot of people don't know about. It's only about a half hour long, but, I love it to death. It shows him in a loose setting and he is just jamming and having fun. It was an unannounced concert and (the band) did an impromptu jam session.
   There's a concert from the “Parade” era in San Francisco in May 1986. I loved the “Parade" Tour as a whole, but, at this particular concert he was in great mood and he was joking around. He was doing abbreviated versions of a lot of songs (at other shows), but, at this show he was playing the full versions of songs. It showed The Revolution at the peak of their powers. He had added the horn section and it showed what they could do. On that tour, Bobby Z. didn't rely on the drum machine, he was actually playing, so, you got to see his chops as a drummer. It was the beginning of Prince coming into that experimental phase of his career and it really worked out well on the “Parade” Tour.
  There was a “Lovesexy” aftershow from 1988 in New York City. A “Sign o' the Times” Tour warmup show from 1987. In some of the later years there was the “One Nite Alone” Tour in Chicago, that's one of my all-time favorite Prince concerts, period. The “Musicology” Tour in San Jose in 2004. One of the warmup shows he did for the “Musicology” Tour at a place called Club Black is one of his all-time greatest performances. The list could go on and on.

  ?: How did you end up being the person with the answers to everyone's questions on Beautiful Nights?
  FM3: I think it started when people would post things: they might post a picture and I might chime that the picture came from this year or this era. Next thing you know, I would sign on to Facebook and I would have these alerts where someone tagged me and said “Hey, Frank. I have a question for you” or people would debating about something and said “Let's have Frank settle it.”
  The first time I saw that, it kind of threw me for a loop. I don't know anything more than anyone else. I just do a lot of reading.   The same information I can get my hands on is out there for everyone. To see people leaning on me and depending on me and saying “Hey, let's ask Frank”  trips me out sometimes.
  Marcus Scott will tell you, he came to some Prince parties here in Detroit and they had trivia contests. If you win the trivia contests you win a prize. They banned me from playing a few times and said I know too much. They said “If anything, (I) could help (them) come up with questions that will stump people.”
  ?: Is there anything you don't know about Prince or associated artists?
  FM3: As much as I know about Prince, I don't know everything (emphasis added). If anybody were to ask me about lyrics (to songs) in the NPG Music Club era in 2000 and 2001, I would be stumped. I didn't really care too much for a lot of that stuff. Somebody has posted lyrics to (a song) and I said “Wait a minute, which song is that?” Then I would look it up and find out that it's a song I really didn't care for.
  I got into Prince, but, I didn't really do that with the associated artists. I would say that the things I know about them is more on the surface. I couldn't tell you when Morris Day's birthday is. Little stuff like that would trip me up. The way I can get deep on stuff about Prince, I can't do that with the associated artists.
  Going back to Prince, I don't really know personal stuff about him.   Someone was joking the other day and they posted a picture of Prince. They said “His skin is so clear, I wonder how he gets it so clear?” Someone said “Well, ask Frank!” I don't know stuff like that. They were kind of being smart about it. When people say stuff like that, I feel they're kind of coming for me. 
  That's why I make it known that I'm not the one going around telling people that I know everything about Prince, like I'm a walking Prince encyclopedia. I never said that. It's what people put on me. Even when Scott said you wanted to interview me, I said “Why? Nobody cares about me!” He said “Your fans want to know.” I said “Fans? What fans?”
  ?: How did the “Question of the Day” feature between you and Scott on Beautiful Nights get started?
  FM3: It started when we got into this big debate about whether there was a colorized version of “Under the Cherry Moon.” There isn't, as much as fans want to believe there is. Some people said “No, there is one and I've seen color pictures from the movie.” I said “Sorry to burst your bubble, but, there's not.” It became a debate on that one little topic.
  I woke up the next morning and there was a question of the day. So, I answered that one. Then the day after that there was another one. And another one. I said “Wait a minute now!” At first, I thought they were thinking “This dude thinks he knows everything, let's see what we can trip him up on.” Like I tell people, I don't know everything, but, I know what I know. I'm glad it slowed down. I haven't gotten one in a week or so.
  I would dread seeing that in the morning and said “Oh my God. Now I have to come up with these longs drawn-out answers. That's why on one or two of them I said “Feel free to help me out, because, I'm so busy today, I'm not going to be able to sit here and come up with shit.”
  One of the questions was “Name all the people Prince has dated.” I named all the ones I knew about, but, people said “What about Sherilynn Fenn?” I said “Well, okay, dang. You put me up on something I didn't know.” That shows I don't know everything. Another one was “Name the set list from every tour he's ever done.” I went and did the old copy and paste. People were thinking “Oh, he went and typed that whole thing.” I'm like “Hell no.” I added little notes at the end with stuff I did know. But, did they think I was about to sit there and type all of that out. Please!
  ?: Is there anything you would to add for your fans on Beautiful Nights?
  FM3: I'm a cool person. I'm a humble person. I don't want people to think that I'm a know it all, that I know more than them or I'm up on this high horse and things like that.
  There are clearly things I don't know, that's why I sometimes lean on the Beautiful Nights people to help me out. The whole Beautiful Nights fan group is cool, because, we can all learn a lot from each other. I'm learning stuff from people every day and people are learning from me. As we continue to grow as a group we will have a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips.

Stay Beautiful, Kristi


All photos courtesy of Frank J. Morris III.


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