As former Paisley Park employee Scott LeGere saw for himself when he began working at the facility about a decade ago, nothing quite compared to the sight of Prince at work in his own studios, in his own building. “He’d be tracking drums in Studio A, horns in Studio B, and doing writing and preproduction with somebody else in Studio C,” says LeGere. “He’d just hop.”
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When he was done making music for the day, Prince would sometimes release the results on record – or, just as likely, lose interest in what he’d done and relegate the tapes to floor-to-ceiling shelves inside his legendary vault. Tucked away in the basement of Paisley Park, the vault lived up to its name: Accessible by elevator, it was (and still is) a climate-controlled room hidden behind a steel door straight out a bank, complete with a time lock and large spinning handle. For an extra dash of mystique, only Prince had the combination, and many employees respected that decision. “At one point, I was holding tapes and he would beckon me to come in,” says LeGere. “I said, ‘Actually, sir, I’d rather not. That is your space and your work – I will simply hand these things to you.’ He seemed to appreciate that. I think that’s what quite a few other staff did.”
According to past Paisley Park employees, thousands of hours of unheard live and studio material – jams, random songs and entire albums – still reside in that locked room, along with a similar amount of performance footage. (LeGere recalls stepping into the “pre-vault” – a small, foyer-like room that lead to the archive – and finding the floor covered with tape reels, which meant the main vault was full a decade ago.) How many of those tapes have been adequately logged and catalogued remains a mystery; some employees don’t remember seeing much in the way of detailed lists. “Half the time I couldn’t find a song because it was so hard to find,” says engineer Ian Boxill, who worked with Prince during the second half of last decade. “I’d spend a half hour just going through tapes. Prince didn’t seem to have a reaction to it. I’d be like, ‘Wow, look at all this stuff,’ especially when I saw a lot of Batman tapes. For him, it was like going through old filing cabinets.”
Now and then, Prince burrowed into that archive, releasing entire albums from it (The Black Album) or gathering tracks for later collections like Crystal Ball, Lotusflower and The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale. What else in there is worth releasing? We asked Paisley veterans for their thoughts on the treasures that may lie among the mountains of tapes in the vault.
The Second Coming (1982): Live album from the fiery Controversy tour, taped during a homecoming show in March 1982 and capturing Prince and his band – including guitarist Dez Dickerson – romping through salacious early classics like “Jack U Off” and “Dirty Mind.”