Simon Farmer, the man who made Prince’s last guitar
On April 16, 2016, Prince held another one of his infamous Paisley Park After Dark dance parties. Sadly, this would be the last time the public would ever see Prince again. During the party, Prince introduced fans to his newest guitar, the Purple Special, created by luthier and founder of Gus Guitars, Simon Farmer. As prolific of a guitarist that Prince was, he heavily relied on a select few of six-string axes throughout his career. The Purple One’s most notable guitars included the Cloud and Symbol Guitars made by Schecter, customized Fender Stratocasters, the Vox HDC-77 (used during the final six years of his life), and his iconic Hohner MadCat Telecaster. These guitars gave Prince a tone that was splendid, unique, and personal. It was surprising to see that his newest guitar was made in a small, one-man workshop, with a brand name that is not known by many. Funk★U recently caught up with the man who made this guitar to discuss his journey creating his business and his experience working with Prince.
Funk★U: Tell us a little about yourself, how you became a luthier and started Gus Guitars.
Simon Farmer : I made my first guitar when I was a fourteen year old school kid. I was completely fascinated with creating something that actually worked! I went on to study Art and Design and managed to steer most of my projects towards guitar making. I eventually completed a Master’s Degree in Industrial Design, where I spent two further years working on alternative guitar ideas and investigating different materials. By this point I’d created a number of instruments using tubular metal and composites and I had a prototype version of a guitar that would become the Gus G1. I knew at this point that I wanted to try to forge a career in guitar making and fortunately managed to win a Crafts Council Award which helped me to fund the setting up of a workshop. I spent the next few years developing my ideas and launched Gus Guitars and the G1 guitar in 1994.
How did you come up with the creative designs for your guitars ?
My art and design education included a three year degree course at Wolverhampton Polytechnic where I was surrounded by artists and designers from a wide range of disciplines all housed in a fantastic seven story building, so I was exposed to all sorts of influences and inspiration from fine art to graphics, furniture making, ceramics, print making and photography. I was particularly interested in the way furniture makers were using bent steel tube to create chairs and thought I could use the same technique to form guitars. I made a number of experimental instruments from rolled steel tube that I called Guitubes, and these started me on the path that would lead to the Gus G1 and G3.
How were you contacted by Prince ? Do you know how he heard about Gus Guitars ?
I was contacted by Prince’s friend and Paisley Park manager Kirk Johnson, who’d seen my guitars on my website. I believe my guitars may have been brought to his attention through social media.
Tell us about the guitar you made for Prince. How long did it take to make? Did he give you a deadline? Did he ask for any particular specifications ?
I created the Purple Special because people had been telling me the G1 was the sort of guitar that Prince would play for so long, that I just decided to make one that I thought really would suit him! It took me hundreds of hours spread over about 6 months with the last three months spent almost exclusively on it. I was trying to get it finished in time to show it to him at his 2007 Earth Tour, where he played twenty one nights at London’s O2 Arena. He didn’t know I was building it and in the end it wasn’t possible to get it to him, so the guitar spent the following nine years sitting in my workshop while I moved on to other projects… until it came to his attention in early 2016.
Do you know when Prince received the guitar (how long he had it before his passing) ? Did he ever attempt to contact you again?
He received the guitar in early March 2016, so he only really had the guitar for a matter of weeks before he so sadly died. He got in touch with me through Kirk when he received the guitar and wanted to set up a time to talk on the phone, though to my everlasting regret, I had a bad case of the flu and literally couldn’t speak, so I had to postpone, thinking I would speak to him later… but of course this never happened. Through Kirk, he asked me if I could build him a bass like the guitar, and this is what I was working on when I heard that he’d died.
Who are some of your favorite guitarists? Were you a fan of Prince and his music prior to engaging with him? If not, have you found yourself listening to his music more often now since he is gone? Do you have a favorite Prince song or album?
Although I played saxophone as a teenager I was always very influenced by guitar players and particularly loved blues players like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, Freddie King etc. I appreciate all sorts of players though from Les Paul and Donald Fagen to Bill Nelson and Angus Young. I’d liked Prince’s music from the early eighties on… his music always sounded new and exciting and so Funky. Not very original I know, but I love the Purple Rain album, though I also really like the music he recorded more recently with 3rd Eye Girl, with Ida Nielsen on bass.
What would you like to see happen to the Purple Special guitar you made for Prince now that he is gone ?
I’m very happy with how things have turned out with the Purple Special Paisley Park currently has it on display in a prominent position in a glass case in their museum alongside some of his other guitars. It was on display for the Celebration they had there in April to mark a year after Prince’s passing. The guitar is also featured in a book that Paisley Park has released, Prince: Guitar & Bass, which is available from their online store.
Are there any additional comments you’d like to make or would want people to know about yourself, your company, and/or your involvement with Prince ?
I think the thing I would like people to understand most about my business is that I am just a one man operation and that I create everything for my guitars by hand one at a time in my workshop… it’s a truly bespoke operation with very few bought in components. I’m extremely proud to have been able to create a guitar for Prince that he seemed to like enough to order a bass from me and I will always be grateful that he received it and had time to enjoy, though I would have so loved to see him use it live !
Interview : Adam Kita
Live report : The Revolution, Philadelphia (Theater of the Living Arts 04/30/2017)
Amidst all the music award show performances and various artists attempting to pay homage to the Purple One, the greatest live tribute to Prince is currently traveling from theater to theater across the United States, run by his most iconic band, The Revolution. After over 30 years since the band split, they haven’t missed a beat; if anything, they’ve become better with age. Members Dr. Fink and Lisa Coleman electrify the audience with their mastery of the keys while drummer Bobby Z. continues to hold down the rhythm that penetrates through the building. Fans dance and stare in awe as Brown Mark energizes the room as he slaps the funk out of the bass and Wendy Melvoin spews guitar licks that represent her incredible talent with six strings and her musical likeness of Prince. To add flare to the lead vocals shared by both Brown Mark and Wendy, the band has invited Mint Condition’s and Minnesota’s own Stokley Williams to tour with the group, whom Wendy claims was beloved by Prince. Stokley not only aids in providing a falsetto tone to memorable Prince hits but adds his own unique, recognizable voice to classic songs that instantly makes you become a fan of his as well, if not already.
Throughout the performance, Wendy fights back tears as she tells stories about their relationship with Prince and the impact he had on their lives. Lisa and Wendy pay a personal tribute to Prince by providing an instrumental and vocal duet performance of the song all three created together, “Sometimes it Snows in April”. Fans in attendance received an unexpected surprise when the band went deep into The Vault, playing the unreleased songs “Destiny” and “Roadhouse Garden”. The entire night was a celebration, giving fans a taste of what it must have been like to be in a Minneapolis night club in the 80’s.
Sadly, we will have to live the rest of our lives on this Earth knowing that we will never see another prolific live performance from Prince. Luckily, the Revolution has discovered a way to entertain his fans as if he were on stage. It is evident that they will make sure the Minneapolis Sound continues to echo throughout the world.
Take Me With You
Sometimes it Snows in April
Let’s Go Crazy
When Doves Cry
I Would Die 4 U
Baby I’m a Star
Interview : Andre Cymone “We never lost a battle of the bands”
Out April 25th, The new limited collector book Prince Live 1979-1980 : The First Tour features rare and never-seen before pictures of Prince’s very first national tour shot in December 1st, 1979 at the Houston Palace and February 24th, 1980 at the Sam Houston Coliseum. The book also includes exclusive interviews and quotes from former band members.
Here is the full Andre Cymone interview in which the bass player tells Funk★U about his personal experience of the Prince tour, Rick James’ love gun and his infamous plastic pants !
Funk★U : Was the Prince tour your first touring experience ?
Andre Cymone : Yes it was… At first, it was very strange to wake up, look out the window and have no idea where you are. But I eventually got use to that. I’m not sure I was quite ready for the extreme enthusiasm, support and love we received while on that first tour, I never really got use to that reality.
Did you rehearse a lot before going on tour ? Was Prince already very demanding about the band performance ?
We absolutely rehearsed a lot, since we had up to that point been in a band together we had already had a very serious work ethic and I was very much a part of that work ethic. I personally don’t think I could have been in anyone’s band without a serious demanding work ethic, it’s what sets you apart from the rest.
What was the repertoire of this first tour ? Can you remember tracks that were rehearsed but not played live on this tour ?
We pretty much stuck to the business of promoting the albums that were out at the time, and the fact that we didn’t tour after the release of his first album we didn’t do to many songs from the first release. We rehearsed a few but ended up focused on the main ones like “Soft and Wet”, “Just As Long As We’re Together” and, I think, “I’m yours”. We would also develop an intro to set the tone for those first shows depending on how much time we would be given since back then were were opening for other acts as well as a closing composition.
What was the audience like ? How did they react during the shows?
In the beginning, they were tough because they weren’t there to see us, so the first two or three songs were rough but after about the third or fourth song you would see a dramatic change, it was almost always a trip to see the absolute reversal of the crowd going from hate to love, from “what the hell ?” negative, to “what the hell” positive. That really made those shows exciting and magical.
How did you pick your stage clothes ? Your plastic pants are great !
(Laughs) For me personally, I have always been into fashion. My sister who studied European fashion and always kept magazines around the house was a big influence. She also made most of the stage outfits for myself earlier on and Prince before and during his early solo career. She made the infamous trench coats and the animal print vest and bottoms that Prince wore back then. As far as the clear pants, I found them in a shop in George Town DC and I bought all of them that they had in my size. Beyond that, I would go through magazines at the time and when I came across something that I thought would work for what we were trying to project at the time I’d either rock it or cut it out and show it to Prince or my sister and she would make it. I also had a favorite shop in soho called Trash in Vaudeville, a lot of the clothes we wore back then came from there.
Was provocation a big part of the live act ?
Absolutely… We would try different things, and if or should I say when they had an effect we would push it further to try to find the absolute edge. Our clothes, our hair, sexually taunting, overt provocative sexual behavior was first of all natural for both Prince and myself and I think Dez as well. We were all front men and it was definitely part of the entertainment factor.
You supported Rick James on this tour. Was there any interaction with the King of Punk-Funk ? Prince later said that RJ was rather « condescending ».
There was quite a bit or interaction, we were very focused on not just competing on a professional level but we always went into sharing the stage with other bands as a challenge and we never lost a battle of the bands. So I think they thought we were arrogant. We didn’t hang out much at all, and Rick and I got off on a bad foot the first time we met. He pointed a funk gun or love gun or whatever it was at me and I kinda lost my temper, Prince chilled me out. There were a couple other little incidents but we eventually worked it out and the tour ended up being just an absolute blast and I got to know Rick and really came to appreciated him as an artist.
Other acts on this tour included Instant Funk, Kleer and Twennynine featuring Lenny White. Do you have any memories about their performances ?
Twenntynine was my group, I loved those guys. They were amazing musicians and really good people. One of the things I remember wasn’t an actual performance scenario though there were many of those but they were just fun guys. One night after a show, Rick James’ bus was parked below their hotel room window and one of the guys, I’m not naming names but he filled a bunch of water balloons and began dropping on Ricks bus. The next day of course they blamed me but I have to say, it was a crack up because they always made such a big deal out of this little stuff.
Can you remember some funny anecdotes from this tour ?
We were almost always getting mobbed, especially me because I was always wandering off. It was before we had security, but one incident I’ll never forget was almost having our trailer tipped over by fans trying to get in or shake us out. They finally got us outta there but there were about six or seven cars following us. They were relentless. Our tour manager jumped out of our car and dove in one of their cars, they drove off with him hangin out the window, when they slammed on the brakes he flew out, I thought it was curtains but he was alright. We got him back in the limo and kept it movin…
Looking back, what kind of memory do you keep from this first national tour with Prince ?
I’m not sure there are words to describe the beginning of the realization of a dream. So many firsts. Flying around the country on airplanes everyday or every other day. Hotels, room service. Meeting really beautiful people. Feeling love for what we had been working for for so many years. So many false starts and missteps finally coming to fruition. What I remember most of all though are the faces of the fans who were so happy to see and hear us doing something outside of what everyone else was doing and letting us know we were doing the right thing.
Prince Live 1979-1980 : The First Tour. Collector picture book available exclusively at www.funku.fr. Andre Cymone’s new album 1969 will be released in Europe on June 30th by the German label Leopard, a division of Jazzline / Delta.
Prince Live 1979-1980 : The First Tour
Out April 27th, the Prince live 1979-1980 : The First Tour limited collector book features new and never-seen before pictures of Prince’s very first national tour shot in December 1st, 1979 at the Houston Palace during the Prince tour and February 24th, 1980 at the Sam Houston Coliseum supporting Rick James.
These rare pictures capture early Prince stage performances soon after the release of the Prince album in October 1979. This 56-pages photo book limited to 1000 copies also contains exclusive interviews and comments from Prince former band members André Cymone, Dez Dickerson and Gayle Chapman.
Prince live 1979-1980 : The First Tour (56 pages, language English + French)
Available April 2017 exclusively at www.funku.fr. Price for Europe : 30 €. World : 35 € (international shipping included)*.
Orders available through PayPal by sending the selected amount (Europe : 30 €; USA/World : 35 €) at the following PayPal address : firstname.lastname@example.org
* Please contact us at email@example.com for multiple orders.
Prince to play Le Zénith de Paris on June 1st
Expect the unexpected. According to French newspaper Le Parisien, Prince will play at the Zénith de Paris on June 1st 2014. Three years after a memorable night at the Stade de France, the funk legend is back in Paris for two shows next sunday, a first show will take place at 6pm and a second one at 9.30 pm. Tickets go on sale next wednesday at 10 am. Ready for a night of “Funk N’ Roll” ?
Ticket prices :
1) Pit (standing) : 77 euros
2) 1st Category (seated) : 143 euros
3) 2nd Category (seated) : 115,50 euros
Prince & 3rdEyeGirl play two shows at the Amsterdam Paradiso on Sunday 11/8
The rumor was in the air since yesterday and it has just become a fact : Prince & 3rdEyeGirl will play two shows at the Amsterdam Paradiso this sunday 11 August at 7.00 PM and midnight. Tickets on sale at the Paradiso website at 6.00 PM this friday. Price : 100 €.
The new Prince album distributed in France by PIAS
In partnership with publisher Kobalt Music Group, the independent label and distributor PIAS will publish the new Prince album in France. No set release date for the moment, though it may occur by the end of the summer. Not much information on its contents either, even if the first single ‘FixUrLifeUp’ implies the presence of the female power-trio rock 3rdEyeGirl. A surprise French gig could also be in the works and take place in the next few weeks. Stay tuned...