It was the summer of 1978, and though his first album, For You, had just been released, Prince was already pursuing other endeavors. Acting on a tip concerning a local talent, Prince went to a performance by a sixteen-year-old singer named Sue Ann Carwell. After the show, he asked her if she’d be interested in a project. Carwell was into the idea, so Prince went about writing and recording for her at his home studio.
Sue Ann Carwell.
In his 2004 biography, Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince, author Alex Hahn wrote about the Carwell undertaking, which was the first time Prince played the role of Svengali:
From the start, Prince conceived of Carwell as a solo artist whom he would guide from behind the scenes. As he wrote for her, he consciously sought to adopt a female perspective, both in terms of the lyrics and the sound. The coy and bouncy “Wouldn’t You Love To Love Me,” for example, was written from the viewpoint of a woman being pursued by a male suitor. Prince became excited about the potential of a Carwell side project and planned to take a demo of the material to Warner Bros. He began concocting an image for her and proposed that she adopt the name Susie Stone. She balked at the whole enterprise, however, not wanting to have her career co-opted.
It’s also been speculated that the plan was aborted once it was determined that the songs Prince composed for Carwell sounded too similar to his own tunes. Prince’s demos for the two tracks that have been leaked bear this out, as they would’ve been right at home on For You.
Regardless of what happened, Prince would soon resume promotional duties related to his one-man band debut. This included forming a group to play live dates.
L-R: André Cymone, Prince, and Dez Dickerson.
Prince’s live band from 1978-1980 consisted of Dez Dickerson, guitar; Bobby Z. Rifkin, drums; Gayle Chapman and Matt Fink, keyboards; Prince’s childhood friend, André Cymone, bass; as well as the man himself, guitar and lead vocals. They played a couple of show in January and then Prince went to work on what would become his self-titled second record. Once the album was complete, he took the members of his live act and went into the studio to record as an actual band. The group was christened the Rebels.
The Rebels sessions took place from July 10-21, 1979 at Mountain Ears Sound Studio in Boulder, CO. Nine tracks are known to have been recorded. Dickerson and Cymone contributed their own songs, and they, along with Chapman, sang lead vocals. Prince wrote and sang, too, but in this setting he saw himself as just another member of the band. It’s been often said that the project was a means for Prince to fully embrace rock-n-roll, but the styles heard on the unreleased Rebels recordings vary—from rock to disco, to funk and new wave.
As unremarkable as much of the Rebels material is, there are a few highlights, including Dickerson’s “Disco Away,” a rock-disco track with heavy guitars and new wave keyboards. Unsurprisingly, though, the best songs were written by Prince. “You,” sung in a wicked, Prince-like falsetto by Chapman, is funky new wave synth rock, while “Hard To Get” features prominent slide guitar and just plain ROCKS. These tunes are so good.
Dickerson has said that the sessions were supposed to result in a Rebels album, but Prince scrapped the idea. It’s unclear as to why Prince abandoned the project, but, frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me if he felt that, collectively, it wasn’t up to snuff. It could’ve been that he simply grew bored and moved on to the next thing, something that happened often in the ensuing years.
The Prince LP was released that October, with a tour that began in November. No numbers by the Rebels were performed, nor did Prince and his group ever play any dates under the moniker. It’s too bad that “Hard To Get” and “You” were ditched along with the rest of the Rebels recordings. Prince did tackle “Hard To Get” again in the studio during 1981, though nothing came of it; he ended up giving “You” to Paula Abdul. Ugh.
Prince introducing his group on American Bandstand:
The Sue Ann Carwell endeavor is proof that even at an early stage in his career, Prince was looking at side projects as a way to anonymously explore other aspects of his musical personality. Carwell was also the first of the female protégés he would take under his wing, the next being Vanity as part of the Vanity 6 record (1982). That album allowed him to write from a woman’s point of view—with lyrics that were even more joyfully raunchy than usual—and make a killer electro album. Seriously, if you’re a Prince fan and don’t own this LP, get it now.
Between the Rebels and Vanity 6 was the Time, the funky R&B group Prince started as a vehicle for Morris Day. The Time’s 1981 debut, in which Prince wrote most of the material and played the majority of the instruments, uncredited, was the template for the myriad of side projects he would subsequently take on.
We’ll leave you with the Time’s December 1982 appearance on the Minneapolis TV program, Night Times Variety Show, promoting their second album, What Time Is It? Like the first LP by the Time, What Time Is It? was largely written, performed, recorded, and produced by Prince.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Watch a fantastic Prince concert from 1982 that can’t be scrubbed from the Internet