CINCINNATI — When Tri-State Prince fans packed into then-Riverfront Coliseum for the seventeenth stop on the pop icon’s 1984-1985 “Purple Rain” release tour, about 1,000 of them had already heard every one of those chart-busting tracks… live, right here in Cincinnati.
That’s because, just months before, Prince held a secret — like, "Say a word and we’ll cancel" kind of secret — pre-release show at Bogart’s in Clifton.
(As if Bogart’s was in need of even more cred.)
Something only a handful of cities around the country can boast, the show was unannounced, a rehearsal for the release tour of the album and film of the same name, according to a 2015 report by City Beat.
“As soon as they got into the building, we disabled all the phone lines,” then-Bogart’s manager Al Porkolab told City Beat. “When the show started, there was a blacklight on Prince.
“In front of me there were these two young women, early 20s,” he said. “One turned to the other and said, ‘Look at that guy trying to be Prince.’ And the other one said, ‘You idiot. That is Prince.’
“What a great show,” he said.
Now, with his publicist confirming his death early Thursday afternoon, fans have even more reason to look back.
The secrecy surrounding the show, which played for only about 1,000 people — a small number, considering Prince’s fame — seemed to be its most memorable feature, which was by design. The appearance had originally been booked in Detroit, according to a 1987 Cincinnati Magazine report, but when word of that show leaked, it was moved to Cincinnati.
LOOK BACK as a sick, young Northern Kentucky girl talks to WCPO in 1985 about her dream of seeing Prince live in concert coming true, thanks to a local charity:
The secrecy is understandable: As if he knew the smash success the album would become, Prince “craved a low-keyed club warm-up,” Cincinnati Magazine said.
The album sits on a laundry list of “Best Album” rosters, and two of its top singles — “When Doves Cry” and “Let’s Go Crazy” topped charts worldwide. The title track made it to number two on Billboard’s Hot 100 list that year. To date, the album has sold roughly 20 million copies, according to the Guardian.
The challenge, Porkolab told Cincinnati Magazine, was promoting a show he wasn’t allowed to promote — and he was anxious of another cancellation.
It didn’t help that “Red Hot” himself — a code name Prince’s backup musicians insisted on using — didn’t even attend the rehearsal.
When the lights went down and his silhouette revealed itself the crowd “roared with delight,” Cincinnati Magazine said.
Also understandably so, although — they didn’t know it yet — they were listening to what is regarded as one of the best albums in American music history.
And that’s pretty damn cool.
HEAR from funk artist and Cincinnati native, Bootsy Collins, look back on the life and legacy of his friend, Prince: