It was 1984, I was 21 and I knew everything.
Cuddin’s, I was working for Prince who, at that time, was still an up-and-coming major recording star. I’d already traveled to New York, and now I was staying in Los Angeles. When I first arrived in L.A., I vividly remember driving on Santa Monica Boulevard. I was 220 pounds of muscle and bravado, I had a lot of money in my pocket and I was behind the wheel of a brand new, red Porsche 944 Turbo-and George Burns pulled up at the light next to me, in a Cadillac Seville. I know my kids will be asking, “Who’s George Burns?” But back then, George was the embodiment of California celebrity, and I knew my parents would be thrilled to hear that I saw him, sort of up-close and personal. I was blown away.
I was in L.A. because “Purple Rain” was scheduled to premiere there. The city was abuzz with excitement. I remember Donna Mills flirted outrageously with my good buddy Bob Brooks at the afterparty. Beautiful cars, beautiful people, money, money, money. And always warm. It was obvious to me, a world-wise young man of 21, that L.A. was the greatest place on earth. Paradise. Prince once said to me “Why is it that people don’t like Minnesota?” I had to laugh. His experience of Minnesota was pretty much May to October-the best six months out of the year. Come zero-below wind-chill, monster snowfalls and black ice, he is lodged in the land of palm trees and string-bikinis! Of course he loved Minnesota! There’s no place like it… in the summertime.
Prince’s entire entourage stayed at the Westwood Marquis. In preparation for the “Purple Rain” premiere, the hotel was filled with celebrities who had arrived to attend what was promising to be the hottest ticket in town. In fact, before the screening, I recall stepping out of my room into the hallway and seeing Peabo Bryson. Now, of course, I did a double-take because I hadn’t expected to see him. He apparently feared I was a crazy fan or would be asking for his autograph or something, and promptly dropped his eyes and actually tried to cover his face! It struck me as funny-so I told Prince about it. Well, wouldn’t you know it, later that same day I was on the elevator with Prince on the way back to his room, and Mr. Bryson steps onto the elevator. He looked at me and realized I was with Prince…and Prince promptly averted his eyes and tried to cover his face. After we exited the elevator, Prince gave me his notorious devilish little smirk. I still laugh about that!
Mann’s Chinese Theatre (the famous Grauman’s Chinese, built in 1927) was hosting the premiere and, in preparation, had decked the place out with purple accents, including a “Purple carpet”. I remember Peewee Herman rode up in a go-cart. Stevie Nicks, Eddie Murphy, Little Richard, John Cougar, Lionel Richie and a host of other celebrities walked the Purple carpet, eagerly anticipating the screening. Warner Bros. had a custom Purple Limousine deliver Prince to the theatre and when he disembarked, looking his glam-rock-funk best, the crowd went absolutely CRAZY. That whole night, and the weeks surrounding that time were assuredly the most exciting and interesting of my young life as a bodyguard.
When we had time to ourselves, Brown Mark and I would hang out and enjoy the city. We’d go to Larry Parker’s, a hoppin’ Beverly Hills 50’s style diner famous for Haagen-Dazs milkshakes and telephones in the booths. One night we spotted two fine Stella’s sitting at a booth across the way. There was one small problem-they had dates. Mark, I called him Roger, worked it out to have our mutual friend Lance call from an outside line to the phone in their booth-so these two guys wouldn’t see us on the phone hitting on their girls. The ploy worked and the phone in their booth rang.
The look on the girls’ faces was priceless. One would have thought the phone was possessed the way one girl tentatively picked it up and said, “H-hello?” So Lance is telling the girls on the phone that “the two guys across the way are interested, and you two should drop the guys you’re with.” The girls laughed out loud, and then one of them came over, and gave us points for originality…but they declined the invitation to join us. Come the end of the night, we’re getting ready to leave. We were each driving Ferrari 308’s, Rog’s was purple, mine was red. These girls saw us, saw the cars, and promptly ditched their guys. Clearly, they thought we both must be “somebody” and therefore worthy now of their attention. They actually asked “Hey, who are you guys?” “Prince’s bass-player and Prince’s bodyguard.” The looks on their faces as we peeled out-leaving them standing in the parking lot-was priceless…again!
So there I was, five years later, living the life in L.A. I would drive through the mountains toward Ventura when I wanted to get away and have some quiet time. Prince had me fill, wash and drive around in his 1989 custom teal blue, first-off-the-line BMW. I’d crank C&C Music Factory until the tinted windows shook. Life was beautiful and perfect. L.A. was just like I’d seen on television. I discovered however, that all is not as you see on TV. My first clue was when I searched in vain on Sunset Boulevard for the famous “77 Sunset Strip” address. It doesn’t exist in real life.
I remember the day I drove Prince’s car to visit some cousins who were living in Compton. It was my first time there. I was so pleased and proud to be rolling up in that blue B-Mer. My cousins saw me pull up into the driveway in that car and said they thought I must be out of my “flippin'” mind…I was in the heart of “Blood” territory driving a blue car. What had once been a nice neighborhood had been over-run with gangs. I was lucky I wasn’t shot at. They said that because of the dark windows, gang bangers couldn’t tell how many people were rollin’ with me, or that I might be some famous person.
I was shocked to learn that in this peaceful, normal, respectful-looking neighborhood, with all those palm trees, that regular nice folks, including children, were victims of random shootings. A lot of tragedy had befallen this neighborhood, as well as Watts and Inglewood. This was the Los Angeles a lot of residents were experiencing. It was not glamorous. It was not perfect. THIS was real life. This was the L.A. that belonged to the residents. I was only a lucky visitor. I had a lot to learn about life.
After-all, I was only 21.