Friday, February 1, 2019

"Get on the Boat" - Interview with Josh Dunham

"He just started saying, 'Let go and let God.'"

Photo courtesy of Josh Dunham
There is no question that 2004 was a landmark year for Prince. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, released a top ten "comeback" album and embarked on a massive, national tour.

But historians would be wise to also look at the significance of 2006 in Prince's career. His album 3121 became the first to reach number one since Batman in 1989. He launched a residency in Las Vegas, and penned a Golden Globe-winning song for the animated film Happy Feet.

And he still found time to make a movie. The 3121 film was never released, though select fans said they saw some of the footage when it was reconfigured for the 2009 album Lotusflow3r. Bassist Josh Dunham had a role in the film, though he wasn't expecting to be included.

He and his then-wife, drummer Cora C. Coleman, were playing with Prince at the time, and were surprised to find a camera crew in the studio one day.

"In the scene we were in, we were playing a song and he wasn't feeling the vibe," Dunham said. "He stormed out the studio. And I said something to Cora like, 'What's wrong with him?' And she was like, 'I don't know.'"

In the next scene, Prince called in two veteran NPG musicians, bassist Sonny T. and drummer Michael Bland, to play. But Dunham and Coleman weren't aware of that part until they viewed the film at a private showing.

"We were like, 'Aw, he made us look like we didn't know what we were doing,'" Dunham said, laughing.

Dunham played with Prince for several years, contributing to 3121, Planet Earth, Indigo Nights and Lotusflow3r. He also played bass for Prince's proteges Ashley T├ímar Davis and Bria Valente.

"I know she was really nervous," Dunham said of Valente. "He was trying to get her out of her shell."

Being around Prince for quite some time, Dunham was exposed to the artist's spiritual side. We talked about Prince's invitations to Kingdom Hall (Dunham politely declined), and his practice of changing risque lyrics in live shows. I also asked Dunham if there was a spiritual moment onstage that stood out in his memory.

He immediately thought of a performance of "Come Together," which Prince performed regularly in 2006 and 2007, and occasionally in subsequent years.

"He just started saying, 'Let go and let God,'" Dunham said. "He just stayed there for a minute."

We also chatted about Larry Graham, who played the role of spiritual adviser in Prince's life, and how Prince's beliefs may or may not have shifted in later years (more in the book). And there were many funny stories, like the time Dunham and Coleman almost got their pay docked for an error onstage, or how they played Prince in a game of HORSE on their first visit to Paisley Park.

"I think Cora won," Dunham said.

Dunham also revisited his last phone call with Prince on the day before the superstar died. It's a sad moment, sure, but Dunham was able to hear his voice one last time and let him know he cared. In my opinion, that's something to cling to in the midst of the grief.

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