Todd Herreman: An SIU Professor Remembers Prince


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When the news broke that Prince had died last week at his home at the age of fifty-seven, SIU profes
Leah Williams
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When the news broke that Prince had died last week at his home at the age of fifty-seven, SIU professor Todd Herreman had just heard his duet with Sheila E., “A Love Bizarre,” over the restaurant speakers.

“She was around a lot during the time I was working with [Prince],” Herreman said.

That and other memories have been coming back to him ever since, as Herreman recalled his days recording and touring with the late legendary musician.

After graduating from Indiana University in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in music, Herreman knew he did not want to become a concert pianist. He settled for a position in retail at a music store north of Chicago that specialized in higher-end digital technology that was beginning to emerge at the time.

One of those then state-of-the-art products was the Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument, a digital-sampling synthesizer. Herreman sold one of these $35,000 instruments to Prince, and later he received a call from Prince’s managers needing a list of people who could run it. Herreman was the guy.

The rest is history.

“The short answer is, I was in the right place at the time and I was in the position to say yes,” Herreman said.

Herreman started working for Prince the same day that “Kiss” was released as a single. He worked and toured with him for a year, and one of the traits he remembers about the musician is his incredible work ethic and ability to play so many instruments.

“I think he was the hardest working man in show business,” he said. “It was nothing for us to go on three-day marathons in the studio. Or get a page at three in the morning, saying: ‘God gave Prince a groove. Time to go back into the studio.’”

Since Prince could reportedly play as many as twenty-seven different instruments, Herreman said working in the studio could be a difficult because the pace was so rapid.

“He worked so fast and so hard. It was tough to keep up with him,” he said. “But you just kind of anticipate his next move.”

Herreman also recalled Prince as an occasional prankster who loved to laugh, and an incredible athlete who would usher in equipment from local stores for a pickup softball game or play basketball in heels. Yes, just like in the Chappelle skit.

Herreman said he also matched the singer in ping-pong, even securing a win now and again.

“That’s my claim to fame,” he said. “I’ve beaten Prince at ping-pong.”

Herreman said he considered Sign o’ the Times, the platinum album he worked on with Prince, as the “artistic pinnacle” of the musician’s career, a true showcase of the artist at his unique writing stage of fusing funk and pop with rock ‘n’ roll. (Herreman is credited as “Todd H.” on the track “Housequake.”)

Knowing how hard Prince had worked thirty years ago, Herreman said he is sure there is a vault of unheard of music.

 

“If he was working as hard as he did then, he would have thousands [of unreleased recordings],” Herreman said.