For Mark Brown, the head games began with a cold call from Prince in 1981. And they ended, six years later, with the bassist — rechristened BrownMark, by Prince — confident that the rock star had derailed him out of millions in songwriting royalties.
As related in BrownMark’s new memoir, “My Life in the Purple Kingdom” (University of Minnesota Press), playing with Prince was the best of times and the worst of times — often at the same time. Like when he was cast in the movie musical “Purple Rain.”
“I took drama classes, joined SAG and acted in the movie,” Brown, 58, told The Post. “Then all my scenes were cut. Prince came up with some lame excuse about having to make the movie shorter.”
Before the fast talk and subterfuge, there was that unexpected call. Brown, then 19, took it in the Minneapolis rec center where his funk band rehearsed. “The first thing that went through my mind was that it couldn’t be Prince,” Brown said. “It was surreal.”
But Prince — then blowing up in the United States, following the release of “Dirty Mind” — wanted Brown for his band, the Revolution. Brown never asked Prince why he proffered the rags-to-riches bid, but he has an idea. “I was young and moldable,” he said. “I became the younger version of Prince. I became what he would have been if he played bass.”
Within three months, Brown went from his day job at 7-Eleven to sporting a Prince-approved hair do — transforming his Jheri curls to a relaxer-enhanced, Hendrix-style coif — and appearing as part of the purple one’s band when they opened for the Rolling Stones at the LA Forum.
“The Stones audience threw bottles and fruit at us,” Brown recalled. But Prince was undaunted: “He [later] told me that if I stick with him, I’ll be well off. I’d never have to work again.”
That vow did not come to fruition, and there were times when backing Prince could be taxing. During Brown’s first time playing with the Revolution, he received a kick from behind and Prince whispered in his ear, “Fucking play! Or I’ll find somebody who will play.”
Deploying a disciplinary technique attributed to James Brown, Prince had a road manager tally band members’ mistakes on a notepad, then he would penalize them accordingly. “I once got fined $1,200 in one gig; that hurts when you make $2,000 per week. I didn’t think Prince would hold me to it but he did,” said Brown.
He explained that Prince celebrated his musicians’ on-stage flubs by singing: “I got some money… I got some money…”
Eventually, Brown devised a way of playing that threw off his Napoleonic boss. “I used a rumbling bass technique where he could never catch me in a mistake.”
Then there was the need for Brown to always be available. “It could be 4 o’clock in the morning and my Bat Phone” — to which only Prince had the number — “would ring,” Brown recalled. “If I didn’t answer, one of Prince’s security guards knocked on my door and told me to come to the studio. Prince would be there, looking like a rock star ready for a photo shoot, and he’d have me jam with him on an idea for hours.”
Brown’s hard work with Prince made him known in the business, and offers rolled in to play with the likes of Miles Davis and George Michael. In 1985, Brown wanted to pursue such opportunities. But Prince convinced him to stay by promising a cut of the profits from an upcoming tour.
“We spent six months on the road and grossed over $100 million; then he gave me an insulting bonus,” Brown recalled of the $15,000 check he received at the Purple Rain tour’s conclusion. “Prince told me to talk to the accountant about it. It was a game and it never got resolved.”
The same can be said for Brown’s contribution to the 1986 hit “Kiss,” which Prince had presented to Brown in a skeletal, acoustic form. “I put some Brown style on it and created that song — minus the guitar parts and Prince’s falsetto,” said Brown, who writes that Prince promised him co-writing credit and royalties. Neither materialized.
“That was one of his biggest hits. As a one-third writing partner, I would have made millions. You can’t recover from that. My bank account did not reflect the 22 gold albums I played on.”
Brown, who in January self-released an EP called “House Party,” left the band soon after the “Kiss” disappointment.
Years later, he and Prince made amends — but their past experience drove the bassist out of big-time show business and into a career as a computer tech.
“The music industry is not a business for nice guys,” he said. “I realized I just want to be normal.”