Prairie Prince stuffs his duffel bag into the overhead compartment and finds his seat. He opens the shade of the window and places headphones in his ears. His arms and wrists begin to flail as he mimics the drumming of Ringo Starr. The plane soars above the gray San Francisco sky and into the clouds. In about an hour, he will arrive in Virginia City, Nev., where he will lead a drum workshop and benefit concert. Proceeds benefit low-income, disadvantaged, minority teens and adults break drug addictions, particularly through the healing power of music.
When Prairie Prince is not jet setting around the world playing music, he spends his time in his Sunset home soaking up inspiration all around him. Whether he’s gazing out at the ocean on top of the hill next to the Legion of Honor or on top of Coit Tower looking out at the city’s skyline, San Francisco is Prince’s muse. “I get inspired not only daily, but hourly,” said Prince. “I travel around the world knowing that I have this beautiful place to come back to.”
Prince has played with members of the Grateful Dead, George Harrison, Tom Waits, Michael Jackson, The New Cars, Jefferson Starship and his own band The Tubes, just to name a few. He even started Journey. Listening to Prince’s stories is like reading “Rolling Stone”.
Born in North Carolina and raised in Phoenix, Ariz., Prince grew up in a family that encouraged music and artistic expression. “I’ve been a musician my whole life,” he explained. After Prince’s acceptance to the San Francisco Art Institute on a scholarship, he and his band The Tubes moved from Phoenix to San Francisco. His family shortly followed.
The Tubes’ first show was at the San Francisco Art Institute and since then Prince found himself fully immersed into the San Francisco music scene. “It was amazing to be a part of it. I came up in ’69…so things were starting to turn from hippie, good vibes to more hardcore and funk music,” said Prince.<br>
Though he started Journey and helped write their first album, his heart was with The Tubes. “The Tubes were very influenced by funk and Frank Zappa. Then the funk went into glam rock like Bowie and Rolling Stones. We kind of jumped on that wagon. We wrote songs about punks on dope, things that you wanted in life, bondage in San Francisco and London, pimps, kinky stuff, controversial stuff,” said Prince. “We tried to expose our lifestyle to the masses in an artistic way.”
The Tubes were signed to A&M Records, who had stars like Peter Frampton, The Police and Supertramp. “We were sort of their little pet artist band that didn’t make money, but gave them notoriety because we were so weird and odd,” said Prince. The band ended up leaving A&M Records, owing them millions of dollars. Nevertheless, Prince did note that Jerry Moss, A&M Records president, told him The Tubes were his prized possession and he wouldn’t take any of it back, after he ran into him years later. The Tubes then signed on to Capital Records, producing two hits, “Talk to You Later” and “She’s a Beauty,” and even played stadium concerts.
Prince is not only a musical genius, but also an artist on several levels. He has designed cover art, t-shirts and set designs for several bands. He painted a mural on the Cliff House and dozens of other murals throughout San Francisco and California. From oil on canvas to hand-painted drum sets and motorcycles, Prince does it all. Talk about a one man band.