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The return of Mazarati: "Y'all don't think they're funky? You're wrong!"
"Mazarati's coming back," shouted Tony Christian with a grin, "and it's gonna be dangerous!"
Christian was in his Bloomington garage on Sunday evening with the founding members of Mazarati, the Minneapolis band whose 1986 debut album was release number 001 on Prince's Paisley Park label. The occasion marked the first time in 20 years that the band had been together. They were at Christian's house to rehearse for their reunion show: they're playing a set Friday night at the Prince Family Reunion at the Cabooze. Appropriately, the Cabooze was also the venue where the band played their very first show—tickets were $2.
"We have rehearsal space," said lead singer Sir Casey Terry as he ducked into Christian's basement, "but we wanted to do it this way because this is where we started—playing in the basement." Terry grew up with Prince, who was nonetheless surprised when he came upon Terry playing at First Ave. "I had real long hair then," remembered Terry, "and it was hanging down covering my face. Prince came up and said, 'Is this your music?' I pushed my hair back and said, 'Yeah, this is my music! You know who I am.'"
Prince signed Mazarati to his label, contributing songs and musical cameos. "He'd jam with us when we were still a bar band," said Terry. "You'd hear this voice on the monitor—Play "Head”—and you'd know he was there. Once we were playing an awards show in L.A., and the room was full of all these great musicians—legends, like Smokey Robinson. They weren't that into it, and Prince jumped up on stage. 'Y'all don't think they're funky?' he said. 'You're wrong!'"
Mazarati's 1986 debut was a modest success; they toured nationally, played live on MTV, and had a top 40 hit with the Prince-penned "100 MPH." "We were playing four to seven nights a week," remembered keyboardist Aaron Keith. "We went from playing bars to playing for ten or twenty thousand people."
When Mazarati's producer Brown Mark parted ways with Prince, the band signed with Motown Records—but the band members weren't happy with the resulting album, Mazarati 2. "I didn't sound ethnic enough for Motown," said Terry. At the label's urging, the band brought in an assortment of other producers, songwriters, and performers. "The sound was generic," said Terry. "It was just a byproduct of the original Mazarati." The band left Motown, and their second—and last—album was released only in Canada.
Today, Mazarati may be best known for the fact that they were the first act to record Prince's #1 hit "Kiss." Prince gave the band a brief demo of the song, which he originally envisioned as a countryish swing number. Mazarati gave the song its funk arrangement; Prince was so pleased with the result that he re-edited the recording—adding his own lead vocal and guitar solo—and released it on his 1986 album Parade.
"People sometimes say Prince liked us because we were the band he could never be," said keyboardist Marvin Gunn (a.k.a. Marr Starr). "We were hard black funk rockers with”—Gunn gestured at Keith and drummer Pancho Lopez—“two white guys who were also funky."
Since the band broke up, all the members have remained active in music. Keith restored the Varsity Theater, and Christian and Gunn performed as the Wild Pair—best known for their duet with Paula Abdul as the singing voice of the animated MC Skat Kat on the #1 single "Opposites Attract."
On Sunday the band declined to be photographed or to be heard in rehearsal, preferring to reemerge in style at the Cabooze. "We hit too soon," said Christian. "We were young and dumb. Now we're fluent and we know how to do it! You can quote me on that."
©2009 Jay Gabler