Morris Hayes’ height advantage was irrelevant when Prince was on the basketball court.
That was the case even when the New Power Generation musical director and keyboard player was highly motivated, as you will read here in Part 2 of our interview. Sometimes basketball was Hayes’ way of seeking payback from Prince, who could be a taskmaster.
On this second anniversary of Prince’s death, Hayes, the longest-tenured member of Prince’s former backing band, talks about how his association with Prince was a blessing that has consistently opened doors.
Q: How do you make a living in the music business these days — because in a way it’s dying the same death as the newspaper business?
A: You’re absolutely correct. It’s interesting. Since I’ve been a professional, all I’ve done for work has been music. I’ve really been blessed. It’s nothing short of miraculous that I can go from one project to the other — film or playing music with somebody on tour. It’s really been interesting because, as they say, the game has absolutely changed and is changing. What’s been a really big help is that I’ve had such a tenure with Prince. Doors open for me in a lot of regards. I’ve made a name for myself; there are always opportunities. I try to be careful and selective about the things that I do — especially if I am doing anything that represents Prince. [Such as NPG’s current world tour “Celebrating Prince.”] It’s important that I don’t do anything that I would [have him look at me and say] Morris, come on, man. Come on, now. I just always try to concentrate and think about what I’m doing, see if it’s something I really should be involved in, that sort of thing.
Q: Is Prince still speaking in your subconscious?
A: Absolutely. I’ll put it like this. Through all of the lessons that I’ve learned, it’s not anything I can easily shake. When I go to do something, I always think, “What would Prince do?” I think about the lessons he taught and see if I am adhering to that advice. Even if I’m playing with NPG, when I’m in rehearsal — because without that fearless leader [Prince], it’s like all the kids are loose now. Like when parents leave home. In order for me to rein it in, all I have to ask the guys is, “Look guys, if he were here, would you do what you’re doing right now? If you know the answer is no, then please don’t do it. Don’t do it here. Respect the music.” That’s all he always asked us to do. Respect the music and respect the situation. If we can do that, everything works. We police ourselves; we don’t have him to crack the whip. We have to crack it on ourselves now. He was great because he always was disciplined. He always wanted to teach us discipline. He wants you to remember [he touched his head]. You’ve got to think about what you’re doing and operate at that frequency like he is. Representing 110 [percent], like he would.
Q: You are 6-5. He didn’t beat you at basketball often?
A: He beat the socks off me. It really used to piss me off, it really did. I’m telling you. Some days he would be so hard on me, the only thing I thought was to beat him on the basketball court. I can count on one hand the times in 20 years that happened. And I played basketball until I was a senior in high school — 6 foot 5. I’m telling you right now, I got on the court and I’m like, “I’m going to kill that muther ’cause he has been hard on me all week. This is my chance to get him back. And he STILL would beat me. That was very frustrating. He told me [imitating Prince’s voice] The problem with you big men is that all I have to do is get you to commit, get you off your feet. He could head fake, and he was real fast and quick with his hands; knew how to dribble between your legs. He’ll catch you with a wide stance to keep him from dribbling around, and he would just dribble through your legs and then he’s just gone. ... Then his shot never missed. I said, “Prince, how do you do it? You don’t miss. Like the movie ‘Pleasantville.’ ” Just throw it at the goal, and it goes in. He said, You know, Morris, it’s like I do music. Everything I do I just see it completed. I see the ball going in the goal, and all I’m doing is executing. I do the same with music: I see a song in my head, it’s just done. When I go to play it, I’m just executing what’s in my head.