Drummer Bobby Z. of The Revolution was introduced to Prince in 1976, when the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist was 18.
Z. worked as an errand boy for Owen Husney's management agency in Minneapolis, Prince's hometown. When Husney signed to represent Prince, it was Z's job to look after him.
"He'd just gotten a record deal as a solo artist with Warner Bros.," Z. says during a telephone interview. "It was my job to drive him around. I helped him get his driver's license. I helped him rent his first house. We were just kids. I was 20 or 21. It was crazy. Those were incredible years, but to say that I'm proud of him for what he became is an understatement," he laughs. "He became somethin' else. I am grateful that he took me along for the ride. I was always in awe of how he developed from humble beginnings to become Prince as we know him today."
Z. has played music since he was 6, finally choosing drums and percussion. When Prince formed his touring band after the release of his debut "For You" in 1978, Z. became one of its original members.
From 1984 to 1987, Prince referred to his band as The Revolution. Along with Z., the lineup included keyboard players Matt Fink and Lisa Coleman, Brownmark (Prince speak for Mark Brown) on bass and Wendy Melvoin on rhythm guitar.
"We call this member lineup 'the movie band' or the 'Purple Rain band,' " Z. says. "From the famous dressing-room scene in the film 'Purple Rain.' That's the band."
The 1984 hit film "Purple Rain" starred Prince, and its soundtrack, penned by Prince, sold millions of copies in the U.S. and spent two dozen weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's 200. The film also earned Prince an Oscar for Best Original Song Score.
Prince and The Revolution went on to record "Around the World in a Day" in 1985 and "Parade" in 1986.
"Not to compare The Revolution to The Beatles, but in a relatively short time a band can accomplish quite a bit," Z. says. "Prince started as a solo act, then The Revolution became a fulfillment of his utopian, uptown dream of a black, white, gay, straight band. Like all good religions," Z. laughs, "it has its leader and disciples.
"No one knows more than me that Prince was a solo act," he says. "I was his original fan in 1976, and his solo stuff always killed me. It was breathtaking what he could do by himself. 'The Beautiful Ones' is his greatest solo effort. On the flip side, 'Purple Rain' is his greatest group effort. It's the climax to a major motion picture and a testament to his songwriting. It's totally a universal song for all people. The Revolution contributed an anthem feel to it. We're proud that it will live forever."
Prince and The Revolution's last show together was in April 1986 at Yokohama Stadium in Tokyo," Z. says. Prince went his way to experiment as a solo artist with other musicians.
When Z. suffered a heart attack in 2012, he asked Prince if The Revolution could reunite to play a series of concerts to benefit the American Heart Association.
"Those shows were the impetus behind the idea of getting back together as a band," Z. says. "But then Prince dies. It was the shock of all shocks. We all got together in Minneapolis the next night, drawn to each other, and we know that playing his music is the only thing we can do that means anything to us or anyone else. We feel we have to play these arrangements that come directly from him and us that we spent hundreds of hours on.
"He would put weeks into some of these arrangements, and you get to hear them now through The Revolution. As long as we're alive, we can give listeners some kind of authenticity of who he was on stage. We're still playing with the same energy we gave him."
Z. says the bottom line is how the band sounds. It always came down to the fundamental stuff with Prince. Would he like the music?
"I think we're still trying to make him proud," he says. "That was the greatest feeling in the world. When he gave you that smile because he loved something you played, he could make you feel superhuman, like him. His playing was superhuman. It was beyond effortless."
Because Z. started playing with Prince on his first album, there's a lot of nostalgia with just about every Prince hit, he says.
"We don't tackle some of Prince's solo songs," Z. says. "Those are sacred cows. We have the catalog of 'Purple Rain,' 'Around the World in a Day' and 'Parade.' Those were the three productive years with Prince.
"We're not taking anything away from him. We're expressing his music as we did with him. It's an unusual exchange with audiences because they are grieving, too. There's tears, laughter and closure. Everything about Prince's life is encapsulated in his music, and we're delivering that message."