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Last week the world received a shock when it was reported that Prince had died. So much talent had left this earth all too soon. Word got around that Barbara Grubel, dance professor and interim associate dean of the CAC and Jay Craggs, student services program manager had worked with Prince before working at UW-Whitewater. Here are the stories:

Barb Grubel, danced At Prince’s nightclub Avenue One in an opening act prior to his show. Here’s the story. She was dancing with a Minneapolis-based dance company when they received word that there was a call for dancers to be in a big show. She auditioned, was cast and danced on stage prior to a Prince show. The choreographer was Donald Byrd, a very notable choreographer. She wore a black sexy outfit with her hair in a high ponytail all frizzed out and danced around on stage as an opening act for a Prince performance! She saw Prince from a distance surrounded by bodyguards and his entourage. This certainly was a brush with greatness! As she said, “We were just fluff on the real dessert!”

Jay Craggs, in the 90’s was involved with an audio electronics start-up called Uptown Technology. The team was creating really innovative new pro audio products for the music industry.  At the time, Jay was a full-time guitarist making a living doing sessions and performing, his role with Uptown was to come up with ideas and to prototype new pro audio devices, and then work with artists and help them understand how cool these new devices were.  The company started out with a prototype opto-switcher that ended up with Sammy Lanas of the BoDeans, Jay etched the first circuit board for that product in his kitchen.  They also did custom tech work for guitarist Adrian Belew, who was at that time playing on the David Bowie  “Sound + Vision” tour.  Other artists started hearing about Uptown Technology and they ended up working with many national acts.  Prince was one of those, along with Living Colour, the Bowie Tour,  Rush, Lou Reed, Paul Pesco, the Tom-Tom club, there were a ton of them! That was incredibly fun and exciting time for Jay Craggs.

Jay worked with Prince showing different approaches to switching, routing, layering, MIDI control, and running parallel audio in guitar systems.  At the time, Prince did some of that, and he had a lot of series stomp boxes in his rig as well.

Jay, unfortunately, did not play with any of Princes’ bands but did play alongside him in the studio working on guitar tones, routing, and switching. When asked what Prince was like when he wasn’t on stage, Jay states, “He was a more private person off stage, compared to his show persona. I think that he was about a foot shorter than I am physically, but he had a larger personal presence that was much more powerful.”

When asked to share a favorite story about this incredible artist Jay shared this: A friend, Gary Brandt, is an outstanding recording engineer who recorded all of the tracks for Prince’s first major album “Prince.”   At the time, Prince was still an unknown artist and Prince’s management had scheduled enough time with Gary to record, but no time for mixing and finishing the project.  Gary did top notch work recording the songs, and the management then requested that Gary also mix the record.  Gary was in demand and already had a very busy schedule and declined to take on the project, which eventually became an important record for Prince and a great mix project to be involved with.   When your schedule is full you have to choose which projects to accept and which to pass on – but it illustrates the fact that you never know what the next “big thing” is going to be!

Prince was really a Big Thing and his influence in the music industry will live on for a long time. It is fun to know that the faculty and staff at UW-Whitewater are just a few degrees of separation from amazing artists.