Just last week, Blerd and I discussed the evolution of “Nothing Compares 2 U” through its various permutations. Although we gave a brief background about The Family there, it’s worth recounting.
The Family were one in a string of many 1980s side projects for Prince, providing another outlet for his then-rich font of creativity. In essence, The Family rose from the ashes of the final incarnation of The Time, which had completely disbanded in 1985. For The Family project, Prince recruited ex-Time members Jellybean Johnson, Jerome Benton, and St. Paul Peterson, the latter taking lead vocal duties. The band also featured Eric Leeds on sax (who’d already worked with Prince on the Purple Rain tour), Miko Weaver (who would join Prince’s band following the breakup of The Revolution) and Susannah Melvoin (twin sister of The Revolution’s Wendy Melvoin, and Prince’s then-girlfriend).
The Family released only one album (self-titled, 1986 on Prince’s Paisley Park imprint), and performed only one concert to promote it. Though “Screams of Passion” got some moderate attention, the album is most remembered for including the first recorded version of “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a Prince composition later made famous by Sinead O’Connor.
In short, The Family went as quickly as the came, relegated to pop obscurity (save for geeky Prince enthusiasts).
Fast forward to the 21st century.
Following a one-off performance for a charity event in 2003 and another in 2007, The Family toyed with the idea of reuniting and recording new material. Over the last year or two, plans cemented, and the group has in fact been working on a new album, and are currently working on post-production. The disc is titled Gaslight, and has a tentative release date of September 12. While he contributed no lyrics or music, Prince is involved in the project – as what my dear friend Kembrew McLeod would call an “overzealous copyright bozo.”
As many Prince fans (and critics) know, any use of Prince’s intellectual property invites a letter (or at least a phone call) from his legal team. There was the shutdown of Prince fan sites in the late 1990s; the suit against a baby dancing to Prince on YouTube; the suit against a Norwegian tribute album; and threats to any number of uses of Prince’s music, image or likeness on the web. But surely the group that had operated and performed under “The Family” moniker could retain that name for their new project, right?
Last Wednesday, Fdeluxe’s Facebook status read:
“Received a letter from Prince’s lawyer Howard King this morning … what lovely start to the day (Neil).”
And then on Friday:
Thanks again for all your posts be it support or criticism, That’s what is so great about the internet and forums! Everybody involved appreciates all the amazing support you have given the group. For those who questioned (be it publicly or via message) why we want to use The Family in the title I will tell you now so you have it on record from the horses mouth …
The group agreed to change the group’s name initially as Prince claimed he owned it (which I found through research was untrue). Of course once I knew this I questioned his claim with his people. Once we decided we were going to use fDeluxe we thought the smartest option would to be use ‘The Family’ as the title (or even the word “family” in the title somewhere) which would give us a link to the 1985 album. After all there are numerous songs/album titles that are the same (i.e ‘Don’t Be Cruel’, ‘Thriller’) and there is no law against titles being the same so we thought there would be no issue.Plus “Family” is such a generic name (there are numerous groups who came after this one with Family in their name i.e Puff Daddy & The Family – “diddy” owns that mark btw – The Family Stand, Family, La Famile etc) it is used a lot in album and song titles. If we were calling it something like “Purple Rain”, “Baduizm” or “Cookie: The Anthropological MixTape” that would obviously be not on!!! Hope that clears that up for you! Neil p.s did I mention fDeluxe ‘Gaslight’ out week commencing September 12?????
One wonders why, if Prince does not own the name, why wouldn’t St. Paul, Susannah, et. al. just use it? Most likely, members of The Family want to simplify their lives rather than have their reunion marred and likely delayed by a protracted legal battle. Beyond that, Prince has more money and better lawyers. Sadly, this is often the way legal disputes play out in the current copyright culture – rather than bear the costs (time, energy and money), the little guy decides not to fight.
It’s sad really, and a poor reflection on Prince and his relationships with his past associates. But that’s become so common as to not be news in and of itself. As I’ve said on many occasions, sometimes it’s hard being a Prince fan.
On a happier note, the band’s official website is live. There’s a new song posted (it’s good!) and a new photo (Susannah still fine!).
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