André Cymone: Still survivin'

JON BREAM | Updated 3/12/2014

Ex-Prince bassist André Cymone drops first album since 1985.

André Cymone returns home to celebrate his new album Sunday at 7th Street Entry.
Katherine Copeland Anderson

Andre Cymone’s most famous credits are indisputably cool: He was Prince’s teenage running mate and pre-Revolution bass player, the singer of the 1985 R&B hit “Dance Electric,” and the former producer/husband of Jody “Looking for a New Love” Watley.

But that all sounds like the wayback machine.

This year, Cymone has released his first solo album in — gulp — 29 years, and he’s returning to his hometown Sunday to celebrate it with a performance at 7th Street Entry.

Two obvious questions: Why a solo album now? What have you been doing all these years?

Second question first.

“Getting up at 6 a.m., taking my kids to school,” he said from Los Angeles, where he has lived since 1985 except for three years in Harlem. “I have six kids. Three little ones —my son is 8 and the twins are 6.”

In addition to raising a family with his wife, Katherine, he taught a class on songwriting and production at UCLA (thanks to a connection through Randy Jackson of “American Idol” fame), and he has worked as a producer, with Adam Ant, Tom Jones and Evelyn “Champagne” King and, more recently, jazz man T.C. Carson (an actor on Fox’s “Living Single”) and mostly little-known musicians.

OK, now the first question: Why a solo album now?

His young children “had a lot to do with me coming back,” said Cymone, 55, who also has three adult children.  “They literally made me play my guitar all the time. It’s flattering. To get those guys to honor where you’re coming from, it’s like I’m bulletproof.”

Plus, Cymone was frustrated by what he sees as a lack of social conscience in today’s music, especially compared with his formative days of growing up on the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Marvin Gaye.

“I thought all the rebels quit. All the noisemakers and the people who should be banging the drums for where music is right now seem lost,” said Cymone. “There’s a lot going on in the world right now. Nobody was standing up and addressing the issues with music. This is my destiny.”

So in the past couple of years, he released two topical singles: “America,” a celebration of pride aimed at helping President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, and “Trayvon,” a fundraiser for the foundation in honor of slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

Neither of those tunes is included on “The Stone,” his new album. But he does sing about burdens, dreams and freedom. With those values in his lyrics and a kaleidoscopic classic-rock sound that suggests a collision of Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, Cymone sounds like an eternal hippie on “The Stone.”

Take, for instance, the song called “Naked.” Here’s his explanation:

“That’s a philosophy I have that if you take everything away, and all you have is sky, trees and earth and then ask yourself: What’s important?”

The L.A. musicians on “The Stone” will accompany Cymone at the Entry and at gigs in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. He wants to test the waters before undertaking a more ambitious tour.

Reconnecting with Prince

Cymone, a North High alum, still gets to Minneapolis three or four times a year to visit his father and other relatives. Last year, he played at an American Heart Association fundraiser at First Avenue with former Prince sidemen Bobby Z, Dr. Fink and Dez Dickerson. (The set included Cymone’s 1982 single “Kelly’s Eyes” from the first of his three 1980s solo albums for Columbia.)

He occasionally hears from Prince. He checked out the Purple One’s 3rdEyeGirl band in Los Angeles last year and got invited onstage. As Prince played the keyboards, he chatted with Cymone. They hung out afterward.

“I’m extremely proud of Prince,” said the man born Andre Simon Anderson and dubbed Andre Cymone by Prince. “Prince is part of my reality. If it wasn’t for Prince, we probably wouldn’t be doing this interview.”

And if it wasn’t for Cymone’s mother, Bernadette Anderson, taking in Prince as a teenager, the rest of the world may never have heard of him.

“We were like brothers,” Cymone said of Prince, who came to live with him and his divorced mother, a director at the YMCA, because Prince wasn’t getting along with either of his divorced parents. “My mom gave us the confidence that you could do anything. Prince was a quiet, introverted kid, and his family didn’t want him hanging around with me. I was a little rough around the edges; I had more of a street hustler mentality. I got those guys into a lot of trouble.”

But like Prince’s and Andre’s fathers, they played together in a band — Grand Central (later renamed Champagne) — while in high school. They lived together for six or seven years — from the time they were 14 till 21 — first in the Anderson household, later at an apartment near Lyndale and Franklin and a house in Edina.

“We used to iron each other’s clothes,” Cymone recalled.

They also had a summer job together with the neighborhood youth corps when they were 15.

“Me and Prince were working at Hawthorne School in north Minneapolis as the kids’ entertainment during lunchtime,” Cymone remembered. “We were playing dodgeball with them.”

And you know the rest of the story.