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“That One Time, When I Met Prince…”

Evan Bakke, director of engineering at Power Station New England, reminisces about his time working with Prince.

During the course of putting together this month’s cover story, Mix learned that the three men pictured on the cover all had worked with Prince at one point or another, a fact they discovered the first time they met each other a couple of years ago at Electric Lady Studios in New York City. While they all had memories to share, producer/engineer Evan Bakke, now director of engineering at Power Station New England, took the prize.

To set the scene, Bakke cut his audio teeth in Minneapolis, then in his early 20s went nomadic and entered the freelance life, working all around the country for the next 10 years. In 2013 he found himself back in Minneapolis working on a project when his car broke down, slightly delaying his plans to return to the East Coast. We’ll let him tell the rest.

Just a day or two before I was going to leave, I got a call from Prince’s manager. He was looking for an old-school engineer who knew how to run the SSL and record to tape. I actually called him back and said, “I can definitely run your SSL, but I’m probably not the guy if you’re looking to record to tape.” He goes, “No, it’s all right. Just be here tonight and we’ll figure it out.” I even warned him again.

Related: You Have Arrived, Your Destination Is on the Left, by Tom Kenny, Mix, Feb. 23, 2018

So I go out to Paisley Park. I remember it being really hot out, about 6:30 or 7 at night, and I walk into Studio A with the manager. He asks me to pull up a vocal chain. He had a C12 hanging over the console, and it wasn’t patched anywhere. So I put on a Neve-style preamp, I think it was a Great River, then into an 1176. And then all of a sudden I turn around and Prince is in the room. The manager is gone and we’re just standing there. He literally looks like Prince. He has this silk jumpsuit on. His afro is perfect. He could have just stepped right from there out onstage.

We shook hands, and I said, “Hi, I’m Evan.” He says, “Okay, what limiter are you using on my vocal?” And I point to the 1176. He goes, “What about that one?” and he points to the LA-2A. I say that I can do that, but I just thought the 1176 would sound good on him. He nods okay and says, “Fine.”

He sat down at the microphone and started singing into it, and the needle on the 1176 just dimed, completely pinned. I reached down to kind of back off the input and he says, “Don’t touch anything. It’s perfect.”

Then he walks over to the sofa and grabs a 2-inch reel and says, “Put this song on.” I had never put a reel of tape on a machine before. Ever. It was weird, because I didn’t feel scared. I walked into the room and just felt that I could do it. I went to the Studer A800, put the reel on, hit Play, and it frickin’ worked! Then, he’s listening to it, and he stops and says, “It’s the wrong song.” So he gives me a different tape. I put that next reel on, and it works. Then he asked me to leave the room while he did vocals, to go stay at the hotel for a few hours and he would give me a call.

So I walk out in the hall, and the manager is looking at me like I must have just gotten fired. He asked how it went. I told him that it went good and I was supposed to go to the hotel and wait for a call. He asked me how much I charged, and we worked out a rate. Then I left and went to McDonald’s, I stopped at a gas station and got a scratch ticket. I couldn’t go wait around at a hotel.

It got to be about 3:30 or 4 in the morning. I’m still completely wired. I’m at the hotel, in my car in the parking lot, and the phone rings, and he says, “Hi Evan, it’s Prince. I’m ready for you.” So I get back and the lights are all out. It’s always pitch black in and around the studio when he’s working. I go in, and man, I wish I could describe the smell of that place to you. I wish I could put it in a bottle. It was a magical smell.

Anyway, I walk in and he says, “Hey, can you make a mix of this for me and then burn a CD?” Sure. So I mix the song—a couple of acoustic guitars and a ton of vocals—and I walk over to the CD player and hit Record. And he hit Play on the tape machine. He’s standing right in the center section and I’m in the back of the room. He’s kind of staring at me and bobbing his head. I was staring back at him and bobbing my head. I still don’t know why—it wasn’t a choice, it wasn’t something I wanted to do, it was this gravitational pull—but I walked over to the center of the console and grabbed the volume knob on his massive Westlake speakers and I turned it all the way up. And we stood there bobbing our heads together through the whole song.

So about two hours later, with the sun coming up, we were walking out, and I told him that I really liked the song. He said, “Thanks, it’s for somebody who sings much better than me.” Then there’s a pause and he goes, “Wait, not really. But she’s a pretty good singer.” [Laughs] Then he goes, “Can you clear your schedule?” And I said, “It’s cleared.”

Then I was his engineer for the next nine and a half months full time and about a year and a half total.