A few years before Prince asked him to join The Revolution, Mark Brown tried not to stare from the service counter window while the 15-year-old bassist cooked pancakes for the budding star of Minneapolis. A few years later in 1981, Prince called Brown's band Fantasy during its after-hours rehearsal at a community center — but he asked only to speak to Brown.
"Prince came to see us several times, but I never knew he was coming to see me," says Brown, AKA Brownmark, among the mononyms and monikers in the most-famous lineup of The Revolution with Wendy and Lisa, Dr. Fink and Bobby Z. — guitarist Wendy Melvoin, keyboardists Lisa Coleman and Matt Fink, and drummer Bobby Rivkin. "Nobody knew we rehearsed at that community center. How in the world did this guy know where we rehearsed? ... He wanted me to learn all three of [his] albums, by tomorrow. It was already about 1 o'clock in the morning. The next day, he said, 'I'll have Bobby Z. pick you up at 7-Eleven.' I worked at the 7-Eleven. He even knew that. How did he know where I worked?"
Following his 1978 debut For You, his self-titled commercial breakthrough follow-up, and the beginnings of the futurist pop artist on Dirty Mind and Controversy, Prince began assembling his band, glimpsed on 1999 and cemented with Purple Rain. The band's brief but crucial period from 1982 through 1986 elevated Prince's cult image and helped craft his definitive works. Following his death in 2016, The Revolution agreed to reunite and take Prince's music on tour. The band performs at The Joy Theater Feb. 22.
"We were the living band, his only 'real' band band," Brown says. "The only band Prince was in. ... Even though he formed us, we became a separate entity. It was a force within itself, a creative force. That's what made it work. Prince's genius and our diverse backgrounds created this incredible music we all knew was special."
On his audition day, Brown jammed with Prince and Rivkin for roughly 15 minutes before Prince cut the music, telling Rivkin he'll take Brown home.
"I got nervous then," Brown says. "He's talking to me in the car and says, 'Look, I'm about to go on this journey, and I want you to be a part of it. If you want to, it's yours.'"
Growing up in Minneapolis with limited access to black radio stations, Brown attributes the city's idiosyncratic funk to its pop and rock 'n' roll influence, which Brown incorporated into his unique playing style, studying bassists like Larry Graham and Slave's Mark Adams. Brown says his bass technique closely mirrored Prince's, "but he knew he had to groom me."
"He beat me up pretty good," Brown says, laughing. "He was mean as hell. But I needed it. I did not buck the system. I was kind of happy — I was getting a crash course in rock star-ism."
The band performed at the Superdome during a 1985 leg of its Purple Rain tour. Prince also performed at the venue for his final New Orleans performance in 2014. His sudden 2016 death galvanized the scattered members of The Revolution to perform together again.
"It jolted us," Brown says. "It was painful. It was like losing a brother. We reacted like a family. We huddled together. What we had decided was to start performing together, take this on the road as the unit we used to be, and give back to the people a moment in time that was pivotal in their lives and help them grieve, help them heal from this loss."