Singer Gray follows advice of idol Prince


The singer is looking forward to being back in her native Northeast Ohio.

By JOHN BENSON

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

When Grammy Award-winning multiplatinum singer Macy Gray was a teenager, the Canton native had no desire to become a recording artist. 

However, she admits now she was mesmerized by Prince’s 1984 “Purple Rain” tour, which she saw at the Richfield Coliseum. It would be more than a decade before her career path was fully unveiled, but to this day the great Purple One still holds an influence over Gray’s musical mind-set and stage persona.

So you can imagine the butterflies and uncertainty she felt when the opportunity to meet her idol presented itself while she was touring her 1999 smash debut album, “On How Life Is.”

Studied her mentor

“It’s wild because he is truly like my mentor,” said Gray, calling from her Los Angeles home. “I listened to and studied his records and how he writes. He showed up at a show in Toronto and it was crazy.

“My tour manager said, ‘Prince is here,’ and I thought everybody was joking. But they set him up in the balcony and they had this special light for him. It was crazy because every time I looked up there, it was this light. It was like Jesus was up there. I didn’t actually see him until after the show, but it was wild to think that Prince was watching me.”

If knowing Prince was in the audience was crazy, what came next was truly surreal. When the two artists finally met backstage, Gray received some unexpected advice from the “Darling Nikki” artist.

What Prince told her

“He told me to stop cursing on stage, and I told him I had learned that from him,” Gray laughed. “He told me that people don’t come to your shows to hear you sing songs, because they already have the record. They come for answers. So I always thought about that. And he said that in his deep, psychological Prince way.

“But I know what he’s talking about, and that always stuck with me. He’s right because they just don’t come out because they like you. They come out for other reasons. When I go to a show, it’s beyond wanting to hear songs. He was the first person who told me that, and I think of that every time I’m putting a show together.”

Gray is putting a show together for her new album “Big,” which marks her Interscope Records debut. While the 36-year-old singer with a soulful voice saw her debut sell over 7 million copies, her follow-up albums (2001’s “The Id” and 2003’s “The Trouble With Being Myself”) experienced diminished record sales.

Then again, the entire recording industry is experiencing diminished record sales, with Gray hopeful her new album, including new single “What I Gotta Do,” will grow in popularity by word-of-mouth, much like her impressive debut effort.

‘I’m different’

“It’s happening the exact same way, it’s weird,” Gray said. “It’s just my music isn’t like what you hear on the radio. So it makes sense that it would take a little bit longer. I like that about my career, I like that about my music. I like that I’m different.”

Gray is looking forward to a return to Northeast Ohio with a Monday show at the Taste of Cleveland, which takes place at the Time Warner Cable Amphitheater at Tower City. So per Prince, the natural question to ask is what answers does Ms. Gray expect to have for her audience on this summer afternoon?

“I don’t have any answers, but I have a great show,” Gray laughed. “It’s awesome and sexy, with a couple of surprises. What [Prince] told me made me think deeper and made me want to turn it more into a show than a presentation of a bunch of songs.

“So whether I answer anybody’s questions or not, I don’t know. But I have taken the time to give them a show, which is the most important thing, I think.” 

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