Arkansas Black Hall of Fame 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Wally Allen Ballroom, Statehouse Convention Center, Little Rock Tickets: $150; gala benefits organizations serving the black community Info: (501) 708-2552
On Dec. 17, 1982, Jefferson native Morris Hayes predicted his future.
It was the day Prince performed at the Pine Bluff Convention Center as part of his 1999 Tour. Hayes was in the audience, along with the musicians with whom he played in a pop band at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
“I recall standing in that crowd, 50 rows back, way in the middle of the arena,” says Hayes, who carries the concert ticket with him to this day. “I remember when The Time got up, I said ‘Man, I’m going to play with those guys.’ And when Prince got up, I said, ‘Man, I’m going to play with that guy, too.’”
And he did.
Hayes remembers reading The Tongue: A Creative Force by England, Ark.-based televangelist Charles Capps and coming to understand that “the things that you say out of your mouth are the things that you activate.”
It came true for Hayes, who became music director for Prince’s New Power Generation band.
Hayes will be inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame on Saturday at the Statehouse Convention Center. Joining him are Raye Jean Montague, internationally recognized engineer and graphic designer; Gerald Alley, chief executive officer and president of Con-Real Construction; chief master Richard Anderson, founder of Anderson’s Taekwondo and highest ranking black member of the American Taekwondo Association, World Traditional Taekwondo Union and Songahm Taekwondo Federation; Willie Roaf, member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame; and the late Art Porter Jr., jazz saxophonist and recording artist.
Hayes, 50, admits that it’s sometimes hard for him to see how far music took “a kid from Jefferson, Arkansas, with no musical training.” He felt that he had to work harder than the other New Power Generation members, whom he saw as having natural talent and skill sets that “were much more developed than mine.”
His first exposure to the keyboard was his church’s piano, which he began playing at age 12 or 13. “I was pretty terrible,” he says.
A commercial art scholarship took Hayes to UAPB. He “faked his way” into the band Polo, according to an online biography. Hayes left UAPB for DeVry Institute in Chicago but was lured away by Greg Sain, a former member of Polo. Sain had a Memphis-based cover band, Fingerprint. “He made me an offer I probably should have refused,” Hayes says. But he was impressed with the band’s reputation and joined Fingerprint in 1986.
Hayes says he’s grateful to his parents, Moses and Maxine Hayes of Jefferson, for being so supportive. “They gave me the room to try and they gave me a safety net,” telling him he could always come home.
After gigs, Fingerprint members would make the rounds at various Memphis clubs and listen to other bands, sometimes doing impromptu performances. One night Fingerprint played some Prince tunes. Members of Prince’s then-band, the Revolution, were in the audience.
Bassist Brown Mark invited Fingerprint to Minneapolis to record a demo. But the band broke up and Hayes moved to Texas. He returned to Minneapolis in 1988 to join another band; when it folded, Hayes stayed to work with Brown-Mark.
In 1991, Hayes got a call from Jerome Benton of The Time, which had reunited for Prince’s Graffiti Bridge movie and soundtrack. The band was going for a brief promotional tour in Asia, but Time members Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis couldn’t make it. At the end of that tour, Hayes co-founded the house band for Prince’s Minneapolis club Glam Slam. Later that year its members were asked to join the band MC Flash, which became Carmen Electra’s band on the Diamonds And Pearls Tour in 1992.
After that tour, Hayes ran into Prince at his club. Prince said “What’s up, grandson? Need a job? Need some work?” Hayes, joking, said “Yes, I’ll be [there] to mow your yard in the morning.”
Prince was talking music: He wanted Hayes to play keyboard in his band The New Power Generation.
“I was elated,” Hayes says. But with elation came fear: “If I don’t make it I will be the laughingstock of Minneapolis.” Hayes joined Tommy Barbarella on keyboards.
Early on, Hayes was intimidated.
“Prince is one of the best band leaders I’ve ever known,” he says. “You can’t cut corners; you can’t get around him because he wrote all of that stuff.”
Hayes’ insecurity got him a calm, scolding pep talk from Prince. “I know that you don’t read music; I don’t read music either,” Prince told him. “I ain’t even doing my thing if you ain’t doing your thing.” After that, Hayes says, “I spent every waking hour at the studio” to hone his craft.
Hayes spent a decade with New Power Generation before joining saxophonist Maceo Parker. In 2005, Hayes resumed work with Prince, performing with him at the 2007 Super Bowl. He’s now a producer and keyboardist for Prince.
But there’s more to Hayes’ resume than Prince. He’s also worked with Philip Bailey of Earth Wind and Fire, gospel artist and Arkansas Black Hall of Famer Smokie Norful, George Clinton, Chaka Khan, Herbie Hancock, Elton John, Carlos Santana, George Benson, Alicia Keys, Will.i.am, Mary J. Blige, Janelle Monae, Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow, Gwen Stefani, Bono and The Edge and the late Whitney Houston.
Nonetheless, he “was quite stunned” when he found out he’d be inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.
“It is an honor to be recognized at a state level for doing something noteworthy in the eyes of your peers,” he says. “I considered myself just going to work and enjoying my time doing it.”
He hopes the honor might be used to get a dialogue going on a dream he has: To return to the state and open centers for care of the elderly and children.
“One of these days I’m going to be one of those elderly people,” he says.
Style, Pages 49 on 10/13/2013