Prince Gives a ‘Go-Go’ Song to Nona Hendryx
All it takes is one look at Nona Hendryx’s discography to see that she’s always followed her own muse.
It’s a path that’s taken her from being a member of Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles to founding the progressive art rock band Zero Cool, which is a jaw-dropper of a musical sidestep all by itself. But over the course of her career, Hendryx has also found herself singing with Talking Heads, Dusty Springfield, Peter Gabriel, David Johansen, Keith Richards, Bill Laswell, Billy Vera, Boy George, Yoko Ono, Graham Parker, Alice Cooper and Afrika Bambaataa, just to hit a handful of highlights. Most recently, Hendryx has been working with guitarist Gary Lucas, recording the tribute album The World of Captain Beefheart and playing live shows to support the LP.
In short, Hendryx carved herself a career that’s constantly kept people wondering what she’s going to do next. Is it any wonder that Prince was captivated by her?
“I met Prince earlier in his career, before he really became successful,” Hendryx tells Ultimate Prince. “I was playing a club in Minneapolis called First Avenue, where the Time always played, and Prince came to the show, so we talked afterwards.”
The conversation was enough to spark a casual friendship between Hendryx and Prince, one that was strong enough for her to contemplate having him produce her 1987 album Female Trouble. In the end, however, Hendryx corralled her friend Dan Hartman to man the console when efforts to match up her schedule with Prince's proved futile.
“He didn’t really have time because he was involved in other things,” Hendryx says. “So he said, ‘Let me write something for you, see how you feel about it, and I’ll do as much production as I can, but Dan can do the major part of it.’”
The composition provided by Prince was entitled “Baby Go-Go,” and while the songwriting credit may go to his legendary nom de plume, “Joey Coco,” there’s no question as to who penned it.
Prince produced the basic track for “Baby Go-Go” in June 1986, after which Hendryx and Hartman sent back and forth the work that they were doing on the vocals, which included a pair of remarkably high-profile backing vocalists.
“My friend Mavis Staples, I wanted her to be on it, which is how Prince really got to know more about her,” Hendryx recalls. “He worked on an album with her after that. And George Clinton, who’s a friend, I asked him to be on it also. It was really just people whose music I knew, loved, admired, and who I wanted to work with, and Prince was really into being a part of that collaboration.”
Alas, the collaboration between Prince and Hendryx — which wound up being a minor hit on both Billboard’s R&B Singles and Hot Dance/Disco Club Play charts — proved to be an isolated one.
“We were talking about working together again after ‘Baby Go-Go,’ but he was so busy at the time, because he had all of his other artists that he had signed [to Paisley Park Records] to work with,” Hendryx says. “I didn’t see him that often, but we stayed in touch. I saw him at clubs that both we’d go to, and there were times when he was in New York City and he’d invite me to something he was doing or to a party."
The last time Hendryx saw Prince, however, was particularly memorable, as it was during his all-too-brief 2007 residency at Club 3121 in Las Vegas.
“I went out to the show, and we were hanging out afterwards – as he always did – at this club after the club,” Hendryx recalls with a laugh. “I had an 8AM flight back to New York, and I didn’t leave until something like 5:30. I just went back to my hotel to get my bags, and then I went to the airport. The evening just went on and on and on, but we had a great time. And that was the last time I saw him.”
To be able to say you literally partied all night the last time you hung out with Prince —that’s a perfect way to remember the man, surely.
“Absolutely,” Hendryx agrees. “We really did party ‘til the break of dawn. And he was lovely.”