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Steve Vai recalls the time he went to Paisley Park to jam with Prince – but Prince didn’t show up

Steve Vai and Prince
(Image credit: Scott Dudelson / Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

As legend has it, Steve Vai and Prince almost had one of the jams of the century, when Vai took to a trip to the Purple One’s Paisley Park studio. However, as things panned out, the two never ended up trading licks, because Prince never actually showed up to the session.

Instead, Vai was left to jam into the early hours of the morning with Sonny T. and Michael Bland, Prince’s bass guitar player and drummer at the time. Footage of the night supposedly exists, but it’s since been lost, and has never been seen by the public eye.

Up until this point, there’s been remarkably little info on the story, but luckily for us Cory Wong – who sat down with Vai on an episode of his Wongnotes podcast – put the guitarist in the hotseat to quiz him about what really happened on that fateful night at Paisley Park.

And, as it turns out, Prince did in fact attend the jam session. Kind of.

“Yes, it’s true,” Vai confirmed. “I was a huge Prince fan. We were playing in Minneapolis, and my wife’s cousin worked at Paisley Park – he oversaw the studio and everything.

“Prince would have these wild open nights at Paisley Park, and it was fantastic,” he continued. “I went there after a show with the band, and Sonny [T.] and Michael [Bland] weren’t there; they were home in bed sleeping.

“I got there late – it was two, three AM or something – and I never saw Prince; I just had messages. He had them call Sonny and Michael, and woke them up. Next thing I know, they’re out of bed and they’re there, and it’s the three of us on stage jamming.

“It was great. These guys… man, they’re like magic. I’m like, ‘Prince has got it made with these guys!’ My guys were good too, just different. It was fantastic.”

After jamming with the pair, Vai was then informed that “the boss is going to come down and jam with you”, after which studio workers were summoned to assemble Prince’s rig – pedalboard, guitars, the whole works – on stage.

Alas, despite being told he was minutes away from sharing the stage with the Purple One for an anything-goes jam, Vai soon realized the evening was not going to play out the way he expected.

Steve Vai

(Image credit: Larry DiMarzio)

“We’re jamming and time’s going by, it’s getting later and later and earlier in the morning, and he’s just not there. I’m like, ‘I’ve got to get to the next gig!’ I said, ‘I’m so sorry, I’ve got to go.’”

According to Vai, footage of himself jamming with Sonny T. and Michael Bland exists, and was recorded by none other than Prince himself, who was admiring the jam from backstage the whole time.

“As it turned out,” Vai added, “from what I was told, he was in a room watching – the whole stage was outfitted with cameras – from backstage and videotaping it. He never came down; he just sat and watched.”

Anyone else now itching to see this footage? By the sounds of it, the jam must have been one hell of a spectacle if Prince decided to take a step back and admire it from afar.

Hopefully our wish will be granted soon, with Wong announcing his plans to track down a copy of the bootleg VHS, supposedly in the possession of Sonny T. – who now plays in Wong’s band – to digitize it for Vai. Please be quick, Cory.

In the meantime, Wong and Sonny T. have been working together on the next series of Wong’s Cory and The Wongnotes sketch show, debuting their must-see Great British Bass Off skit this week.

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Matt is a News Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.