Nearly 20 years ago, Michael Green was playing a gig with his ’80s cover band in Birmingham, Ala., when Prince made a surprise appearance and joined them onstage.
“I freaked out. In fact, in the picture I have of him and me, you’ll see I’m looking off and can’t believe this is happening,” the Vancouver defense attorney recalled as news broke of Prince’s death Thursday.
Green, the bassist in the five-member band called The Cheesebrokers, is a Tuscaloosa, Ala., native and was living there at the time. It was Jan. 18, 1997, and The Cheesebrokers were playing at the 5 Points South Music Hall — one of the group’s regular weekend gigs.
That same night, Prince, then known as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, was in town performing at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center.
Rumor had it that the music icon would often make club appearances after his performances.
“He would show up with his band and play for fun,” said Green, now 52. “So we were expecting it might happen. We were hoping it would happen.”
The night wore on, however, and there was no sign of Prince.
Green said he started to lose hope by 1 a.m. The band only had about 10 songs left.
Suddenly the band’s leader, Paul Milazzo, called out “Raspberry Beret,” from Prince’s 1985 album “Around the World in a Day.”
“I started playing it, but I was confused because we never repeated a song. We had already played that earlier in the evening. And then, the 350 people milling around suddenly rushed the stage at the same moment,” Green said. “I looked over to the right side of the stage and Prince was walking up onto the stage.”
Prince launched into the lead vocals.
“He was amazing. He didn’t have to do that,” Green said. “He had his whole band there. We were just a cheesy cover band. But he did it so we could have a good story to tell.”
When the song was over, Green walked off the stage and handed his bass to Rhonda Smith, Prince’s bassist.
“I told her, ‘Here, this is yours for the rest of the night,’ ” he recalled.
Prince’s band joined him onstage and played for the next 25 minutes. Afterward, they tried to coax The Cheesebrokers back up.
“We said there’s no way we are going to follow that,” Green said, chuckling. “They were amazing.”
So Prince continued his performance for another 20 minutes.
Green said he remembers the flamboyantly dressed artist playing the drums, bass and keyboard that night, all while singing lead.
“He was wearing at least 5-inch platform shoes, sunglasses and a tan, full-length coat. It looked great, even though I think it was a woman’s coat,” Green said.
“We talked about music a little bit,” he recalled. “He was incredibly nice and very gracious, and he didn’t have to be. I got the distinct impression from his interaction with his band mates and with my band mates that he was just a genuinely nice human being.”
At the end of the night, Prince thanked The Cheesebrokers for letting his band use their instruments.
“I said, ‘Are you kidding me? I get to tell my future grandchildren about this,'” Green said.
They shook hands and Prince left.
To this day, Green has kept the photos of that night in a musician’s magazine that shows Prince’s band mates. That way, anyone who doubts Green’s story can see this was not just another Prince look-alike.
On Thursday, Green said he was devastated to hear of Prince’s death.
“He was so young. He was only 57. I was immediately reminded of the ephemeral nature of life and that there are no guarantees,” he said.