By Brad Lopez
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By Noah Hubbell
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Prince became a household name after the release of his third album, 1982's 1999. Over the years, his perfectly realized blend of rock, pop, funk and jazz has proved equally popular with audiences and critics. Throughout the '80s, Prince released hit records that broke genre barriers, not just in terms of radio programming, but within the music itself. His versatility and breadth of musical vision have influenced a broad spectrum of popular music ever since.
Recently, Prince assembled a band called 3rd Eye Girl for his current tour, which has him playing intimate shows in venues that are notably smaller than those in which he would typically perform. We recently caught up with jovial 3rd Eye Girl guitarist Donna Grantis and talked about her musical education and how it's helped her play with Prince.
Westword: As someone who is somewhat self-taught, what drew you to study and perform jazz at McGill [University], and how would you say that experience helped with what you do today?
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Donna Grantis: It helped immensely. When I studied jazz, I learned a lot about arranging, composition, improvisation, theory, ear training, transcriptions — all that kind of stuff. I apply all of that playing in 3rd Eye Girl and with Prince. When it comes to learning songs by ear and making sense of them musically and being able to improvise over whatever is thrown at us, I think it's all connected. Prince's repertoire is so huge. He crosses so many genres, so being able to play blues, rock, funk, pop, jazz — it's all music, but having a musical vocabulary in all of those genres is so helpful.
Obviously, Prince is one of the most talented guitar players around, and if the videos of you playing before working with him are any indication, you're no slouch, either. Did he ever tell you why he wanted to play with you?
I think that for this group, what's really special is that we all really bond well and the chemistry is great. And we've all played many different styles of music, as well. Over the past few months of rehearsing in preparation for the West Coast tour, that connection and that bond have been getting stronger and stronger.
How would you describe Prince's guitar style and the way that you work together as guitarists?
I would describe his style as being totally phenomenal. He can do it all: blues, jazz, funk, rock, everything. He's just a master of all styles. He plays with so much skill. He's so melodic, but he can shred and rip it up at any moment. It's such a pleasure to play with him — and a huge honor, as well. What's really cool is that with 3rd Eye Girl and the shows we're going to be playing, it's a full-on rock show. So for anyone who has ever wanted to hear Prince just wail on guitar, this is the tour to check out, for sure.