“Hey man. He’ll be here in 15 minutes. … And he wants to hear Janelle Monáe when he walks in. You got that?”
“Yup. Yup. Janelle Monáe.”
“Cool, he’ll be here in 15 minutes.”
I didn’t have any Janelle Monáe. I ran out to the concierge desk in the lobby to get the WiFi password, ran back and started downloading a bunch of Janelle Monáe off of iTunes. Right on time as I cue up the track, the door opens and I catch a quick glimpse. Full-on afro, turtleneck and a gold chain. I want to say he had a cane, but I was trying not to look directly at him. I didn’t want to throw him off or maybe infuriate him by making eye contact.
Prince was in the room.
When 1999 Burncoat graduate turned West Coast entertainer Dan Wally got the call from a friend for a potential gig at a Los Angeles hotel one night in 2014, he had no way of knowing it would turn out to be the greatest night of spinning in his 15-year disc jockey career.
Four hours after ditching his dinner and making tracks for an LA landmark, Wally found himself mixing tracks, taking requests and eliciting compliments from the global music icon whose April 21 death at 57 shocked and saddened the masses.
“I thought he was extremely cool and once he shook my hand, I knew it was something he wanted to rather than had to do,” Wally, 35, said in a phone interview Monday, April 25. “He’s a megastar and he doesn’t have to go around telling everyone they’re great. He’s the greatest, so he doesn’t have to do that.
“I was really stunned,” to learn of his death, Wally said. “The last two or three years he’s really been in the news. He’s made a lot of appearances whether it’s been award shows, or promoting new album[s]. He’s released four albums in the last couple years which is really prolific considering he was a little reclusive before that.”
Prince had released two albums in each of the past two years: Plectrumelectrum (2014), Art Official Age (2014), HITnRun Phase One (2015), and HITnRun Phase Two (2015).
“So I was stunned that it was all done, just in that moment.”
Wally, brother of city businessman and 2015 City Council candidate Matt Wally, got started DJing by wanting to learn how to scratch. He listened to a lot of hip-hop music and when he finally got to Providence College, he started DJing parties for his friends. He’s been working the turntables ever since.
Wally moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in television production and film. He has lived there the past 11 years, working as a music producer and DJ. For the past few years, Wally has owned and operated collaborative DJ company mixpacific.
That night in 2014, Wally thought, would be the pinnacle — in many ways it was. But it wasn’t the last time he’d run into the diminutive rock legend. A few weeks later, Prince’s people contacted Wally and asked him to DJ another event. Wally would go on to work several private parties for Prince.
“It was his request to have me come back,” Wally said. “It was a big surprise.”
Wally has graciously allowed the Sun to republish his story, “Purple Tuesday,” from his Tumblr page, Wallywaves.com:
I was home watching TV and cutting up a steak when I got the call at 8 p.m.. A friend of mine worked at a famous hotel in LA and one of the guests made a last-minute request for a DJ to play the hotel bar. Someone that could get there and start playing in an hour. The bar frequently had live bands play, but never a DJ. So with little to no time, my wise and generous friend thought to throw a gig my way.
“Yeah, I can get there in an hour. Am I getting paid?”
“Yes, you’ll get paid.”
“What kind of party is it? What am I playing?”
“Someone’s renting out the bar for a private party. And that someone is… The Artist… formerly… known… as… Prince.”
That sentence was not real to me. Still not real. I had no time to really think or say anything but, “What? You serious? Yes. Be there as soon as I can.” Got off the phone and my stomach turned. Only a handful of people in the world have imprinted their music that much in my brain. And couldn’t he just call up any of the best DJ’s in LA to come play for him? Why’s he gonna trust someone who is by all means an unknown?
I’d been DJing parties and bars for years but going from that to Prince is an Olympic leap.
The next half hour felt like a panic attack. I made a list of songs to play for Prince and his private Prince party. OK, no Prince songs. He doesn’t want to hear himself. No MJ. I don’t want to insult him or anything. Didn’t they have beef in the 80’s? No hip-hop. Can’t picture him rocking out to Kendrick. I thought of who he was influenced by and dragged some James Brown and Stevie [Wonder] songs into the playlist. Isley Brothers, Curtis [Mayfield]. Great. 8:20 p.m. I still have to get ready even though I could spend the next month picking songs. I quickly close my laptop and get dressed. Pack up my turntables, mixer, cables and run them all to the car as I’m sweating through this black suit.
I get to the hotel with about five minutes to set up.
The bar is completely empty aside from a couple of servers and my friend who made the call. And the room is almost lit exclusively by candlelight. I’m told to set up my turntables on the grand piano, which is also covered with candles, making me feel like hip-hop Liberace. A waitress tells me there’s like an 80 [percent] chance Prince doesn’t show up. He just likes to rent out the bar in case he and his friends wander through the hotel and feel like stopping in. “But you should start playing music anyway in case he comes in. Who knows.” So I start playing songs to the very empty bar. The anticipation is a killer. My friend gives me a much needed glass of whiskey before taking off.
A giant spread of appetizers is covering the bar and getting sweaty. Spring rolls, cheese, orange juice. An hour goes by. Then another hour. A no-show. I’m kind of bummed out but also very relieved. I don’t know how I’m going to react if he walks in that door. So I’m just playing the set of my life to nobody. It’s like I’m getting paid to practice and listen to whatever I want on the bar’s sound system.
At 12 a.m. the door opens and some guy walks over to me and without a greeting he says,
“Hey man. He’ll be here in 15 minutes. What are you gonna play when he walks in?”
“Oh I got some stuff lined up. Some older Stevie Wonder, the JB’s.”
“Yeah. Yeah, he likes that. Anything like that, Earth Wind & Fire, Chic.”
“Yeah I got Chic! I’ll play that.”
“And he wants to hear Janelle Monáe when he walks in. You got that?”
“Yup. Yup. Janelle Monáe.”
“Cool, he’ll be here in 15 minutes.”
I didn’t have any Janelle Monáe. I ran out to the concierge desk in the lobby to get the WiFi password, ran back and started downloading a bunch of Janelle Monáe off of iTunes. Right on time as I cue up the track, the door opens and I catch a quick glimpse. Full on afro, turtleneck and a gold chain. I want to say he had a cane, but I was trying not to look directly at him. I didn’t want to throw him off or maybe infuriate him by making eye contact. Prince was in the room. I was just musical wallpaper. He and a friend sat down at a couch about fifteen feet away from me.
The grand entrance song blended straight into James Brown’s “Talking Loud and Saying Nothing.” I played Ike & Tina Turner, Charles Wright, Omar’s “The Man,” and “Gust of Wind” by Pharrell. My head was pretty much glued to the turntables, sticking to my no-look philosophy, but I could hear bits of conversation.
Hearing that Prince voice in person was something strange. It just belongs on record or on microphone.
I start dishing out some other favorite tracks of mine, “Think Twice” by Jay Dee and Alicia Myers’ “I Want to Thank You.” There’s zero reaction to the songs I play. I’m still worried I’m not playing what he wants to hear. Is he gonna throw a spring roll at me?
A little later that guy from earlier comes back into the bar and walks straight over to me.
“Hey man. Just want to let you know, they love your music.”
“Oh really? Thanks. Do they want to hear anything in particular?”
“Nope. Just keep playing what your playing.”
Oh it’s on now. I can finally breathe and I’m getting props from the man himself, or from the middleman himself.
And then it hits me. There’s only two people in there. Prince and a girl. I’m not there to DJ a private party. I’m there to DJ a date. Prince is on a date and I’m the entertainment.
I saved my set list from that night and I don’t remember playing half the songs on it. All I know is I was in deep concentration, mixing out of my mind. Messenger man came in one more time and said Prince might try to play the piano. When it was time, he would pop his head in the door and give me the cue to stop DJing. I had never seen Prince perform, so a private piano ballad to his woman and myself sounded alright. I stayed looking at that door for a while until Prince’s date walked over to me.
“Hey, so what’s the name of this song? He likes it and wants to know.”
“It’s a Smith’s cover. ‘This Charming Man’ by Stars.”
She sat back down and relayed the info, to which he nodded his head. Now I’m stumping Prince with cool music. I play another track. She comes over to me again and asks, “What’s this one? He wants this on repeat.” “Blacker (4 The Good Times)” by Ballistic Brothers. So I play that song a couple more times in a row. It’s now 4 a.m. and I’m just a little delirious from being on my feet DJing for 7 hours. And I’m running out of music. My song selections are all over the map at this point. Esperanza Spalding, ESG, Broken Bells.
At around 4:30 Prince gets up off the couch and walks — floats — right over to me. He looks me in the eye, starts shaking my hand and says in a deep Prince voice,
“Thank you. That was very enjoyable.”
“Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it.”
In my mind it was that smooth but there’s no doubt I was speaking gibberish.
And just like that he left the room with his date. He didn’t put any moves on her in the bar, but I like to think I helped him out by setting the mood for whatever happened next. I stopped the music and the lights went on.
And that was the best night of DJing I ever had or ever will have.