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Lot #3532
Prince 1976 Warner Bros. Demo Tape (Resulted in His First Contract)

The demo tape that got Prince his first record contract, launching one of the most storied careers in the history of popular music—from the estate of the Warner Bros. Records executive who signed him

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The demo tape that got Prince his first record contract, launching one of the most storied careers in the history of popular music—from the estate of the Warner Bros. Records executive who signed him

Prince’s 1976 demo tape in its original custom-made box, submitted to Warner Bros. Records vice president Russ Thyret, which resulted in his signing to the label. This reel-to-reel tape set in motion the career of an unknown musician from Minneapolis who became one of the greatest musicians of his generation.

The demo, recorded on 1/4″ reel-to-reel tape, features unreleased versions of three Prince originals: "Just As Long as We’re Together" and "My Love is Forever," both of which Prince re-recorded for this debut album, and the never-released "Jelly Jam." Prince was only 18 years old when he recorded these songs at Minneapolis’s Sound 80 Studios, writing, arranging, singing and playing all of the instruments himself. Includes a custom-made plexiglass display case, business card of Russ Thyret, and CD transfer of the demo tape's audio. Also accompanied by a letter of provenance from Recordmecca's Jeff Gold, who worked closely with Prince and Thyret during his time as a Warner Bros. executive, affirming that he acquired this from Thyret's estate.

A 2016 Vice Magazine story details how aspiring Minneapolis music business manager Owen Husney heard about Prince from local studio owner Chris Moon, who told him ‘I’ve got the next greatest thing…It's one kid, he just turned 18, he's playing every instrument, and he's singing everything. I co-wrote a few lines with him, but basically he's doing all the writing.’

When Husney heard Prince’s demos, he thought ‘Boy, if I can get my hands on this…[he] was still living with his best friend at the time, André Cymone, in André’s mother's basement…This was the beginning of the fall of ’76 and he still wasn't sure whether he should trust me or not, but I just started doing things…’

In Purple Reign, author Mick Wall recalls Husney made ‘15 promo kits with tapes…of which half went out, one at a time, to every major record label in America. Two weeks later Husney had received not one response’. Husney told Vice ‘I called Warner Brothers—I’d done some work for them in my ad agency before—so I called Russ Thyret [the label’s head of promotion] and said, “I'm gonna make up that favor to you, listen, Columbia Records is flying us out. Would you like to hear this young genius I have? Would you like to hear him while I'm out here on Columbia's dime?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, absolutely!’ So now I had an appointment at Warner Brothers to play and then I called Columbia, and I said, ‘Hey, Warner Brothers is flying us out and while we're here on their dime, would you like to hear the demo of this young genius from Minneapolis?’ Then I called A&M Records, and I said, ‘Listen, I'm out here making presentations to Columbia and to Warners, would you like to hear this?’ But I always knew that I was gonna go to Warners. They were just the top artist-friendly label of that era. The other labels seemed cold. So, I lied my way into appointments at all of the labels.’

It wasn’t until they met with Russ Thyret at Warner’s, though, that finally things clicked into place for Prince…‘There was a real bonding there,’ Husney recalled. He told Variety ‘After Prince and I met Russ and hung out with him, there was no doubt where we’d wind up…Russ was a man of great instinct and heart. When other labels were taking us to fabulous restaurants to get us to sign, Russ drove us to his house, where we’d sit on the floor, listen to music and he’d explain the business to us. He gave of himself 1000% and that meant the world from two neophytes from Minneapolis.’

Vice noted When Owen Husney, [attorney] Gary Levinson and Prince sat down to look at the deal [Warner’s Chairman] Mo Ostin put before them, they couldn’t believe their eyes. Ostin had instructed his team to go all in, offering this talented newcomer a deal worth a million dollars, albeit spread over several years, during which Prince would be expected to deliver seven albums…Ecstatic, Prince signed to Warner Bros. on 25 June 1977, less than three weeks after his nineteenth birthday.

Russ Thyret, who eventually became Chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Records, worked closely with Prince throughout his storied career. After Thyret died in 2021, this tape was discovered in his attic by archivist Jeff Gold, a former Warner Bros. Executive Vice President/General Manager, who worked with both Prince and Thyret. A unique, museum quality Prince collectible, with exceptional provenance.

The Prince Estate is not affiliated, associated, or connected with RR Auction or this auction, nor has it endorsed, authenticated or sponsored the items available for auction. Further, The Prince Estate has not licensed any of its intellectual property to RR Auction.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Marvels of Modern Music
  • Dates: #667 - Ended June 22, 2023