What’s It Like Drumming For Prince?: Drummer Hannah Welton Describes the Genius of His Musicianship

Tes­ti­mo­ni­als to Prince’s mind-blow­ing musi­cian­ship flood­ed the media after his death, from cel­e­brat­ed stars and not-so-famous musi­cians who played in the artist’s back­ing bands over the decades. In the for­mer cat­e­go­ry, we have Prince’s own musi­cal hero, Ste­vie Won­der — no slouch as a mul­ti-instru­men­tal­ist — whose Songs in the Key of Life stood as a “per­fect album” for the Pur­ple One. Won­der describes their jam ses­sions as “amaz­ing” for the vari­ety of peo­ple and cul­tures Prince could bring togeth­er, and for the incred­i­ble range of his tal­ent.

“He could play clas­si­cal music if he want­ed to,” said Won­der, in tears after Prince’s death. “He could play jazz if he want­ed to, he could play coun­try if he want­ed to. He played rock, you know, he played blues. He played pop. He played every­thing.…” He played all 27 instru­ments on his debut album, from elec­tric gui­tar, bass, and piano to “mini-Moog, poly-Moog, Arp string ensem­ble, Arp Pro Soloist, Ober­heim four-voice, clavinet, drums, syn­drums, water drums, slap­sticks, bon­gos, con­gas, fin­ger cym­bals, wind chimes, orches­tral bells, wood­blocks, brush trap, tree bell, hand claps and fin­ger snaps.”

He did all of this with lit­tle to no for­mal train­ing, teach­ing him­self to com­pose in near­ly any idiom and to switch up gen­res and styles with ease. In short, Prince was a “genius,” says drum­mer Han­nah Wel­ton in the Drumeo video above. Wel­ton joined the New Pow­er Gen­er­a­tion in 2012, then helped form his new back­ing band, 3rdeyegirl. In the video above, the hard-work­ing drum­mer makes it clear that she does not use this word friv­o­lous­ly. “I don’t know that I ever heard an off note,” she says. “Piano, gui­tar, drums, nobody touched any of those instru­ments the way that he did.”

Wel­ton also talks about what she learned from Prince — after their first meet­ing when he asked her to play ping pong. “One thing,” she says, is that “the space between the notes is just a funky as the notes them­selves.” In the hour-long les­son, Wel­ton shows off her own drum skills in songs like “Wom­en’s Intu­ition” (which she wrote with her hus­band Joshua Wel­ton, one of Prince’s pro­duc­ers) and talks more about her time with the untouch­able musi­cian, includ­ing how he recruit­ed her after see­ing her on YouTube and what it’s like to have a “drum-off/bass-off” with him. As for whether she ever beat Prince in ping pong, you’ll have to watch to find out.…

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Prince’s First Tele­vi­sion Inter­view (1985)

Watch a New Director’s Cut of Prince’s Blis­ter­ing “While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps” Gui­tar Solo (2004)

The Lit­tle Prince: Footage Gets Unearthed Of the Pop Star at Age 11

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Vincent C Barrios says:

    As an instruc­tor, Prince was strict; he took things seri­ous­ly and any grab-ass­ing incurred his imme­di­ate wrath. But to reit­er­ate he was a won­der­ful instruc­tor. For some rea­son he told me he loved can­dy; he liked can­dy.

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