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Prince in Toronto: Musicians fans share their memories

With his stunning performances and studio magic, music superstar Prince made a lot of memories in Toronto.

Prince died suddenly at the age of 57 on Thursday. Authorities in Chanhassen, Minn., responded to a medical emergency call at Paisley Park, Prince's famed home recording studio, this morning, though it's unclear what the cause of death was.

In Toronto, his death was met with shock and sadness. Here are how five Torontonians who met Prince are remembering him.

An unforgettable after party

Toronto Zark Fatah

Zark Fatah says he got his first speeding ticket while listening to Prince's song Little Red Corvette. (CBC)

Lots of Torontonians have seen a Prince concert. But few have been just metres away when he performed a 4 a.m. jam session.

Zark Fatah, the owner of The Everleigh club, is one of those lucky ones.

"It was a pretty magical moment. If you're a Prince fan that was a night you'll never forget," Fatah told CBC News on Thursday.

Fatah threw the after party for Prince's most recent Toronto show. When it was being set up, Prince asked for a stage and some equipment, but made no promise he'd play. Throughout the night, Fatah said, Prince hung out with his band in the VIP area, emerging once to say hi to fans.

By 3:20 a.m., Fatah turned on the lights and Prince's entourage left the club. Then he got a call.

"Prince wants to come back and this time he's ready to perform," Fatah remembers hearing.

And so, some 25 people — mostly club employees — were treated to a "surreal" 45-minute show. For Fatah, who said he got his first speeding ticket while listening to Prince's Little Red Corvette, "it's something I'll always remember."

A 'wow' moment

Toronto Molly Johnson

Toronto singer Molly Johnson says she respected Prince as a musician but was enamoured with his politics, too. (CBC)

Molly Johnson once opened for Prince when she was singing for a band called Infidels.

"He winked at me once," she said with a laugh.

Johnson said Prince's magic was his ability to take inspiration from everyone from B.B. King to David Bowie — absorb it like a "cultural sponge" — then turn around and put out something unique.

She also said she was "enamoured" with Prince's politics, which included his decision to stop using the name Prince for a period in a stand against his record company.

Johnson also praised Prince's decision to give women starring roles in his band.

"Many many times it was an all-female band," Johnson said.

Donna Grantis, a Toronto musician who went to New York to audition for Prince, is a great example of this, Johnson said. Not only did Prince hire the guitarist, but he gave her his solo during a major awards show, as well as 12 extra bars of music.

Johnson said she and other musicians had only one reaction to that moment: "Wow."

Recording a 'perfect gentleman'

Toronto Prince Studio Gil Moore

Gil Moore helped record Prince's album Musicology at the MetalWorks studio in Mississauga. (CBC)

Prince and his team visited Mississauga's MetalWorks studio three times before they decided to record 2004's Musicology there.

"Very unusually, he auditioned the studio," said Gil Moore, the studio's founder, remembering Prince just setting up gear and listening to the room.

"Prince is very unusual, but not in a bad way, in a good way," Moore said with a smile.

He said Prince would often get set up in the studio, then tell the sound engineer to leave so he could work in isolation for hours at a time. Moore said Prince didn't waste any time, was never partying and appeared extremely focused on his craft.

Outside the studio, "He was a perfect gentleman."

Moore said he was shocked to hear about the singer's death, in part because he remembers Prince as a healthy guy who looked after himself.

Moore said he always thought of Prince's time in Mississauga as special, but said what happened in the recording process is nowhere near as important as the album itself.

As it should be, Moore said, "the biggest impact is on his audience."

Prince loved the Toronto stage

Mark Hammond, CEO for the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts

Mark Hammond, CEO for the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, says Prince had performed with great energy at his recent shows in Toronto. (CBC)

"He wasn't really human, you know?"

That's how Mark Hammond, CEO for the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, will remember Prince.

Prince played two shows at the downtown Toronto venue in March, both of which sold out even though they were only announced two days in advance. In the first show, Prince played with a band. In the second, it was just him and his piano.

"He was playing with unbelievable energy," Hammond said, recalling Prince running across the stage, and bouncing while he played piano.

Hammond said Prince's virtuosity was on full display. At one moment, he began tinkering around on the keys, figuring out the chords to a long-lost song he wanted to revive for his Toronto fans.

"I think he loved playing here. You got that sense," Hammond said.

'Are you swearing in Prince's house?'

Music producer Scott Morin shares memories of Prince6:39

Scott Morin, a former marketing director of Universal Music Canada, said he realized his nervousness might screw up his relationship with Prince when he visited the singer's house.

Sure enough, "Of course I screwed it up," he said.

When Prince asked who he was he said he was a marketing guy and a big fan — fan being a word Prince dislikes.

Then he swore.

"Are you swearing in Prince's house?" he remembers the singer asking.

He swore again. Then somehow wound up telling the Prince his favourite song was a tune that had never been released.

"What, are you stealing Prince's music now too?"

Eventually, Prince started telling Morin "You're digging a hole that you can't get out of." Then, Prince's security guards began singing along.

Somehow, it turned out to be all good.  

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