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POP EYE

He's the Artist Still Known at Warner Bros. : Prince may have thought that changing his moniker to whatever he's changed it to would sever his ties to the record company. Wrong.

March 05, 1995|Chuck Philips

W hen Prince changed his name to an unpronounce able symbol in 1993, fans' reactions ranged from perplexed to amused. Was it caused by mystical motives? Was it a ploy to get attention?

The real reason, sources speculate, is that he was unhappy with the way Warner Bros. Records was marketing his music and believed that the name change would in some way free him from his long-term recording pact.

Prince may think he has come up with a brilliant way to break his contract, but the eccentric star is apparently having a tough time finding an attorney who agrees with him.

So Prince--who has recently branded himself a "slave" in videos and personal appearances--must be chagrined to find that at least two prominent Los Angeles litigators have refused to represent him because they believe his claim is unfounded.

"The concept is absolute nonsense," says one industry insider, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified. "Under that theory, O.J. Simpson could change his name tomorrow and the trial would be over."

Prince, who is in England on tour, could not be reached for comment, and representatives for his Minneapolis-based Paisley Park label declined to discuss the matter, except to say that the 36-year-old performer was looking forward to a "prosperous 1995."

It's been more than two years since Prince signed what Paisley Park touted as the biggest superstar deal in the history of the music business--a purported $100-million, six-album pact.

The ink had barely dried on the contract when a battle broke out between the composer and Warner Bros. management over just how many albums Prince would be allowed to deliver in 1993--as well as how much advance money he was entitled to collect.

Sources say Prince was upset about the performance of his 1992 album (the title was the unpronounceable symbol) and blamed its tepid sales on deficiencies in Warners' marketing plan. Sources say he planned to leave the label by unloading enough previously recorded material to fulfill his contractual obligation, but Warners rejected that idea.

Now it looks as if he may have to stay at Warners after all.

With that possibility in mind, Prince's representatives have met in recent weeks with label executives, who are "cautiously optimistic" about patching things up, sources say.

The firm recently hired the entertainer's former attorney, Denise J. Brown, to head its black music department, and there is speculation that Prince's newest material could end up in stores as "The Gold Experience" album on Warner Bros. before summer.

"The problem for Prince, like most superstars, is that it's very difficult for him to cope with the inevitable decline in popularity," says one entertainment attorney. "I think he truly believes that if he could free himself from his Warners contract that he could totally revitalize his career."

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