Bobby Z – (1989)

Bobby Z album cover
Bobby Z album cover

I’ve mentioned a few times in the past how Prince seemed to go through bands and new talent in his (once) relentless creative march. One of those lesser known discards was Robert B. Rivkin, better known as Bobby Z.  Bobby Z played drums for Prince with the Revolution, until Prince decided that Shelia E. would be better for that job. As someone so directly tied to Prince’s success Rivkin did not benefit from the wave of Prince imitators that had become so common place during the late ’80s. His move from the disbanded Revolution seemed like a business decision made by Prince, so it may not have taken anyone by surprise in the band, yet fans like me found the news disappointing.

Around that time Bobby Z. had already moved on-sorta with co-production credits for The Family’s one and only album. Bobby Z. has worked with major acts like Boy George and contributed to the debut album of Wendy & Lisa. Rivkin’s (or Z) own solo output is less known and was limited to one album.

As a drummer, it was unlikely that Bobby Z’s voice would ever have risen beyond the drum mix, but on Bobby Z he sounds like one of any number of pop rock artists of the late ’80s. The Minneapolis sound is unmistakably there, but not as pronounced as with other ex-Prince associates who fled to rival labels.

Like Wendy and Lisa, Bobby Z infuses some of his own influences into the Minneapolis sound. These influences can are subtle like the Richard Marx adult contemporary of Grey Heart or the Golden Palominos-like rhythm section of “The Meaning”.

The albums highlight might be “Alaysha”, a song where Z does his best Brian Ferry imitation down to the smooth crooner voice against dreamy synths. In fact, Z’s vocals sway between non-descript to Brian Ferry.  The most familiar track is likely the re-make of “River Run Dry”, a song Z wrote for The Family. Z’s version trades much of the funk of the song’s former essence in favor of light jazz accents.

However interesting, Bobby Z just failed to stand out in a crowded field of Prince sound-alikes as labels were trying desperately to cash in on the Minneapolis sound. The more money a label could throw at promotion, the more likely its singles would end up on the radio. Virgin Music, Z’s label was not throwing much money out for Bobby Z. That’s too bad because Bobby Z deserved more exposure than it got.

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