Marshall Charloff pays tribute to Prince with the Utah Symphony

Purple Xperience co-founder ready to rock

Scott Iwasaki
The Park Record

Marshall Charloff regards the late Grammy Award-winning Prince as a musical genius.

“There are so many layers and dimensions to his music,” Charloff said during an interview with The Park Record. “I studied jazz, and when I was dissecting the songs, I saw so much jazz theory in his songs. But somehow he was able to sneak in elaborate dynamics, even though the masses would hear just a funk or pop groove.”

Charloff has a keen insight to what he’s talking about. He’s the founder of the Purple Xperience, a Prince tribute band that performs throughout the United States and Canada.

Charloff will perform the music of Prince with the Utah Symphony at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 20, at Deer Valley. The concert is part of the summer’s Deer Valley Music Festival.

The set list will include most of Prince’s No. 1 hits, as well as a few deeper cuts for the more devoted fans.

“The conductor Bren Havens was one of the guys who selected the songs for the show,” Charloff said. “I was able to choose the order of the songs, and I think he did a marvelous
job with the song selection.”

Over the years, Charloff has adapted to performing with a symphony.

“In the beginning, I was accustomed to playing freely with the Purple Xperience where the arrangements are not set,” he said. “Like any live setting, the band is always focused on the leader, and if he wanted to go an extra eight bars on the guitar solo or come down on the one [beat], they needed to follow him.

“With a symphony, there are notes on a piece of paper and that’s what they’re playing. If I decide that I’m really into this guitar solo and want to keep going, the symphony isn’t coming with me. It took me a minute to adjust to a set arrangement, because it was nothing that I had ever done with the Purple Xperience.”

Charloff, who is also a solo artist in his own right, wasn’t always a Prince tribute artist. He was also a producer and arranger.

He was, however, influenced by Prince in many ways, including hailing from the same hometown.

“The first path that set me on the trajectory of doing what I do was being from Minneapolis,” Charloff said. “I was part of the fiber of the Minneapolis sound “

Charloff met Prince after being signed to Pepe Willie’s company when he was 18.

“Pepe was the Godfather of Minneapolis Sound and he discovered Prince,” Charloff said. “I played keyboards on an album called ‘94 East’ and Prince was on the album.”

Through a progression of events, Charloff found himself playing with Prince’s band, which included bassist Andre Cymone, drummer Bobby Z and keyboardist Matt “Dr. Fink.”

“We did a homecoming show one year and that was the first time that I played live with any of those guys,” Charloff said. “After that, we were invited to do the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame benefit concert.”

When the dust settled, Charloff and Fink decided to put another band together and do Prince tribute shows.

“That’s how we started,” Charloff said. “We did one show a month, because we didn’t do the small bars and clubs. As the popularity grew, we found ourselves playing up to six or seven shows a month tops.”

That changed when Prince, born Prince Rogers Nelson, passed away on April 21, 2016.

“The landscape shifted because we were a tribute before, but the word tribute took on a new meaning for us,” Charloff said. “People came to see us for different reasons. Some are still coming because they are healing. They began coming to make friends and bond with others who love the music.

“To be a facilitator for that has been powerful. It’s an honor. It’s a privilege and a blessing.”

When Charloff performs, fans can see the Prince inside of him, but he didn’t sit down and study to become a Prince impersonator.

“There is no question that on some subconscious level that — after watching so many hours and multitudes of footage and listening to countless hours of music as any fan would — it all got into me,” he said. “As you develop as a musician, you will be influenced by who you listen to and see.”

As far as Charloff’s vocals go, it’s just how he sings.

“Do I turn on the affect when I do a Purple Xperience Show or a Prince Tribute? Yes, but not much,” he said. “If you heard me do my own original Marshall Charloff songs, the voice isn’t that much different. That’s cool because I don’t have to put too much affect on my voice. If I did and tried to fake it, it won’t be well received because the fans know.”

Charloff takes the same approach with the instruments he plays.

“I’m not trying to be Prince,” he said. “Whatever I’m playing — guitar, bass, drums, keyboards — is just how I approach the instruments. I would be a fool to try to touch Prince on guitar.”

While Charloff has many favorite Prince songs, he quickly says the “Ballad of Dorothy Parker” is at the top.

“That one jumped out at me a long, long time ago,” he said.

Charloff said being part of the Purple Xperience and a Prince tribute artist has been a blessing.

“As a musician, I get to express my soul through music,” he said. “Then to have an audience that comes in masses to hear you perform Prince music is also a blessing, because as an original artist, I wasn’t in a position to fill stadiums and theaters. So, selfishly, I get to express myself through the vehicle that is Prince, but still express myself musically.”

The Utah Symphony’s Deer Valley Music Festival will feature Marshall Charloff, who will perform “The Music of Prince,” at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 20, at Deer Valley Resort. Adult tickets range from $39 to $96. Youth Tickets are $15. For information and tickets, visit

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