Dean Ford didn’t start out a Prince fan. In fact, the Portland musician is the first to admit that for most of his life, he was just a casual fan—if he heard it, he said, he liked it. The appreciation didn’t go much further than that.
So it’s interesting that for the past seven years, Ford’s been impersonating the late performer on stages across New England as the leader of Dean Ford and the Beautiful Ones, a legitimate and faithful Prince cover band.
Ford’s act is just one of many attractions planned for Downtown Countdown 2017, Bangor’s annual New Year’s Eve event that will also feature fire spinners, an ice bar, family-friendly events, and more.
For Ford, the path to The Purple One was circuitous. He started performing as a professional musician in the Portland area at just 12 years old, in the process befriending members of the band Animal Suit Drive By (later renamed The Killing Moon). Before long, he was playing in bands with them and other local musicians, eventually forming the pop-punk band The Goodnight Process with friend Dan Capaldi (also known for his project Sea Level).
Still, he said, something nagged at him: “I tried to tour when I was 17, and that didn’t really work out. So I decided I wasn’t going to be a part of a band anymore.”
So he reinvented himself as a pop artist and released a number of albums under his own name. That’s when people starting making the comparisons.
“I had heard comparisons of my own music to Prince, and I never really believed them,” he said. “People started saying that I looked like him, and then they started saying that I kind of sounded like him. And then finally, a friend of mine was like, ‘You really need to listen to his stuff.’ So I started with [Prince albums] ‘Sign o’ the Times’ and ‘Purple Rain.’”
It didn’t fully click until he was asked to perform Prince songs at a cover event. As he was learning the songs, Ford realized that Prince wrote and performed nearly all the music on his albums.
“That’s kind of where I was like ‘Alright, this is something I want to do,” he said. “We do that show, and the turnout was amazing. And from there we started doing more shows [as Prince], and after the turnouts became bigger we decided to start taking it outside of Maine.”
It’s been seven years now. Today, Ford and his band—a rotating cast of musicians that travels and performs as needs (and availability) arise—perform at venues around New England, enough so that Ford refers to the Prince gig as his day job. He still performs pop songs, too, as frontman of The Keepsakes, a pop-focused cover band.
The Prince act, however, is more than just a band playing popular tunes—it’s a true show, rooted in the theatrics and spectacle Prince’s fans expect. They play Prince’s popular favorites as well more obscure b-sides in full costume with appropriate instrumentation. Ford pays attention to the types of details fans revel in, and it seems to resonate.
“I always saw these mixed emotional reactions at our shows,” he said, “but after he died [in 2016] it became something entirely different. There will be people who were so emotionally and personally connected to his music. It went from being this thing where I’m paying tribute to what became one of my favorite artists of all time and trying to put on a great show, to having people tell me that I’m continuing his legacy. They’re in tears talking to me, and it’s a lot bigger than what I thought it would be. It’s more than just playing a show.”
Ford said that while Prince produced an incredible amount of popular hits, some in particular are sure to get a reaction:
“When we play Purple Rain, it’s great,” he said. “You get every reaction that you can imagine. It’s crazy, every single time, there’s not one show we play that we don’t get that crowd reaction.”
Dean Ford and the Beautiful Ones performs at the Bangor Arts Exchange Dec. 31 at 9 p.m. Visit bangorartsexchange.org for tickets and info. For a full list of Downtown Countdown 2017 events, see the “Downtown Countdown 2017” event page on Facebook.