Whenever a book about Prince is released, the author swears she or he is showing a side of the legendary musician that had never been presented before. Many knew Prince, but there were sides of him not everyone was privy to.
Wallace Safford entered Prince’s camp with music history already under his belt, having worked as a bodyguard for artists such as George Clinton, Teddy Pendergrass and the Commodores. Not only was he employed by Prince as a bodyguard, but he was also eventually bumped to background dancer and singer and worked closely with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer for nearly a decade. Not surprisingly, the role Safford cherished most was that of confidant, and he eventually laid claim to the 1986 song the artist recorded and named in his honor, “Wally, Where’d You Get Those Glasses?”
In Safford’s new memoir, Wally, Where’d You Get Those Glasses? My Life Through the Lens of Parliament, Pendergrass and Prince, the Detroit native unveils the truth about why Prince made the unusual move of transitioning him from the background as a bodyguard to center stage as a dancer and singer. The book also explains the evolution of the song along with never-before-told encounters that shaped the seven-time Grammy Award-winning artist’s outlook on marginalization and race.
“He told me out of his own mouth the local NAACP was giving him a hard time. They felt he didn’t have enough Black people working for him,” explains Safford, who first met Prince in 1979 while he was doing security for Earth, Wind & Fire. “Once a few of us from Detroit were hired to work with him—the ‘Purple Gang,’ as he called us—others within his camp were always trying to find ways to get rid of us. They didn’t like how we kept Prince grounded. He seemed to have some of his best times around us. We were hard workers and knew how to handle him because everyone couldn’t work with or for him.”
Wally, Where’d You Get Those Glasses, released nationally on November 12, is an informative behind-the-lens view of an insider who, having worked alongside the iconic performer until 1988, really knew and was trusted by Prince.
“He was at the peak of his career when I was with him. He dealt with incredibly trying times. He encountered a lot of stuff that people will never understand. He kept so much to himself right up to his death,” says Safford about the music legend, who died in 2016.
Safford also sheds light on Prince’s deep connection to Detroit; many of his former bodyguards and trusted workers hailed from the Motor City. A few, the author included, had ties with the Nation of Islam. Some were even relatives of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad. “Prince had a deep admiration for Muhammad Ali, who was friends with my family,” reveals Safford. “Prince was always learning and open to knowledge. He was fascinated with my stories about my upbringing in the Nation of Islam and my sisters having personally known Ali and Malcolm X, who I knew as ‘Uncle Big Red.’ Prince also worked for a long time with my brother-in-law, tour promoter Billy Sparks, who is a Muslim and appeared in the movie Purple Rain.”
The book is co-authored by Margena A. Christian, a former EBONY senior editor and JET features editor, who is now a distinguished lecturer at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is also the author of Empire: The House That John H. Johnson Built (The Life & Legacy of Pioneering Publishing Magnate).
“It’s still hard to believe that [Prince is] gone. I shared stories about my life in the industry and how our paths connected. He wasn’t the first legendary musician that I worked with. There are things I discussed in my book that even he didn’t know,” says Safford. “I miss Cuddin. He gave a lot of people their start in the industry. That man fed a lot of people. There will never be another as great as him.”