Sources: Canada.com – By Richard Burnett | All Things Michael
At the time, he was the trombonist for famed American R&B singer Millie Jackson (no relation to The Jacksons), whose promoter told Prater about The Jacksons auditioning horn sections.
“But my horn section (North Florida’s East Coast Horns) wasn’t famous like the Muscle Shoals Horns and all these guys,” Prater said in an interview this week. “The promoter got us an audition and we pretended to be the Memphis Horns!”
Days later Prater and his horn section flew to Los Angeles, where they were picked up at the airport by a driver holding up a sign that read “Memphis Horns.”
“That’s us!” Prater said. They soon found themselves in the Jackson home playing for family matriarch, Katherine Jackson.
“I didn’t tell the boys it was an audition, I originally told them it was a gig,” Prater said. “We all went into the kitchen and started playing for her. She called all of her sons and said, ‘They know all of your songs!’ We played for them, we danced, we were like the Jackson 5 with horns. And they fell in love with us. Later we told them we weren’t the Memphis Horns, and Michael told me, ‘I don’t care who you are, you’re the Jackson Horns now.’ ”
Michael Jackson later hired Prater to be in his solo touring band and, between tours, Prater spent time in Montreal visiting a friend. “I just fell in love with the city,” Prater said.
Prater was born into a family of gospel singers and raised in Jacksonville, Fla., where he learned to play trumpet and trombone before graduating from Florida A&M University in the late 1970s. Prater was a gifted musician, playing violin and drums before he became a one-man horn section. In 2008, his East Coast Horns was inducted into the North Florida Music Hall of Fame.
By the time Prater moved to Montreal for good in 1991, he’d spent the previous decade performing with a who’s who in R&B, including Cameo, Rick James and The O’Jays. He also toured across Canada (including headlining Montreal’s now-defunct R&B nightclub Checkers) with his former band Transit, whose members are now Al Green’s backup band. But Prater’s favourite performer remains Michael Jackson.
Musical artist Alan Prater in his studio at his Montreal home Monday, February 9, 2015.When Jackson died in 2009, Prater was dumbfounded. “I tell you, Michael was one of the best and kindest human beings I ever met in my life. If you needed help, he was there for you, hands-on. It was a family thing. After each show, I’d sit in my hotel room and Michael would knock on the door every night and we’d talk. He was always curious about other people’s lives.”
In Montreal, Prater has been closely identified with two seminal local outfits, funk band The Aliens and his current R&B band JAMAD, which features renowned Montreal musicians Al Baculis (formerly of rock band Bootsauce) on bass, in-demand session drummer Max Sansalone, and Joel Campbell (Tina Turner’s piano player) on keys.
JAMAD packed Montreal’s Jello Bar and later Club Peopl for years during their weekly residencies there before headlining a big outdoor free show at the 2014 Montreal International Jazz Festival.
“Residencies are important because people who love soul music seek them out. Touring musicians like Meshell Ndegeocello and Jeff Healey used to come by Jello just to see us play, and sometimes they’d join us onstage,” said Prater, whose band kick-starts its new residency at Rosalie’s bar on Feb. 26.
In fact, when funk legend Bootsy Collins headlined Metropolis at the 2011 Montreal International Jazz Festival, Prater was leaning against a bar enjoying a beer when Bootsy’s road manager approached him.
“Are you Alan Prater?” the road manager asked. “You’re a legend around here in Montreal. Would you like to introduce Mr. Collins to your people?”
So Prater introduced Bootsy and the band, and Collins later thanked Prater backstage.
But though Prater is a spokesperson for Montreal’s Black History Month this year (alongside singer-songwriter Valérie Daure), he doesn’t consider himself a role model, and downplays the accolades.
“You have to have a hustle mentality if you want to make it in the music business,” Prater said. “This was all I wanted to do. This was not a choice. I had a nine-to-five job once — I went on my break and never came back. Find something you love and do it. I found something that I love and that’s what I do.”
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