Three Decades After a Forgotten Demo, Musician Prophet Makes a Comeback

Prophet's new album, 'Don't Forget It,' follows up the cult success of the 1984 demo he self-released in San Francisco. (Frank Horn)

The first thing that may strike listeners about Prophet’s 2020 album, Don’t Forget It, is how fresh, even young it sounds. There’s a sweet yearning to his voice that mixes with the electronic bite, shimmering guitar and crisp, funky punch. The sound suggests a new figure on the scene finding a path among a generation that happily mixes styles from further back.

But Don't Forget It, released at the end of January on the influential Stones Throw Records, isn't the work of an industry newcomer, but of a veteran musician whose work was nearly forgotten for decades.

“I just try to stay young at heart basically,” Prophet says with easy confidence in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “I just stay in tune with music events that are going on with the youth, but doing it in my own way. They are the ones that are really supporting music in a large way right now.”


Prophet originally came to San Francisco in the mid 1970s from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, following up on an extensive classical music education at home with a growing love for bass guitar. His first gigs were with a military band and then a tour with a Top 40 cover group. His 1984 album Right On Time, a home demo pressed into a short run on his own Treasure Records, didn’t get the major label attention he'd hoped for, leaving Prophet to continue work in a variety of Bay Area bands for the next decade and a half while the vinyl run disappeared into consignment at various record stores.

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Prophet finally left San Francisco in 1999 to return to Baton Rouge to take care of his mother, and remained there for almost fifteen years. He regularly performed with Louisiana soul, funk and reggae legend Henry Turner Jr. and his group & Flavor. Meanwhile, Right On Time’s underground reputation grew with crate-digging record collectors—chief among them Stones Throw founder, Peanut Butter Wolf, who wondered what had happened to the talented musician.

“Somebody contacted me out of the blue searching for my whereabouts because they found this album by this guy named Prophet and they were trying to find me,” he remembers. “So they suggested that I move out here to L.A. because there were people excited about the Right on Time record. So it was just a matter of me packing my bags and coming on out this way.”

After not releasing solo material for over 30 years, Prophet relocated to Los Angeles to work with influential indie label Stones Throw Records.
After not releasing solo material for over 30 years, Prophet relocated to Los Angeles to work with influential indie label Stones Throw Records. (Frank Horn)

That soon led to a meeting with Peanut Butter Wolf—at the Stones Throw booth at a record fair, appropriately enough—and various live shows in Southern California. In 2018, Prophet released his first album in 34 years: Wanna Be Your Man, a collaboration with hip-hop producer and neo-soul singer-songwriter Mndsgn.

The project was an intriguing blend of Prophet’s continuing musical interests and Mndsgn’s beat explorations, but Prophet had some reservations.

“I never really actually worked with a record producer before,” Prophet recalls. “It's alright, it's just that it's not totally you. It's partially you.”

For Don’t Forget It, Prophet decided to go it alone. “I knew it would be better for me eventually to just write and produce a record on my own because that way it'll be me fully,” he continues.

The subtle power of Prophet’s arrangements stand out from his early work to the present day. On Don’t Forget It, there’s the slick, precise way the keys rise and fall on “In My Ear”; his vocals have a gentle touch, backed up by a warm and sweetly sly organ on the chorus. His voice on “Think About It” rides a bubbling, murmuring mixture of pulses, with low tones and a sense of space. The album has a deeply human feel that’s comfortable among the technology but never subsumed by it.

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“I let the music actually dictate what I'm going to sing to it,” Prophet explains of his creative process. “I really don't like dabbling and switching parts, thinking maybe I should do this or maybe I should do that. Once it's there, it's there, and it's up to me to create everything else about the song.”

The strength of Don’t Forget It lies in a steady work ethic: Prophet estimates he drew the track list from somewhere around 100 songs, something he attributes to his constant activity in his home studio.

His future goals (once California's shelter-in-place ordinance is lifted) include doing more work on the live front, currently a stripped down affair with himself and a DJ, as well as continuing to record. He speaks of wanting to travel more and take his sound to different places he’s not yet been, but confesses that when it comes to big-picture plans, ultimately for him the focus remains on the sounds he wants to bring to life.

“As far as outside of the music business, I don't know, man,” he reflects. “It's really about just being able to take care of myself, basically. But outside of that, I haven't really thought about it, because if I do think about it then I may start to feel like I've let myself down and [am] abandoning the music.”