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Ligonier Township man who toured with Prince calls him 'quiet lion'

Renatta Signorini
| Thursday, April 21, 2016, 10:42 p.m.
Matthew Blistan, who played trumpet in Prince's band in the 1980s, poses for a portrait in his Ligonier home on Thursday, April 21, 2016.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Matthew Blistan, who played trumpet in Prince's band in the 1980s, poses for a portrait in his Ligonier home on Thursday, April 21, 2016.
Matthew Blistan, who played trumpet in Prince's band in the 1980s, holds his Grammy in his Ligonier home on Thursday, April 21, 2016.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Matthew Blistan, who played trumpet in Prince's band in the 1980s, holds his Grammy in his Ligonier home on Thursday, April 21, 2016.

Matt Blistan didn't argue when Prince gave him a nickname.

Prince came dancing into the recording studio one day in 1985 playing the air trumpet, Blistan recalled.

“Atlanta Bliss plays like this,” Prince said, according to Blistan, a member of the musician's band, The Revolution, from 1985 to 1991. “It turned out he had named me Atlanta Bliss right then.”

“That was one of those days you'll never forget,” Blistan said.

The name has stuck for the Ligonier Township man whose basement is filled with tour books, photographs of Prince and The Revolution, platinum and gold albums and a Grammy from 1986. Blistan spent six years working with Prince during the height of his career.

Prince, 57, was found unresponsive in an elevator at his suburban Minneapolis compound Thursday morning. The influential musician's death came as a shock to Blistan and his wife, Mary Anne Blistan, who toured the country and world with the band. An autopsy is set for Friday.

Matt Blistan described Prince as a “quiet lion” who was a “quintessential pop musician.”

“This guy had more influence in my life in those six years and the years after that ... I'm still enjoying the time that I had that I was able to be with him,” Blistan said as “Little Red Corvette” played in a music video on the television in his basement. “It was the most exciting six years of my life.”

Blistan, a Peters Township native who now works at a Pittsburgh nonprofit he did not wish to name, was 33 and living in Atlanta when a friend — Duquesne University classmate Eric Leeds, who had joined the band in Minneapolis as a saxophonist — brought him into The Revolution.

He immediately recorded a song, “Mountains,” with the band, his first of many thousands of hours with Prince in the recording studio and at rehearsals.

“Prince would not write the music down, he would sing us the horn parts,” Blistan recalled. “That was the ultimate challenge for a musician to keep up with him.”

The group would rehearse for hours before shows, he said, but performing was a rush.

“When you walked up on stage and those people are yelling and screaming” for Prince, “just to be part of that was the ultimate experience for a musician,” he said.

Mary Anne Blistan and the couple's two young children often accompanied the group on tour, she said.

“It was fun,” she said. “He was an amazing musician. I loved going to the shows to watch.”

In 1991, Blistan left the band and moved back to Pittsburgh with his family. He last saw Prince at a performance in 2004 at the Civic Arena. It was an odd, yet exhilarating to watch him perform, rather than be part of the show.

“The funny thing is they were playing some of the music we recorded,” Blistan said.

The couple came home from work Thursday and immediately turned on Prince's music. Mary Anne's favorite song is “Let's Go Crazy.” Matt's is “Housequake.”

Prince's death is a “huge loss” for the music industry. He was shy but determined to have his band members get the sound just right.

“The ultimate challenge for a musician is to work with this guy,” Blistan said. “He knew what he wanted and you don't mess with his music.”

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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