Modest and unassuming, Jason Tenner, lead singer of the Prince Tribute band, “Purple Reign”, brings his raw interpretation of Prince to the Tropicana Hotel Las Vegas each Thursday through Saturday at 9:30 p.m. Lauded time and again as the best tribute act in Vegas, “Purple Reign” became the first tribute/impersonator act to appear as a musical guest on the Late Show with David Letterman. Here is a candid, exclusive VegasOnlyEntertainment (VOE) interview with the dreamy-eyed, svelte performer, artist, and entrepreneur, Jason Tenner (JT)
VOE: How did you cope with the Covid lockdowns and restrictions?
JT: I just went with it. My son is 25 and my daughter is 21. We holed up and played video games online. And we went for walks.
VOE: You’ve come a long way since the Boardwalk Casino on the Strip days: Was your family supportive all along?
JT: Oh, yah. From the very beginning. Before the Boardwalk we were a disco funk cover band called “Mothership Connection”. We played at a club called Tom and Jerry’s across from UNLV. There was another band there, “Bootie”, that later become “Love Shack”. We moved on to Station Casinos, then my bass player and I started Purple Reign.
VOE: In your opinion what’s been the most dramatic shift in the Las Vegas music scene over the past twenty years?
JT: The biggest shift for me was when the ultra-lounges became a thing. I used to go out after my show to see the other bands in the casinos. Every casino had a lounge with live music. People were dancing and partying all night. The big casinos had three or four bands going like the one at Caesar’s Cleopatra bar. That all went away with the ultra-lounge DJ’s and go-go-dancer boxes. You could go see great players. Now, not so much. You have to pay to go into those show rooms.
VOE: How have you have changed over the past twenty years?
JT: The Boardwalk closed in 2005 and by 2008 with the economic turndown the casinos weren’t wanting to pay. They were asking for reduced fees. So we went to Hooter’s and we started four-walling. I started charging the public myself and paying the casinos instead of the casinos paying us. The casinos were dropping off live music and that helped us. With a showroom, Morris Day and The Time, it’s not much of a far cry from what we had at the Boardwalk. I always thought the show would be in a showroom like it is now (Tropicana Hotel) with Morris Day and The Time, a couple dancers and the band. I pay rent where I’m at now.
VOE: How did the death of Prince in 2016 affect you?
JT: It broke my heart along with a lot of people. He inspired generations of musicians. His writing was absolutely prolific. He wrote so many songs! There won’t be another one like that. Not for a very, very long time. I write too. My catalog is maybe 30 songs. Only three have been released. My god, he was so young, and for it to be a result of fentanyl! So many people die from that crap. I don’t even like to take aspirin. I smoke pot and drink tequila. That’s about it. The other shit kills you. Alcohol is okay if you don’t destroy your liver and drink like a fish.
VOE: Prince became a Jehovah’s witness in 2003. Do you have any religious or spiritual beliefs?
JT: I believe anything is possible. I was raised Seventh-day Adventist Christian, which is close to a cult (laughs). In terms of believing in the narrative? It’s all possible. I can’t put a finger on it whether it’s true or not, and I don’t think anyone who wasn’t there can say. That being said, more power to you if religion helps you make sense of this world. A lot of people find it to be senseless and they become nihilistic, especially if you keep looking at what’s happening in the media all of the time. I do believe that a nice Benz or even a Toyota, if you took all those parts and scattered them all over the desert, I don’t care how long it rains or what shit happens it’s not going to make itself into a car. That takes an intelligent design or an intelligent designer. How much more complicated is a human being than a car? I can see that intelligence inside a human is innate and comes out through a process of time and evolution. The point is that intelligence exists—period—in the universe. Call it God or ‘the universe’. I studied quite a bit of theology and philosophy. I love to read. With that being said? There is some kind of intelligence that exists. It (the universe) seems so well organized. It creates a mystery for you, like what the hell is this? You can go crazy staring at it, trying to figure it out, and many people have. I believe in aliens more likely than not with all the stars and what we know. There is intelligent life up there. As far as the religious thing? I don’t think so. Man created God in our image? God is anything other than the image of us. We have similarities. We’re intelligent. We’re aware: a sentient being in that sense. Is chaos and evil necessary for motion just like death is necessary for life? I don’t know.
VOE: Your thoughts on touring: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
JT: I love touring. I appreciate the crowds who come out to see us. They’re not quite like Vegas. There is so much going on here and it’s a more sedate crowd. The Hard Rock in Tampa is a 3,000 seat venue and it completely fills up. The people have been waiting all day to see us, not walking the Strip all day. They’re way more excited. We did Tampa this year back in March. And we were in Palm Springs. There’s an Oklahoma City charity event with Habitat for Humanity in a couple of months. It’s still not open up one hundred percent everywhere.
VOE: How does it feel doing the splits at 46?
JT: Doing the splits at 46. I can still do it! About a month ago, because I had persistent pain, I got an MRI and x-rays. I don’t have arthritis! It’s mostly scar tissue and nerve damage from constantly pulling those muscles around that joint over the years. So, no hip replacement like Prince. He had one at 49. Yah, I can still do the splits. It doesn’t hurt me for very long either.
VOE: Do you have a CD in the works?
JT: No CD. In March of last year I released a single, then another one on Halloween. All the hours you spend on music to create it, okay? Tons of hours and energy. It cost a thousand dollars to release one song. I don’t mix my stuff. I sent it out to professionals. When you put it out people love it, they listen to it, but they don’t purchase it. These days people don’t buy music. They stream it on Spotify or YouTube. I do that too. If you don’t tour and sell merchandise? You’re just not going to make it. Over Covid I spent about ninety thousand dollars on broadcast equipment, dressing room, and a full stage. We’re going to use the facility for music videos, corporate parties. One of my songs will be in a movie in the fall.
VOE: Rumor has it that Prince actually sat in on one of your sets at one time. It that true?
JT: No. Not true. I did meet him though. I met him before the Boardwalk. I recorded at Paisley Park shortly after he died. His brother and I got together to record a compilation album. It won’t see the light of day, I believe. We would go in the museum after it closed and record. It was really eerie to walk around there especially at night. I met him back in 1998 the first time. That was an interesting, very candid conversation. We met at the Green Door. Nothing crazy or freaky happened, but it very well could have.
VOE: If you had to reinvent yourself and adopt a new tribute persona for the next two decades, who would you choose to be?
JT: If I had to do it all over again? I think Prince is the only one I look like. If anyone? Ah, man. I would cover myself. I would be me. It’s an acting job. Even if I came out doing Jason Tenner I would have to act a certain way. Stage clothes versus jeans, a t-shirt and a ball cap. I can’t think of another artist…Michael Jackson is cool, but he just plays piano and I like to play a bunch of stuff. Maybe Jimi Hendrix? It would be cool if I could shred like Jimi…who else… maybe Stevie Ray Vaughan ? I’m not Prince. It’s an acting job. I’ve been doing it twenty-five years. Almost a quarter of a century. I don’t listen to Prince. On occasion, when we’re rehearsing or cleaning up, I’ll listen to Prince songs just to refresh. I’m a fan but after all these years, after singing the songs on a nightly basis? Prince fans may get offended. They’re so serious about it. Everyone has their objections. I don’t give a shit what people say about me. You know the celebrity Mean Tweets? I guess life sucks so bad some people hate everything. I know what it’s like to feel that way. ‘Fuck life today. I’m going to bed.’ But, it still wouldn’t make me like that. I just move past them. They’re all going off and they can’t even spell.
VOE: Are your children following in your footsteps?
JT: My son produces music. He’s into photography and he’s a roadie for me. My daughter hasn’t quite figured herself out yet. She crafts jewelry. Amber jewelry with flowers and bugs. Mostly she just wants to read weird books. Macabre and strange things. She’s personable, highly intelligent, and approachable. She doesn’t have any problems or issues. She just likes weird shit. We raised a black widow. For four years I put it outside and fed it. It died a year ago. She fed it crickets and stuff like that. We have four dogs, a chatty cat, and a bearded dragon. He’s docile. Two feet long. Mellow and chill. The cat rides the dogs backs, but she doesn’t mess with the lizard. She gets hummingbirds.
VOE: What is the best advice you could give your children?
In terms of life? Be honest with yourself and true to yourself. listen to your conscience. Don’t take your own advice for granted. Don’t compromise. Be honest. In business and your personal life. It worked for me. My kids are straight-up, honest people.
For tickets and show information: TropLVPurpleReignPrinceTribute
Visit Purple Reign for more information and to contact the band.