Safford, a Detroit native, grew up in the Nation of Islam, where he received much of his bodyguard training. (His family was close to Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali.) Before working for Prince in the ’80s, Safford also provided security for bands such as the Commodores, Parliament–FunkadelicTeddy Pendergrass and Earth, wind and fire.
While working for Prince, Safford would typically have a hotel room next to the singer so Prince could access the bodyguard at any time, occasionally waking him in the middle of the night for stationery so he could write lyrics.
Safford also appeared briefly as a dancer in Prince’s band. You can see him in Prince’s “Girls and Boys” video and Sign O’ the Times concert film, featuring the “Detroit Crawl” dance, which was named after Safford.
Prince also nodded to Safford in his unreleased song “Wally,” which he wrote just after breaking up with Susannah Melvoin, twin sister of the Revolution’s Wendy Melvoin. Susan Rogers, who worked as Prince’s sound engineer in the ’80s, recalled in later interviews what Prince said to Safford at the top of the track, which was recorded in 1986.Wally, where did you get those glasses? Can I try them because I’m going to a party tonight and I want to look so cleanshe remembered him saying, followed by:Yes, my boyfriend just left, so I have to meet someone new.”
In 2019, Safford published a memoir chronicling his years with Prince, Wally, where did you get those glasses? My Life Through Parliament, Pendergrass and Prince.
“Everybody has a story,” Safford shared Ultimate Prince shortly after the book’s publication. “I wanted to talk about my journey through life. Prince happened to be at the end of it.”
Watch Wally Safford in Prince’s ‘Girls and Boys’ music video
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