Safford, a Detroit native, grew up in the Nation of Islam, where he received much of his bodyguard training. (His family was close with 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–Funkadelic, Teddy Pendergrass and Earth, Wind & Fire.
While working for Prince, Safford would typically have an adjacent hotel room to the singer so Prince could access the bodyguard at any moment, occasionally rousing him in the middle of the night for stationery paper so he could write lyrics.
Safford also briefly performed as a dancer in Prince’s band. You can see him in Prince’s “Girls and Boys” video and the 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 a sound engineer for Prince 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 on, because I’m going to a party tonight and I want to look so clean,” she remembered him saying, followed by, “Yeah, my girlfriend just left, so I’m gonna meet somebody new.”
In 2019, Safford published a memoir chronicling his years with Prince, Wally, Where’d You Get Those Glasses? My Life Through the Lens of Parliament, Pendergrass and Prince.
“Everyone has a story,” Safford told Ultimate Prince shortly after the book’s release. “I wanted to talk about my journey through life. Prince just happened to be at the end of it.”
Watch Wally Safford in Prince’s ‘Girls and Boys’ Music Video
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