“PEPE WILLIE—DO NOT USE—1975”
These words, emblazoned across the spine of an ordinary tape box, were the only visible identifiers connecting a now-legendary set of recordings to their owner, Minneapolis songwriter Pepe Willie.
Having established himself in the funk-rock canon with 1985’s independently released 94 East: Minneapolis Genius, Willie was no doubt aware the impact one could make when Prince was your session guitarist. The album gained some traction amongst paisley completists, with most copies finding their way to the used bins by decade’s end. Then, in the ’90s, after finding a reference cassette for an even more Princely recording session from 1975, a call was placed to the scene of the crime: Cookhouse Studios. Conceding that unclaimed tapes were often discarded, a diligent receptionist eventually found Willie’s 2-inch masters in a storage closet.
While assembling the track listing for Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound, Pepe Willie and 94 East were by no means a shoo-in. It was our goal to tell the untold story of the Minneapolis Sound, and the story of the Minneapolis Genius was common knowledge amongst Prince’s meticulous fan base, even if the music was not. But after exorcising the Minneapolis Genius LP and pruning back the group’s lo-fi rehearsal cassettes, we discovered the undeniable allure of 94 East’s prescient Cookhouse recordings. In an alternative reality, the session could be regaled for the debut of either keyboard virtuoso Pierre Lewis or imaginative timekeeper, Dale Alexander. As captivating was Willie’s evocative vocal delivery, seasoned to perfection by the tightly braided harmonies of Kristie Lazenberry and Marcy Ingvoldstad. Prince’s involvement may have been more of distraction than a boon to the legacy of 94 East, were in not for his instantly recognizable—often playful—lead lines. Compositionally fantastic, and historically relevant, The Cookhouse Five was everything we look for in a record.
So how do you do justice to a short-but-sweet recording session that constitutes the Minneapolis Sound’s baby steps? The Kind Of Blue of the Twin Cities’ signature sound? With a modern mix by long-time Prince associate Matt Fink, the anticipated Cookhouse Five LP includes studio banter from the margins of each calculated take. We included the five instrumentals on the flip side, for those hoping to observe the Minneapolis Sound’s junior variety team on the eve of all-stardom. For the jacket, we rendered the Minneapolis skyline in gold foil, stretching across a river of purple velvet—lush, gorgeous velvet. The Minneapolis Sound is important, and 94 East’s role in the phenomena is undeniable. We wanted to give the watershed sessions treatment they deserved, and now we have via our Project Twelve subscription service.
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