The Numero Group is no stranger to loss. Having built a record label around the back-when accomplishments of retirement-age artists, death is an inevitability. Having spent the better part of three years trying to distill the Minneapolis Sound from a smattering of demoes and local releases, we had a molecular understanding of Prince’s role in empowering the musicians of the Twin Cities, shaping pop music in the process. First the Chicago Reader called for some first impressions, then Billboard. Meanwhile, at our Brooklyn pop-up store, Purple Snow evaporated from the bins, then the Lewis Conection LP, then the 94 East 45. All over the country, people were trying to process the passing of this superlative human. Writing these articles was cathartic, as was enabling people new glimpses into Prince’s early career. We were happy to help in any way we could.
Things will get better, but they’ll never be the same. Our deepest condolences go out to all of our Purple Snow players who were lucky enough to witness first-hand the greatness of Prince Rogers Nelson. Our sympathy to his devoted fans, who had to say goodbye to an icon who still had a few decades of greatness left in him. If any of these words or any of these releases can help you gain temporary relief or long-term closure on this tragic loss, then we’ve done our job.
During January’s National Association of Music Merchants show (NAMM, if you’re nasty), the Roland corporation presented Purple Snow pillars Jimmy “Jam” Harris and Terry Lewis with a lifetime achievement award. For the occasion of their acceptance speech, the production duo lugged their very first Roland acquisitions down to Anaheim—Terry, his TR-808 drum machine, and Jimmy, his SH-1000 synthesizer. While the 808 became a ubiquitous tool for producers across genres, music history has been less kind to the SH-1000. In fact, the monophonic device may be best known for appearing on the cover of Mind & Matter’s previously unreleased masterpiece 1514 Oliver Avenue (Basement)(citation needed).
As a token of their appreciation, Roland offered to refurbish the antique machinery, requiring a global scavenger hunt for parts. Now the SH-1000 is fully functional, giving Mind & Matter one less excuse not to do a reunion show. And who better to host than First Avenue, who previously hosted Mind & Matter for this taping of Steamroller? Pay close attention to a bandanna’d Jimmy Jam, who can be seen jumping across the stage with this beastly keyboard slung around his neck.
“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.
Filed under: Purple Snow
As we detailed a few years back in This Old House: Purple Snow Properties, the exterior shot for Prince’s house in Purple Rain is a real Minneapolis property, located at 3420 Snelling Avenue between 33rd and 35th. We accidentally passed it while trying to drop off our rental car at Budget on Hiawatha Avenue South. So are you in the market for a house? If not, are you perhaps wealthy, eccentric, impulsive, and unrivaled in your Prince fandom? Because this the Kid’s house is for sale. For just $110,000, you can own a piece of 3BR history. Full disclosure: Prince is never seen leaving/entering this house (kind of like the exterior shot of Cheers in that way), and the interior shots were just as likely shot in Los Angeles County as they were Hennepin (hence the palm trees). Visit the online listing to get the whole ball of snow regarding this noteworthy property. If you purchase this house, please send housewarming invitation to: The Numero Group 2348 South Marshall Blvd, Chicago, IL 60623. We’ll bring a crispy copy of Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound to christen the stereo with.
Filed under: 94 East, Purple Snow | Tags: Cookhouse Five, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, Prince Rogers Nelson
The primary goal of Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound was to document the undiscovered early elements of the Twin Cities signature rock-funk fusion. Minneapolis’s enduring 94 East was a known quantity, having diligently preserved their own legacy through several self-produced compilations and collections, notable for their inclusion of marquee teenager and studio guitarist, Prince Rogers Nelson. Having stumbled over several $7 copies of 1985’s Minneapolis Genius (Hot Pink Records), I had tempered expectations for a “new” store-bought CD-R of The Cookhouse Five. But as soon as “If You See Me” engaged—stacking Dale Alexander’s imaginative polyrhythms, Pepe Willie’s evocative vocal, and Prince’s signature guitar work—I knew Purple Snow had found its opening track.
So moved by the tune, we pressed “If You See Me” as a standalone single. This 45 more or less LIVED in disc jockey play boxes, and it would not be uncommon to see three selectors at a DJ night with three copies of “If You See Me” among them. A repress went ignored for over a year, until finally arriving here at Numero HQ today. For those of you who’ve cue burned your first copy, or are simply late to the function, here is an impossible-to-ignore warning shot from the Minneapolis Sound, courtesy of 94 East with a little recognizable help from Prince Rogers Nelson. Purchase Here.
Filed under: Purple Snow
If you happen to get nominated for a Grammy for producing a box set about the Minneapolis Sound, the absolute best-case scenario is that Sylvia Amos agrees to design your ceremonial suit. Sister of Andre Cymone, Sylvia Amos (née Anderson) spent the late ’70s and early ’80s constructing imaginative wardrobes for the first generation of Minneapolis Sound architects: her brother Andre, Andre’s childhood friend Prince, The Revolution, The Time, Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, The Girls, The Stylle Band, among others. It started with measurements and a prompt—”nothing outrageous, just a fun throwback”—and evolved into a sensational distillation of the Minneapolis Sound’s signature look.
First contact: This fabric swatch. The studded flap of which Sylvia speaks is evident in much of Prince’s wardrobe:
Andre Gibson of the Universal Togetherness Band agreed to take me accessory shopping, connecting me with his buddy Chucki at Dress 2 Impress in suburban Dolton, Illinois:
Using the swatch, we selected a shirt (orchid), a belt (ostrich), and a pair of shoes which you can evaluate for yourself.
Second contact: A camera phone photo arrived of the jacket, about two weeks before the Grammys.
Once the rest of the suit arrived, it went something like this:
Like everything, it looks better in Los Angeles than it does in the apartment.
Lesson: If you want a Twin Cities fashion icon to make you a Grammy suit, you have to ask. Worst case scenario: “No.” Best case scenario: (See Above)
Perhaps some of you received Taschen’s Rock Covers as a holiday gift from a loved one? Did you realize a subtle abundance of Numero-oriented covers among the bunch? While not intentional, this is no coincidence. Long before he washed up on our doorstep, Jon Kirby was producing this book with New Yorker and former Wax Poetics colleague, Robbie Busch. Released in December, the book is already in its second pressing. Here are a few of the most significant Numero moments ℅ Jon Kirby.
Henry Diltz has taken approximately 9 trillion important photographs, among them, the cover to Ned Doheny‘s self-titled debut. Through Ned, I got to know Henry, who was patient enough to engage in this long-form interview.
According to an interview in Right On! Magazine, a few illustrators from Tron helped execute the cover for Andre Cymone’s full-length debut. By the way, the album cut “Trouble” is one of the greatest distillations of the Minneapolis Sound.
Moshe Brakha photographed Ned’s second album cover, and provides his account of the shoot in Baja Mexico. A few omitted passages from this interview got mixed into the lengthy liner notes for Ned Doheny: Separate Oceans.
We talked about Kim Fowley’s interactions with the Numero Group a few months ago in this blog post. Kim treated me to a few colorful history lessons over the course of this book. He summoned this final nugget from his hospital bed, a few months before his untimely passing. Kim! You were awesome!
We riffed on this album cover over a year ago amidst a purple snowstorm, due to the fact is was coincidentally photographed in Dez Dickerson’s father’s St. Paul office. Numero completists may recall that we issued an expanded edition of Husker Dü’s debüt a fü years back for Record Store Day.
A fantastic cover and fodder for a pretty robust Jay-Z sample, Ray Levin of Little Boy Blues told the story of shooting this album cover at the Skokie Lagoons on the outskirts of Chicago. We have just recently issued two previously unreleased Little Boy Blues singles on picture-sleeve 45.
Pretty much what we would expect on the cover of Circuit Rider. Glad to know they took a real snake skin in there.
A few select selectors were asked to provide ten-album bundles that embodied what great record art to meant to them. In this regard, Lenny Kaye is a no-brainer. Kaye will make his Numero Group debut via our upcoming Ork Records compilation, playing the part of Link Cromwell.
If you want to know what drove Kansas City’s Titan Records to make the kind of releases they did, look no further than co-founder Tom Sorrell’s rundown.