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.
“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: 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.