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.
Lewis Connection alum and Purple Snow honoree Pierre Lewis has held down many piano benches in his day. But it is his gig with the Commodores that has been putting the most mileage on his passport lately. Below are just a handful of the far-flung stages that the Commodores have lugged Lewis on most recently. With Festival Season in high gear, keep you eyes peeled for the Commodores at festivals and fairs in YOUR city. Because you’d hate to miss an opportunity to get your Purple Snow or Lewis Connection or 94 East autographed by this globetrotter.
UPDATE: According to Pierre, the last picture was from Vienna, France. We regret the omission.
With Pierre in the Twin Cities and Andre outside of Nashville, the Lewis Connection rarely connects. So when the beloved brothers posted this picture (sans Numero logo) on Facebook, the comments poured in from across their common corner of the internet. “How come Andre has no gray hair?” asked one friend. “I don’t know, I don’t have any hair,” replied Pierre. When confronted by a former classmate from St Paul Central, “I still hoop u two !!!! What,” Andre exhibit a pretty thorough awareness of recent alumni match-ups, confessing “in my heart I know they don’t want none of this.” After running through possible scenarios in relation to his abilities, he concluded, “no matter what happens, they will still experience the the agony of defeat.”
While there were dozens of funky local 45s minted during the Purple Snow era, Pierre and Andre Lewis hold the distinction of releasing one of the only (and arguably the strongest) full-length features from the Minneapolis Sound’s early days. We released their misspelled debut a year ago on our JR. imprint, and included a few of our favorite cuts on Purple Snow. Due to the appearance of the word “Prince” under the guitar credit for “Got To Be Something Here,” this LP has been a curiosity among the Artist’s dearly beloved. But just as fascinating to us was the songwriting of New Power Generation bassist Sonny Thompson, to say nothing of the instrumental tribute to Morris Day’s family dog, “Mr. G.”
Purple Snow drops December 3rd. To help retrace the Minneapolis Sound’s baby steps, considering picking up The Lewis Connection on LP or MP3.
Filed under: Eccentric Soul 45s, Lewis Connection, Mind & Matter, Purple Snow, Uncategorized
If you know nothing about the Numero process, it typically involves finding a spot on Earth where important music was made, and then boring down into the ground until lava starts bubbling up. After two years spent strip mining the Twin Cities, I was afforded the opportunity to visit the Land of 10,000 as a tourist, not as a detective. Conversations flowed freely, and without the need for note taking. Here are a few cool things that can happen in Minneapolis once you’ve sent Purple Snow to the printers and presses.
1.) You can DJ somewhere:
Brian Engel, Greg Waletski, and George Rodriguez constitute a dense portion of the Minneapolis vinyl firmament. On Friday, they celebrated 11 years of the Hipshaker Dance Party, and invited me to join. Being able to work with and celebrate the musical veterans of the Twin Cities has been an honor, but it’s just as encouraging to receive the blessings of your record collecting peers. These guys (along with friendly rivals Hotpants) are really carrying their weight, keeping old records alive in the Twin Cities.
2.) You can eat at the diner from Alexander O’Neal’s debut album:
Mickey’s Dining Car is a 24/7 institution, located at 36 7th Street in St. Paul. The building in the background has been there as long as the diner, meaning that Alexander’s famous visit was made possible by generous amounts of airbrushing.
In actuality, the scene probably looked more like this:
3.) You can go to the fair:
Just talking about the Minnesota State Fair can shake lose interesting facts from native notables. Bill Gaskill, whose saxophone solos season much of Purple Snow, informed me that his grandfather put together the first traveling midway specifically to play the Minnesota State Fair in 1904. Hymie’s Records owner Dave Hoenack revealed he’d never eaten fried alligator, despite having workied in the Fried Alligator Booth several years consecutively. I visited the Caterpillar Kingdom and met this friendly fellow.
The pressed penny machine offers advice for the ages:
4. You can hang with the Peanuts Gang:
Charles Schultz was from St. Paul.
5. You can go to the Spruce Lounge:
Although it’s changed names over the years, this structure near the corner of 36th Street South and 4th Avenue has been serving refreshments to the community for a half century, and invokes the spirit of many legendary haunts documented in Purple Snow.
A fluctuating cast of local legends perform every Sunday from 6pm – 9pm. Notable participants this week include Herman Jones, Pierre Lewis (The Lewis Connection) and guitarist Johnny McGhee (LTD).
Me and Everett Pettiford of Mind & Matter at the Spruce Lounge. Mind & Matter’s diabolical full-length LP/CD will be available 10/29/13.
From Minnesota, with Love…
Chris Moon secured his place in Prince’s royal court as co-writer of the suggestive single “Soft and Wet,” featured on the artist’s 1978 debut For You. Having cut a set of keys for the 17-year-old wunderkind upon their first meeting in 1976, Moon would be at ground zero for the prodigious teen’s early immersion into studio tricknology. In actuality, Moon had been incubating black talent in the Twin Cities since the early ’70s, requiring only that pioneering clients provide their own tape for watershed recording sessions. Increasing his meager fees in 5 dollar increments through the ’70s, his migratory studio remained a welcoming place for artists of color who wanted to make R&B music.
Pictured above, 5708 Stevens Ave South was Moon and Moonsound’s home in 1974, where studio rates were $15 an hour.
As it correlates to Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound, 2828 Dupont was a far more relevant manifestation of Moon’s namesake launching pad. Located next to an automotive impound, this single-story structure hosted soon-to-be legendary recording sessions by Alexander O’Neal, Rockie Robbins, and Aura, many of which are featured on our approaching compilation. The Dupont location even provided the Lewis Connection with a backdrop for this Chris Moon-captured photo, which graced the back of their self-titled LP. More stories about Moonsound’s staff cosmonauts will be revealed this November, when Purple Snow blankets record shelves worldwide.
While assembling Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound, we sorted through binders, boxes, and drawers of photos belonging to dozens of Twin Cities entities. Although we’ve been poring over these images for years now, only yesterday did we notice a young Pierre Lewis (co-star of the brotherly Numero release, The Lewis Connection) was sitting on not one, not two, not three, but FOUR chairs in this early performance by Back to Black at North Minneapolis’s Theodore Wirth Park. Rather than speculate, we decided to call Pierre Lewis and have him weigh in on the topic:
If I had one chair I’d be too low! Look where that first chair is. If I sat on one chair, I’d be under the piano. I damaged my rotary cuff like that once before from, lifting my hands up in the air, you know, like Frankenstein? It was four or five months before it healed. That had to be between ’72 and ’73, based on the shirt I’m wearing. That was the uniform we had in Back to Black. If I stood up, I’d have to bend over to play the Rhodes. Because in that picture, I’m like 5′ 3″, 5′ 4″… 5′ 5″ at the most. After I turned 18, that’s when I really started growing. Because I’m 5′ 10″ now. I would only need one chair now. Two at the most.
Pierre Lewis, who now stands when he plays, is one of many colorful individuals featured in Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound, available 11/12/13.
We stop by Hymie’s Vintage Records in Minneapolis each and every time we visit the Twin Cities, and were thrilled to learn that owner and proprietor Dave Hoenack had been solicited by the City Pages to write about our recently unleashed Lewis Connection LP. Basically, Dave gets it. He’s seen a few precious copies of this privately pressed oddity rise resurface over the years, and understands better than most the real reason why this 1979 release is significant (hint: it’s not because Prince Rogers Nelson plays on it).
If you can’t make it to Hymie’s, where The Lewis Connection is prominently displayed on the wall above their Local section, sled or snowshoe on over to our web store for sound clips and/or to purchase.