The following is the story of how the recordings on the 2-CD set, 94 East featuring Prince; Symbolic Beginning came into existence. It also reflects the intimate involvement that Pepé Willie had in the early development of the Minneapolis Music Scene. It's fairly lengthy to read, but worth it!
When you play these recordings listen very carefully. You don't know what we went through to get these tapes and we don't want you to miss a thing. What you have in your possession is a collector's dream. These songs are very special because they feature the performances of Prince when he was just 16 years old. The songs which are referred to as the Cookhouse Five are Better Than you Think, I'll Always Love You, If We Don't, If You See Me, and Games. The name "Cookhouse" refers to Cookhouse Recording Studios where these recordings took place. The performances in these songs mark the very first time Prince was ever in a recording studio and the beginning of Prince's illustrious recording career. These recordings are a must for all Prince fans.
This rare opportunity has been brought to you courtesy of Pepé Willie and 94 East. As the leader and founder of 94 East, a group based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Pepé began and developed a close relationship with Prince in the 1970s. Prince played with 94 East on their demo recording sessions during this time and on several other recordings with Pepé. From this relationship came these historic recordings.
Six of the songs on this album were first released in 1986 on the Minneapolis Genius/94 East: The Historic Recordings album featuring Prince, Pepé Willie, and André Cymone. The album was produced by Pepé Willie and Tony Sylvestre (a popular producer in the music industry and member of the group, Main Ingredient). The album included four songs written by Pepé (Games, Dance to the Music of the World, Lovin' Cup, If You Feel Like Dancin'), one song written by Tony Sylvestre (One Man Jam) and one a collaboration between Pepé and Prince (Just Another Sucker). These six songs were taken from the original recordings, updated with additional instrumental parts and remixed. We refer to this collection as Minneapolis Genius I: The Historic Recordings. They were actually recorded after the Cookhouse Five songs.
A few years ago, while searching through some old boxes of tapes, we found recordings of the Cookhouse Five songs. Songs we had forgotten. These are the one and only, first professional recordings of Prince. After listening to these tapes, we couldn't rest until we found the masters. We literally tore the house apart; we searched high and we searched low and then we searched some more. We still couldn't find those masters! Where could they be? The last place, the last hope, was Cookhouse Recording Studios. We called Cookhouse and asked if they had any master tapes from the 1970s under the name of Pepé Willie. Cookhouse referred us to another location in the Twin Cities where they archived all their old tapes, and also told us that after a certain number of years they destroy them. That's when we started to panic. In the meantime, an engineer friend from Cookhouse (who did not know we were looking for the masters) happened to find a master tape labeled "Pepé Willie, DO NOT USE - 1975". He found it in a storage closet at Cookhouse. Imagine that! He called us and asked if we wanted the tapes or did we want to get rid of them. Get rid of them? You can imagine what was going on in our minds at that moment, but we didn't let on. We nonchalantly told him it was OK, we'd just come down and pick the master up. If he only knew what he was leaving at the front desk for us.
The eight additional songs on this album are the Cookhouse Five PLUS three additional recordings: You Can Be My Teacher and Love, Love, Love, which were recorded on four track recorders and Dance To the Music of the World which is a practice session recording. (Done the night before we went into Sound 80 Recording Studios with Prince). They are presented on this album in their original form. We refer to this collection as Minneapolis Genius II: The Historic Recordings (a.k.a., Symbolic Beginings).
You can imagine what a thrill it was to find those tapes! These tapes weren't exactly stored under high tech conditions (ha, ha), but they were in good enough condition to be transferred to DAT (digital audio tape). We are surely blessed that all the tapes were in good enough condition to make a few go rounds on the 2" studio reel-to-reel when we transferred to DAT. We were extremely nervous watching the tape as it turned around and around on the tape machine, dreading the thought that at any moment it might fall apart. As it was, our expert engineer, Tommy Tucker Jr. (thank you Tommy), handled it with extreme care, cleaning the tape heads repeatedly as the tape was shedding. After all, these tapes were over 20 years old.
In any case, we were able to bring to you a truly extraordinary piece of work that not only reflects the incredible talent of Prince, but also several other teenage musicians from the original group 94 East. What makes these recordings so incredibly valuable is that they reflect an important part of the development of Prince and the history of the "Minneapolis Sound." Prince was born with a gift for creating music, but somehow, somewhere, Prince had to learn the business. Someone had to have given Prince the inside information he needed to become so successful so quickly. Therein lies the importance of the relationship between Prince and Pepé Willie.
Pepé Willie wrote this poem about his actual experiences as a teenager growing up in Brooklyn, New York, hanging with the hottest rock n' roll R&B artists of the 60's. Pepé's Uncle, Clarence Collins, is one of the original founding members of the legendary group, Little Anthony and the Imperials, and he was also Pepé's educational avenue to the music business. Pepé started as a valet for Little Anthony and the Imperials when he was only 16 years old. It kept him off the streets of Brooklyn.
So, what's this got to do with Minneapolis Genius? First of all, you have to understand that Pepé had the presence of mind to watch, listen and absorb everything he saw and heard. He observed how people worked with one another what worked and what didn't. He learned about the business managers, agents, studio recording, performing, record executives, songwriting, contracts. He gained THE KNOWLEDGE. It was this priceless information that he brought with him to Minneapolis. It was this same information that he passed on to Prince.
How did Pepé and Prince initially get together? Pepé recalls . . .
Pepé moved to Minneapolis and began working with Prince in 1974-75. It wasn't long before he realized that Prince was more than good, he was a phenomenal musician, and a singer as well. He also showed a deep desire and serious determination to make it. It was at this point that Pepé committed himself to passing the THE KNOWLEDGE to Prince; and Prince listened and listened.
Like Prince and the group he was in, Grand Central (a.k.a. Grand Central Station), most local musicians were performing cover tunes and not even thinking about writing and recording original material. Prince was about to change all that. He was about to start the ripple in the water that eventually grew to become internationally recognized as the "Minneapolis Sound."
Pepé had been working with Grand Central on a regular basis. He remembers some of the rehearsals they held in an attic in South Minneapolis:
Prince and Pepé spent the next several months working intensely with Grand Central. As Pepé recalls it . . .
Grand Central had made quite a bit of progress when Pepé decided to bring them into Cookhouse Recording Studios in 1975. Prince was so excited! Arrangements had been made for Grand Central to play for a co-owner of Cookhouse. He was fairly impressed with their original material, but then asked them to do one of their cover songs, an Earth, Wind and Fire tune. Unfortunately, they played Earth, Wind and Fire better than they played Grand Central. They were not ready. Back to practice
In the meantime, Pepé had begun recording his own demo material at Cookhouse. Pepé decided to hire Prince to record with him. Prince was very eager to participate (plus getting paid, too!). Pepé describes him as being 'like a kid in a candy store'. Prince recorded lead and rhythm guitar along with the musicians who later formed the group, 94 East. From this came the five songs referred to as the 'Cookhouse Five'.
All the members of 94 East except for Pepé were from Minneapolis and St. Paul. Wendell Thomas, bass player, had been a long time friend of Pepés. He was essentially in from the very beginning. His younger brother, Dale Alexander, was recruited to play drums and Pierre Lewis joined as keyboard player. Dale and Pierre were both as young as Prince AND blessed with a great deal of talent for such a young age. Later, Dale Alexander became drummer for Prince's group, Madhouse.
Kristie Lazenberry, background vocalist, met Pepé while they were both performing in a musical in St. Paul. Kristie introduced him to her good friend, Marcy Ingvoldstad. It was pure coincidence that one day they were all riding in Pepés Volkswagen Beetle, singing to the radio in harmony. Pepé had found his background singers.
The Cookhouse Five songs were written by Pepé in 1975, and were all personal reflections of his own experiences. Better Than You Think was co-written with Kristie Lazenberry. It turned out to be one of Pepés favorite songs (most likely yours, too, once you hear it). "Write what you feel," he instructed. Pure and simple.
If You See Me, one of Prince's favorites, gives a simple picture of Pepés feelings at that time: "Now I'm alone feelin' free/Freer than a butterfly, flyin' high now, yea, yea baby/...If you see me/Walk on by, girl/Don't say nothin'/...". What's interesting is that Prince took such a liking to this particular song, he recorded it himself. As Pepé remembers . . .
Sorry we couldn't share that one with you!
The Cookhouse Five recording sessions were, as Wendell Thomas remembers, "spontaneous and went very quickly". There were probably two reasons for that. One, 94 East did a tremendous amount of practice prior to going into the studio and two, they had very limited funds! Most importantly, the sessions were a great deal of fun. Pepé loved having Prince involved in the project. Pepé recalls that Prince was very dependable, eager to please and inspiring in his performance...
If we really listen to the contributions Prince made to the Cookhouse Five songs, it's hard to imagine that he was just 16. If you pick out the guitar parts in Games you'll hear how talented the really is. Listen to the verses. His riffs are enough to make you bow and shake your head. In fact, if you listen very carefully to Prince's guitar and Pierre Lewis' keyboard during the music break (after the 2nd chorus) you'll hear Prince play a riff that is so "bad" (meaning good) it seems to literally freak Pierre out and he ends up hitting some unwanted notes.
Here's an extra treat for all you Prince fans. Listen to the beginning of I'll Always Love You. You can hear Prince saying, "Wait a second" before the song begins. (We guess he wasn't ready, yet.) The rhythm guitar licks are impressive to say the least.
We know you'll love Better Than You Think not only for the beautiful ballad that it is, but also the melotron string parts by Teddy Randazzo, the solo lead guitar by Prince and Pepé's acoustic guitar. When you listen to the solo lines Prince plays at the middle and the end of Better Than You Think, it's so full of feel that it sends chills up and down your spine. If you listen real carefully in the last verse, you'll hear the special effect Prince adds on guitar. It sounds like a light switch. Was he thinking that at the time? Who knows.
With the completed Cookhouse songs in his possession, Pepé and Wendell, the bass player for 94 East, flew to New York in April of 1976 and literally beat the pavement until 94 East was signed with Polydor. 94 East had to prepare to go in to the studio and record a single. By this time, Dale Alexander had lost his position as drummer with 94 East and was replaced by Bobby "Z" Rivkin. Bobby later became the drummer for Prince's first band, the Revolution. When Prince began working on his own demo recordings at Sound 80, André Lewis, Pierre Lewis' younger brother was given the task of learning all of Prince's guitar parts.
Even though the Cookhouse Five songs got 94 East the deal with Polydor, two other songs were actually recorded for the single. They were Fortune Teller and 10:15. These two songs were co-produced by Pepé and producer, writer, A&R man, Hank Cosby. Hank Cosby wrote Fortune Teller and Pepé wrote 10:15. Hank Cosby brought in a singer by the name of Colonel Abrams to do the lead vocals. In an unfortunate turn of events 94 East's contract was cancelled and their single was never released. It was devastating to the group and what struck Pepé was how personally Prince took this loss. Prince was upset and the only retaliation we had was to go right back in the studio and do some new recordings. That's when we rehearsed and recorded Dance To The Music Of The World the practice session on our own 4-track recorder. The very next day, Prince, André Cymone and Pepé were in Sound 80 Recording Studios, recording new material.
From these sessions came Dance To The Music The World, Lovin' Cup and Just Another Sucker (the song Pepé and Prince co-wrote). If You Feel Like Dancin' and One Man Jam were recorded at a studio in New York. That trip proved to be an excellent experience for Prince and André (Cymone). They got the kind of professional studio exposure that would prove invaluable to them in the future.
These five songs really show the fast-growing maturity and versatility of Prince since the Cookhouse Five recordings. On Just Another Sucker, Lovin' Cup and Dance To The Music Of The World, Prince not only played guitar, but also drums, keyboards, and did vocal work. André Cymone played bass and Pepé played rhythm guitar. On If You Feel Like Dancin', Prince is on keyboards and guitar. One Man Jam, André Cymone is on bass and Prince "went crazy" playing everything else. Pepé added synthesizer parts in the overdub. We guess Prince really wanted to "show them" for Pepés sake.
The songs, Love, Love, Love and You Can Be My Teacher are from our 1/4" tape collections. The music tracks were done on a 4-track tape recorder. The beat was done on a Korg rhythm machine (this was before there were drum machines). On Love, Love, Love, Prince is playing bass and guitar. Pepé is playing keyboards. Marcy Ingvoldstad is singing vocals. On You Can Be My Teacher, Prince is playing bass and Pepé is playing guitar. Pepé talks about their collaboration . . .
We decided to add Dance To The Music of the World the practice session to give you an indication of how intense practices could be. After 94 East's contract with Polydor was cancelled, the only remaining members were Pepé, Marcy, and Kristie. So in this practice tape, you'll hear Prince on guitar playing bass parts. Pepé on rhythm guitar, and Prince, Pepé, Marcy, and Kristie on vocals. You'll enjoy hearing Prince cracked a joke before they start to play ("I was out with my old lady and she said jive sucker I'll kick you too."). Everyone laughs, of course, and in Prince's characteristically shy way of speaking, he responds, "I'm embarrassed." (Yeah, right.) Really listen to Prince's falsetto note in the harmonies. He has an amazing vocal range.
By now, Prince had started his association with Owen Husney, whom he later hired as his manager. Soon after, Prince was recording his own demos at Sound 80 with the financial support of Husney and the engineering skills of David Z (Bobby Z's brother).
The demos Prince recorded at Sound 80 landed him a contract on the Warner Bros. label. Pepé continued his close relationship with Prince, advising and assisting Prince and Owen Husney when needed. Not surprisingly, Prince auditioned his first band members and rehearsed them for six months in the basement of Pepé's home. His first concert as a professional took place at the Capri Theatre in North Minneapolis in January 1979 and was produced by Pepé's company, Pepé Music Inc. The rest, shall we say, is history.
We the members of 94 East recognize that we were extremely fortunate to have played and worked with a musician like Prince. We think these historical recordings are a classic addition to anyone's music library. We sincerely hope you will enjoy these recordings as much as we do, especially when we dusted them off and listened to them for the first time after all those years. It was a once in a lifetime experience to have been the first to have worked with a phenomenon like Prince at such an early age.
Congratulations!! You made it!! The END!