Godfather of the Minneapolis Sound
Pepe Willie, Prince’s first producer and well-known as the Godfather of the Minneapolis Sound can provide that first-hand account of not only Prince’s early years but also the early years of many of the artists that came to be part of the Minneapolis Sound.
Pepé Willie grew up in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, New York , in a family with a rich musical background. Of his 5 aunts and 5 uncles on his mother’s side, his Uncle Clarence Collins, is the original founding member of Little Anthony & the Imperials (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees, 2009). His Aunt Muriel sang with Etta James and The Peaches. Another Aunt, Dorothy, went to high school with Winton Kelly and Miles Davis. Miles frequently visited Pepé’s grandfather’s home in Brooklyn where they had jam sessions with his Grandfather, George Collins, who played piano. Pepé’s nephew, Keith Middleton, stars in Stomp and his great nephew, Qaasim Middleton, played guitar in the Naked Brothers Band on Nickelodeon and performed on stage at Carnegie Hall at 10 years old.
Pepé started as a valet to Little Anthony & the Imperials at the age of 15. The world he entered behind the stage at the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre and later the Brooklyn Fox Theatre, during Murray the K’s reign as the host to some of the greatest rock and roll shows of all time, was an intense schooling in the business of music. He observed and learned from not only Little Anthony & the Imperials, but also the likes of Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The 4 Tops, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Timi Yuru, The Chiffons, Dionne Warwick, the list goes on. It was during this time that Pepé began writing and recording his own music under the tutelage of Teddy Randazzo who wrote the hits, Hurts So Bad and Going Out of My Head.
Pepé came to Minnesota in 1974 after marrying Prince’s first cousin, Shauntel. He brought with him all the knowledge and experience he gained in Brooklyn . In Minneapolis, Pepé started working on his own demo. He also started working with Prince and his first group, Grand Central (including Andre’ Cymone and Morris Day), helping them rehearse properly, teaching them song construction and the business of music. After recognizing Prince’s true talent, he hired Prince to record with his own group, 94 East, in 1975. Pepé Willie and 94 East have released a number of albums and CDs featuring Prince’s contributions to those early sessions (Minneapolis Genius, Symbolic Beginning, 94 East featuring 10:15 & Fortune Teller with Prince on Guitar). We are the only ones who can legally use Prince's name with ours when marketing our material. Pepé’s influence has touched many of the artists that emerged from the Twin Cities during the late 70s and 80s – Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Morris Day, Andre’ Cymone, Matt "Dr." Fink, Bobby "Z" Rifkin, Cynthia Johnson, and many, many more.
Pepé Willie is a producer, songwriter, musician, mentor and consultant. He currently works out of Minneapolis with his own company, Pepé Music Inc. Recently launching his own record label, Reo Deo, distributed by Entertainment One, Pepé has signed 3 new artists and has also released a 35th Anniversary CD with his group, 94 East, titled The Cookhouse Five (April 2011). This historical CD of 5 songs featuring Prince on guitar marks the first time Prince ever recorded in a studio. The Cookhouse Five CD was accepted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s newest facility, The Library and Archives, in Cleveland, Ohio.
The legends Pepé has met along the way and the multitude of experiences he has had in the world of music makes an amazing story. The connection he made between the early days of rock and roll and the birth of The Minneapolis Sound is a crucial part of American music history.