Social Icons

N*E*W*S

12 May 2013

The Work Pt. 1: An In-Depth Interview with Pepe Willie


  Pepe Willie has always been willing to do the work.
  The Brooklyn-born singer/musician/producer began his foray in the music business as a "gopher" for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Little Anthony and the Imperials, of which his uncle, Clarence Collins, is a founding member. He also ran errands for major stars of the day including Dusty Springfield, The Chiffons, The Four Tops, Ray Charles, Diana Ross & The Supremes and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, just to name a few. It was during the time he spent with rock-and-roll luminaries that he decided he wanted to pursue a career in show business.
  His path to pursing fame and fortune took a detour to Minneapolis when he married Shauntel Manderville and relocated there. Not long after arriving, Willie worked with his wife's cousin, Prince and his then band, Grand Central (later Champagne or "Shampayne"), that included Andre Anderson (now known as Andre Cymone), Linda Anderson, Morris Day and William Doughty (also known as "Hollywood")-- as well as other local musicians who later found success in the music business -- during their formative teenage years on the burgeoning local music scene.
  He later formed his own band 94 East -- named after Interstate 94 -- with singers Marcy Ingvoldstad and Kristie Lazenberry. The band later included Wendell Thomas, Dale Alexander, Pierre and Andre Lewis and, after Alexander's departure, Bobby "Z" Rivkin. Prince is featured on several of the band's demos, which have been released by Willie, the first being in 1986, on the compilations Minneapolis Genius, Symbolic Beginnings and, most recently, The Cookhouse Five.
  Today he is president of Pepe Music, Inc., where he works with Ingvoldstad and Lazenberry. The company handles production, consultation, composing, publishing and recording, according to its Web site. 94 East is also planning to release a new album of new material through their label Reo Deo in late May.
  K Nicola Dyes recently conducted a telephone interview with Willie where he reminisced about his life, the early days of "Minneapolis Sound" and the state of today's music industry:

The Beginning

   I just found out a year and a half ago, when I was researching my history, that my grandfather and grandmother were both in entertainment. My uncle told me that his mother and father had 11 kids. So, I had five aunts and five uncles on my mother's side. One of my aunts, Muriel, sang with Etta James when she had The Coralettes. My other aunt, Dottie, went to school with Wynton Kelly, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. They all used to go to my grandfather's house and jam with my grandfather before I was born. I talked to my uncle and he said "Yeah man. Those were the days."

                                                          
  I used to go to the Murray The K's (an enormously-popular disc jockey in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s) shows (at the Brooklyn Fox Theater) in New York. I used to go to the store (for all the musicians). I mean everybody was there. I was the only 15-year-old dude with $100 in my pocket. I was in love with Mary Wells. I used to stand on the side of the stage and one day, she looked at me and said hi. Then she went on singing "My Guy."

                                                   
Little Anthony and the Imperials


   Little Anthony and the Imperials were singing at the Copacabana one night. Afterwards, my uncle asked me if I wanted to go to a party. We went to this dingy, dusty building with a freight elevator. When the doors opened up (to the apartment), it was one of the most immaculate (places) I had seen in a long time. 
  We went, sat down and ordered a couple of drinks. I poked my uncle and said "That's Jimi Hendrix." He asked me where. I pointed to him and my uncle said "Hey, Jimi!" He came over to talk to us. He was talking mainly to my uncle, because, they knew each other and used to hang out years before in Harlem. My uncle was really good friends with Hendrix. There were a lot of cats that hung out in Harlem at this hotel. It wasn't the best hotel. I believe it was the Cecil Hotel.
  My uncle introduced me to Hendrix and I said "I like your music." I noticed how big his hands were wrapped around mine. His hands were so huge and I have big hands. He saw this babe and left us and went over to her. He whispered something in her ear and they left. I wonder what he said.


Clarence Collins

   I (later) lived in Las Vegas with my uncle and I used to hang out all the time with Robert Goulet's ex-wife Louise and his daughter Nikki.
  People like that never cooked! I had never heard of that before. They were going to Dunes for breakfast, Circus Circus for lunch and the Sands for dinner -- every single day. You get tired of it after a while. But, it was a lot of fun. A lot of people knew them and we used to get see shows in lot of casino mainrooms. They were good people.
  I met Elvis Presley at the Dick Clark show at Circus Circus in Las Vegas. We were sitting in the audience. Jackie Wilson had just finished his set. Clark came out to introduce the next act. He said "Ladies and Gentlemen, The King." The lights went out down and all of a sudden spotlights went to the back of the room. I looked around and it was Presley with two giant bodyguards. He had his white suit on and shades. He snatched his shades off, like "Here I am ladies and gentlemen."
  He came walking down the aisle to his table and he saw Louise. He stopped. He said "Hi Louise. Hi Nikki" and they started talking. I stood up and he said "Hi." I said "Hi, I'm Pepe. It's nice to meet you." I shook his hand. He said something else to Louise, and then said "See you later" and went to his table.
  By the time I was in Las Vegas, I had already met tons of celebrities-- Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells, Dionne Warwick and Wayne Newton. I also met Ike and Tina Turner when I was bringing them up in the elevator at the Copacabana (during Little Anthony and the Imperials' engagement). I drank champagne with Adam Clayton Powell and I met Redd Foxx.
  But, when I saw Elvis, I said, now that man's a star. It was a different kind of thing.

                                                         

  When I was introduced to Sly and the Family Stone's music it just set me off. When I heard their music, I knew that everything was going to be alright. I remembered all of their lyrics, I knew all parts of all of his music and I bought all of his albums.
  Then he came to the Fillmore East in New York and I went to see him with my uncle... He was the one who really set off for me as a lyric writer, because, he was writing the kind of (music) that I was writing. I called it "free writing." He was talking about real stuff that was going on.
  He's still the man, I don't care if he is crazy or not. Everybody took after Stone: Prince, Cymone and all those guys loved him. He had the multiracial bands, where everybody was together coming out of that hippie era. I lived by his lyrics.


                                                                                      

  The first time I saw (Singer/Songwriter) Teddy Randazzo was in a rock-and roll-movie. He had on these cool white shoes. Several years later, I was with Little Anthony and the Imperials at the Brooklyn Fox Theater years later. This guy came up to the dressing room with a man on the guitar (Eric Gale, a member of the house band at the Murray the K shows). I supposed the group knew him already. I didn't know him and they told me who he was. It didn't click that it was the same guy that I saw in the movies eight years before.
  He had a song and it was "I'm on the Outside Looking In." They did a little recording of it in the dressing room. They took it around to the other acts' dressing rooms—Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, The Temptations-- and said "This is going to be our new cut" and they played it for them. They needed a hit really bad, because, their last hit was "Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko Ko Bop."
  It was their comeback song. Then they came back with "Going Out of My Head" right after that. Then "Hurts So Bad" and "Take Me Back," which were both hits for them. Randazzo was the guy. I vacation in Florida every year and I when I found out he was in Orlando, I went to see him. It just brought everything back to light. I loved that guy. He died a few years ago and it broke my heart. He was one of the most generous people and you could tell by the songs he wrote. I used to go to his house in West Nyack, New York. I didn't even have to call him. His doors were always open. I used to bring dates there. I knew people...(Laughing).



Teddy Randazzo



                                                                 ***

  I was influenced by the entertainers that used to hang out with Little Anthony and the Imperials. Everybody used to hang out with them. Priscilla Presley. Barbra Streisand. Lazenberry told me about this story she saw in Rolling Stone (Issue #85, dated June 24, 1971)   where Streisand said she got some of the best weed from Little Anthony and the Imperials.
  My uncle dated one of the Supremes, he dated one of (Martha Reeves and) the Vandellas, one of The Chiffons, the list goes on. It was known not to leave your women with Little Anthony and the Imperials. That was the word. 
  They were from New York... and they more sophisticated than the other acts that were there. (Members of) The Temptations were from Birmingham, Alabama, you know? They didn't know how to party like us guys from Brooklyn. The girls wanted to have fun and the New York people were more interesting. They could take them to the best spots, the best clubs. They knew all the right people.
  That's how I was introduced to the music industry and I knew it was for me.
  I used to make up melodies and the backgrounds in my head. I was taught by some of the best writers. But, they would rip my stuff apart. I stayed up late night, just writing. I had a few songs.
  When I write songs, I'm writing for a hit record. It has to be true, it has to be believable. I believe that people actually feel what I'm writing. Other than that, it's not right. How many babies were made to Barry White's music? He made it real. He made it sexy. I have to get what I have in my head out-- my own experience and what I feel. I try to keep to it real... It could be technically right, but, there (has to be) "feel" to it.


The Grind


  When I moved to Minneapolis, I was connected with my ex-wife, Manderville, Prince's first cousin. I didn't know anybody there except for her. I was going to Cookhouse Recording Studios on the weekend by myself. Thomas was a bass player and he was taking me to clubs where I was meeting other musicians. There were a lot of talented musicians here in town, but, they didn't know anything... about the record business. I was the man. I was the guy, because, I knew everything. I just knew it all.
  I came in and taught these guys. Prince was like my little brother. I taught these guys what they needed to know. I was from New York, from the big city. I came here and people were even walking slow. (Laughing).
  Living in Minneapolis at that time was so much fun. My buddies (from New York) said "Man, what are you doing in Minnesota? There's nothing up there!" But, I saw it. I saw the vision. I thought that Minneapolis was going to become the next Motown. As a matter of fact, they called me "Barely" Gordy (in New York). I wanted that to happen, so, I stayed here. Plus, I loved the place in the summer.

                           
                                                               


  I was working with the band Grand Central and, once, I asked them to play one of their original songs. They were jamming. (There was) very little singing. They did the lyrics and after that they would jam for like five minutes. I would ask (them), "Well, what's the name of the song?"
  They didn't have any basic construction of music. How could they go out and play cover (songs) by Earth, Wind and Fire and other groups and not pick up the formula? They needed an intro, a first verse, a hook, a second verse, then another hook, third verse or a bridge and then a hook again-- because, you need to have the hook in there at least three times. That creates this formula and if you use this formula, your songs are going to be three or four minutes long.
  That's how we presented it to these guys. I had them...put down their instruments. I didn't even know how talented Prince was until I was working with these guys for a while. I made them put down their instruments and write their lyrics on a blackboard that we had in the attic, so, that everybody knew the words to the music. These guys were all singing something different. One guy would write a song and he wouldn't explain it to the rest of them. They would just play, then they would start singing and they didn't even know what they were singing...
  One day at rehearsal, Prince told Cymone's sister, Linda (who played keyboards), "Those are not the chords you're supposed to be playing." He took off his guitar, went over to the keyboard and showed her what to play. I'm watching him and I said, "So, he plays keyboards, huh? Alright, that's cool." Then, Prince gets back on his instrument. The guys start playing again, then he stops again and said "(Cymone), let me hold your bass." I said, "The guy plays bass now?"
  He holds the bass and starts playing what he wants Cymone to play. So, Cymone gets the bass back and plays verbatim what Prince wanted him to play. So, I'm looking at Cymone and said "This guy's talented, too." Then, that's when I invited Prince to come to the Cookhouse Recording Studios (with 94 East) to play guitar when we did those five tracks.
  He was, and he still is, super talented. People love him, but, they don't know his accomplishments. I mean, he was the first artist ever in the history of music that was on the cover of Keyboard Magazine, the cover of Bass Magazine, the cover of Guitar magazine and the cover of Drum magazine. You have to be great just to be on the cover of those magazines...and he was on all of them. He's absolutely a force.

Grand Central members (without Prince), l to r: Morris Day, William Doughty   Linda Anderson, Andre Cymone

                                                                  
  Marcy Ingvoldstad:

  We (she, Lazenberry and Willie) were driving down the freeway, us girls were sitting in the back seat and started singing. (Willie) said "Oh, you can sing? I need background singers." Then, everything kind of started falling into place. (He) had been going to the studio and recording for a demo all on his own, doing his own thing. Now he started pulling us in for background... Then we kind of went from there...


                                                                       
  94 East was formed in the back seat of a blue Volkswagen. Did you hear that? In the back seat, baby! I had these girls in the back seat. (Laughing).
  Thomas' brother, Alexander, the guy who later played drums in Madhouse, was the drummer when we formed the group. We also got 17-year-old Pierre Lewis. He was studying Herbie Hancock and he was good. The musicians here were really good. They really studied their music, as far as playing is concerned. But, they didn't have the discipline that they needed.

 
  We did The Cookhouse Five (in 1975) and Prince was our guitar player on the sessions. We didn't have an electric guitar player -- I played acoustic -- to play his part (in rehearsals). So, Pierre had a brother named Andre Lewis and I said "Andre, can you play what Prince was playing?"
  I soloed out Prince's guitar tracks and gave him the tracks to learn. It was very difficult for him to play the way that Prince was playing. Prince was playing like a true professional, like he had been playing for 30 years and Lewis was learning.
  Prince just had this vibe, this feel; he had everything going for him. So, it never really did match what he was playing. Lewis was playing the same thing, but, it just didn't match... It wasn't the same sound, it wasn't the same feel. Lewis' guitar wasn't like Prince's guitar.


                                                             
  We started practicing at Lazenberry's parents' house in St. Paul, in the basement and Alexander kept being late. We had to set an example. We said "If you're late one more time, we're gonna let you go." Low and behold, he was late and we had to fire him. He was good, but, we weren't going to cater to him just, because, he was good...These guys had to learn. So, we let him go. Then we started having auditions for another drummer. We put an ad in the paper and we had people come by...auditioning, playing and everything, including Sonny Thompson (who later played bass for Prince in the New Power Generation).
  So, one day Bobby Z comes in. He starts playing and he could hold his own. I wanted a white drummer, thinking (about) Sly and the Family Stone and we got him. So, we started rehearsing... He didn't play on any of our recordings—The Cookhouse Five or any of that. It was already done. So, all I had to do was mix and put together a show. That's why we were rehearsing with Bobby Z. He had to learn our songs and everything.


                                                             

Pepe Willie


  I went to New York after mixing The Cookhouse Five and looked for a label to sign us. My first stop was to Randazzo. He started adding some other parts to the music: some horn lines, some strings, but, it was a little too much. I wound up taking a lot of that out, except on (the song) "Better Than You Think." We kept those strings in, because, they were just magic. He did it on a Melotron, which was kind of like the first synthesizer. It was a machine that had actual tape with recorded string lines, so, when you played it on a keyboard, you could play anything you wanted.
  These were the days when you could just walk into a building. (You could) look on the directory, see the record company, what floor they were on and jump in the elevator and go right up. You would talk to the secretary and say "Hey, I want to see an A&R guy."
  You can't do that now, because, they have security. You can hardly even get in the building.   Thomas went with me and he stayed in New York for about two or three months. He left and came back to Minneapolis. I refused to leave New York until I got a deal. In the meantime, Prince had started working with Owen Husney and Chris Moon.
  Randazzo went with me to Polydor Records and we signed with them. Hank Crosby, of the original Funk Brothers from Motown was hired by Polydor (to work with 94 East). He wrote (the song) "Fortune Teller" for us and I wrote "10:15." We were going to put out a single and he visited Minnesota a couple of times. When I got back (to Minneapolis) with a contract from Polydor, the whole group signed. I didn't want to be (the only one) signed.
  We started working on our show. Crosby came in and we were going to do our single (for Polydor). We walked into Sound 80 Recording Studios and as we were going in, Prince and Husney were coming out. Prince looked at us and said "What are you guys doing?" We said "We're getting ready to record our single, what are you doing?" He said, "Well, I just finished my demo. Can I play on your track?"
  I said, "Yeah, man, you know that, come on, let's go!" He let Husney go and followed us into the studio. He played guitar on "Fortune Teller" and did background vocals with Ingvoldstad and Lazenberry. He also played guitar on "10:15."
  After we recorded, Crosby and I went back to New York to mix the songs. He didn't like the drum track, so, he took Bobby Z off and he put in this guy named Buddy Williams. We were in the studio in New York...and I was just feeling for Bobby Z, because, I knew he was going to be upset about his drum part being taken out. We're signed to this label and I said "How am I going to explain this to him?"
  I already knew that these things can happen. I had been removed from being the main lead singer on "Fortune Teller." We brought in Colonel Abrams and produced his vocals (in New York). Crosby had found him somewhere and introduced me to him. I said "This guy's got a great voice." I didn't mind. We were signed to a major label. So, I just said "Hey, come on, Colonel." Whatever it takes. I knew that.
  When I came back to Minneapolis and I had to tell Bobby Z that his drums weren't on (the songs), oh my God...I could just feel the pain. It was a heartbreak. But, I just said to him, "That's part of it. All you have to do is learn the parts that Williams played for when we go out on tour." That's how it's done. It happens all the time in the business. I don't think he really got it. He didn't really accept my explanation.
  So, we kept rehearsing. Then, we found out that Crosby had been let go from Polydor. Then we had a new guy come in and we didn't see eye-to-eye. We were still waiting for our release date. They told us it was going to be released in January. No, it's going to be released in March, now it's going to be released in April. Then in June, we got a letter saying "Oh, we have to let you guys go." (Laughing).
  So, we were no longer with the label. But, we had accomplished something. We had accomplished being signed to a major label. You know, just walking in and knocking on the doors of all of these record labels: RCA, Columbia, Warner Brothers, Polydor. We went to a lot of labels... and we learned how to make things work by the time we got to Polydor. We were full-fledged negotiators. (Laughing). We got the experience.
  So, when we got let go, it was the summer. I was telling Prince and Cymone and we were standing outside somewhere. I told Prince "Yeah man, we got let go from Polydor." He said "What?!" Then he called Cymone over... "94 East got let go from Polydor." He said "What?! Oh man, I don't believe it." Prince said, "We've got to get back in the studio. We have to take Pepe right back into the studio and we're going to do some work." He said "Pepe, book the studio time."
  I thought... where am I going to get the money to pay $100 an hour for studio time? But, I booked it. I just went and booked it. I didn't care. I didn't know where I was going to get the money from.
  Prince liked my songs and he loved my writing. So, he and I wrote "Just Another Sucker" together. I wrote "Lovin' Cup" with another friend of mine. I also wrote "Dance to the Music of the World."
  We went to Sound 80 Recording Studios and we recorded two of those tracks. Prince was playing drums and keyboards on those sessions. Cymone played bass. It came out really well. But, then, later on Prince had gotten signed (to Warner Brothers Records) before we could really finish those tracks.
Promotional poster, New Year's Eve 1976


                                                               
  One day, a friend of mine, Tony Sylvester, from The Main Ingredient, called me and said "I need some musicians." He was in New York and there is a plethora of musicians in New York, so, I guess he wanted something different. I said "Man, look, I've got two guys right here in Minnesota that can play everything." He was like "Nah, man."
  I said "Listen to me. I have these two guys (Prince and Cymone) and this is all you need. You don't need a drummer, a guitar player, a bass player, a keyboard player, but, these two guys." He agreed and he flew us to New York. We went to this studio where he was working on an album for The Imperials--Anthony had left the group-- and he was going use... one of the songs (from the Sound 80 session).
  He put us up at the Hilton in Manhattan. We went to the studio and started recording. We did some overdubs, we took my two-inch master from the Sound 80 session and we put that on and started working with it. 
  Everybody had to have their own song. I had "Dance to the Music of the World," Cymone had "Do Me, Baby" and Prince had "I Feel For You" and that was played on piano. We recorded it and I don't even have that recording of "I Feel For You" on piano--I own the copyright of that version. I lost it in Barbados, when I was at Eddy Grant's (of "Electric Avenue" fame) studio doing work for the Minneapolis Genius album. But, we finished that (session) and Sylvester paid them. This was the first time that Cymone had really gotten paid for doing studio work.


                                                           
Prince



  When Prince got signed, and I wasn't at the time, I said "I'm not going to concentrate on me, I'm going to concentrate on Prince. He's signed. I had my chance." I didn't want to see Prince get screwed. So, I dropped everything that I was doing. I asked Ingvoldstad and Lazenberry (to help me) and said "Let's concentrate on Prince and make sure he has the right backing." We knew how difficult it was as a new artist. So, we did everything possible to help him.
  He started auditioning band members. He was holding auditions at Del's Tire Mart in Minneapolis and people were coming there. One day-- and this is the truth, but, other people might tell you something different -- Prince actually left the door unlocked. That's what happened and they got robbed. Cats came in there and took all this equipment. They couldn't take the speakers, because, the speakers belonged to me and they were huge. You couldn't fit them in car, you had to have a truck to put them in. So, that was the only thing left.
  So, Cymone and I were riding around the north side of Minneapolis looking for the thieves in my Volkswagen and he had his rifle. We were going to kill these suckers! (Laughing). We're looking for somebody who had our equipment and we didn't find anybody. Thank goodness! I didn't see want to see Cymone go to jail. I didn't have a gun! (Laughing). So, we left it at that.
  I told Prince, "Look, you guys come and practice at our house--(Lazenberry), (Ingvoldstad) and myself had a house in South Minneapolis-- on Upton Avenue, right off Lake Calhoun. They brought the remaining equipment they had over to our house and into the basement, which was a totally finished basement with a fireplace and everything. They were set up really well and they started having auditions. Gayle Chapman was brought in by Prince's cousin Charles Smith. Prince liked her and liked the way she played. So, he accepted her in the band. Matt Fink, the "doctor," he had auditioned there and made it. Bobby Z was already in, because, he had started doing errands for Prince as soon as he got signed. He was going to the store, doing that, doing this...for the promise of being Prince's drummer. Prince also wanted a white drummer. I remember the day Dez Dickerson came over and auditioned. He made it. Cymone was already in, because, he and Prince were friends and they lived together at Cymone's mom's house. So there was the band.



                                                                

  They practiced in our home from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., 10 hours a day. They worked really hard. Prince gotten a sum of money and he was buying all this new equipment from all the stores. Husney was his manager.
  One day, Prince was at his home after rehearsal. I went over there, because, I couldn't get him on the phone. It was after they had practiced for 10 hours. So, I'm over (at his) house on France—he had just got signed by Warner Brothers, so, he had his own home. I was knocking on the door and he's not answering. I hear this tapping from the back of the house. 
  So, I go around to the side of the house, I look in these windows and I can see Prince playing drums. He's kicking drums after 10 hours of rehearsal. So, in between the beats, I'm knocking on the window, so, he can hear me. Then, he finally heard me and I said "Open the door, man!" So, he opens the door. We go down in the basement and we're talking. He was talking about what he needed. I said "Look man, your manager is supposed to be doing this stuff for you" and I said "Well, I'll go talk to (Husney)."
  The next day, I go to (Husney's) office; he had an ad company. I said "Well, Prince needs this and Prince needs that. You're his manager and you're supposed to do this stuff for him."
  Then he said --and these are his exact words-- "What, am I supposed to quit my job here at the ad company for some guy who probably won't make it?" I couldn't make that up...
    Then I said, " [T]hen you're out, you're fired." I don't know if I had the right to say it, but, I said it, because, I was protecting my cousin. He said "Well, why don't you be his manager?"
  I said, "Well, I'm not a manager. I can't be his manager. But, I'm not going to let him get screwed out here." Those were my exact words. So, I went back to Prince and let him know what was going on. He and Husney parted ways shortly after that. So, now, Prince needed management. He's signed to Warner Bros. He's got a good record out that's doing well, For You. But, he had no manager.
  I knew Don Taylor, manager of Bob Marley and The Wailers, through my connections. I called him and said "I've got a guy who's signed with Warner Bros. His name is Prince and he needs management." He said, "Yeah, I know Mo Ostin (then president of Warner Bros. Records)." He sent Prince and myself two first-class airline tickets to fly to Miami. He got us both hotel rooms. He came over to the hotel and he and Prince went back to his house to talk business. I just stayed out of the way.
  I told Prince, "Look, I'm not a manager, but, I'm not going to let you get screwed." But, I did manage him for 30 days. Warner Bros. as sending me all the correspondence and necessary things.


                                                           


  I went on some radiothons with Prince in North Carolina, when his (first) record was out.
We got to North Carolina and one of the guys from Cameo was also there, they were big at that time. So, we got to this place where there was 2,000 kids and we were on the stage. Prince was signing his albums for all the kids that were coming up. He would ask "What's your name?" and then he would sign his autograph. The guy from Cameo was sitting next to Prince. They would move to him and they would give him an album to sign.
  The security had gotten kind of lax. I knew all about security from working with my uncle in New York. I went to the security person and I said, "Look, we're going to have to get ready to go. Go get the car or have somebody get the car, so, we can get back to hotel." There were people just starting migrate on stage and all of a sudden this guy is standing next to me. I'm looking at him like "Who is this guy?" He said "Don't worry about anything... I got your back." I said "Who is this dude?" So, I went to Prince while he was signing autographs and I whispered in his ear: "Prince, the next time that I come over and say something to you, I want you to get up and we're leaving." He said "Okay" and he was still signing albums.
  After security got their stuff together and they gave me a nod, I said "Prince, it's time to go." He got right up and shot right out of there through a gauntlet of security, jumped in the limo and we went back to the hotel. When we got to the hotel, Prince told me "Man, you know what?...I feel like a piece of meat being carried around." I went "Wow." What a way to feel. But, I knew exactly what he meant.
  It was just that "star thing" that he wasn't used to yet and he was high on it: signing all these autographs, people yelling out they love him...and they don't even know him. He said to me "People (are) saying they love me and we were getting mail from people-- we'd read the fan mail together-- and he said "These people don't even know me, how can they love me?" I said "They love your music. They love what you're doing."
  By the time we got back to the hotel and he was feeling that way, there are only certain things you can do to bring him back to reality. So, the guy from Cameo had come over, because, he was staying in the same hotel on a different floor. He came over to my room and Prince was there. He started talking to Prince, about how he liked his music. We were saying how we liked his music and then we asked where he lived. He said "I live in New Jersey." Prince said "Oh yeah, my sister lives in New Jersey." The guy from Cameo told us his address and Prince said "Hey, my sister lives in your building!" Come to find out, he lives just one floor over Prince's sister in the same building in New Jersey.
  That brought him back down to reality. (It was) something he could touch, something he could identify with, rather than that "star thing." It brought him back to family, it brought him back to his roots. He came down a little bit and he felt better, you know what I mean? That's what he needed, because, after you come off something like that, you can't go to sleep. It's too exciting...You're gonna go over what you went through: things that you are going through at that moment, what's going through your mind and how you feel emotionally.



   
 He did sign with Don Taylor for about a year. Then he moved over to Perry Jones and Tony Winfrey. I think they worked for Bob Cavallo. I remember everybody together at one point. Then Cavallo, (Joe) Ruffalo & (Steve) Fargnoli took over once Prince got bigger.
  They wanted me to work with them, for Prince, because, he was getting out of control. I was the only one who could...talk to him on a real-time basis; he was like my little brother. But, I said no, I didn't want to do it. I could see where he was going mentally, kind of like "I'm the baddest thing ever" and I didn't want him to get that way with me, so, I prevented that. They wanted me to "handle" Prince. They wined me, dined me and did everything they could. I said no. Prince and I remained friends. We remained tight for a long time after that. The rest is history.

                                                           
  We had a lot of fun then. When Morris Day and those guys got signed to Warner Bros., Day and I would hang out a lot, driving around Minneapolis. We all had the same friends, so, we'd run into Prince. We didn't want run into him, because he was square. Prince was so square, I'm telling you. I mean, we used to laugh at this guy, but, now he's got the last laugh! But, then, we used to laugh at him. He was a good kid, very naive. But, he loved his music.
  We'd run into Prince and we said "Oh no, oh please." (One morning), at 3 a.m., we see Prince and he's running over to the car. He said "Hey, man, hey!" We said "Yo, Prince, what's up, man?" He gave me this cassette and Day put it in the car's cassette player. It's my song "If You See Me," but, he called it "Do Yourself A Favor." Prince had recorded it from memory. He didn't have a copy of The Cookhouse Five. He did his version and it was killing. I didn't even recognize it when I heard it.
  Day said "Pepe, that's your song." I started listening and I said "Oh yeah, that's right!" Prince said "I'm going to put it out on one of my albums, man." But, he never did it! (Laughing). But, the thought was there. I know that in his heart, he really wanted to do it. His career was really taking off , he just mapped out his albums in certain way and he didn't record it...
  (In 1986) Jesse Johnson called me and he wanted to record "Do Yourself A Favor" and I said "Yeah, man, go ahead and do it." I split the publishing with him on his version, even though I owned the rights to the song. But, he had a hit album out and he was requesting that he get 50 percent of the rights to his version. I said "Okay, fine." I didn't care. So, he put that out and we did some good numbers. It sold more than 400,000 copies. It's on the album Shockadelica, which was just re-released digitally last June. You can get on iTunes or any other digital downloading sites that they have.
  I have the Prince version (of "Do Yourself A Favor"). Later, it was stolen out of his house and somebody bootlegged it. I didn't get one penny from that. Prince called me up one day and I asked him "What happened to 'Do Yourself A Favor?'" He said "Man, they stole it out of my house!" I should have made him me pay me for that. (Laughing). But, it was all good.


                                                                 

Minneapolis Genius album cover

  Around 1984 or 1985, I knew that Prince was not going to come back and pull us out of whatever we were in. He was not going to come back to help us. I knew it. I've been in this business a long time and I said "I'm doing my own record." Everybody else was just waiting around for Prince to come and get them. I said "He isn't coming back, people. Get it in your head..."
  That's when I started doing Minneapolis Genius (an album of 94 East's previous recordings featuring Prince). We (started work) in New York and then we went to Barbados. We stayed at Grant's house and used his studio for a week. We came back and went to New York to mix (the album). I called Cavallo and told him that I was doing Minneapolis Genius. I wanted Prince to know, because, we were still friends. He said "Well, I don't think that Prince really needs to hear this right now." I said "What?" I didn't even understand that when he said it. I said "Oh, okay, bye" and hung up the phone.




                                                              
  We got a licensing deal in 1995 with Charly, a company in Europe. They gave us quite a bit of money in advance. They licensed about 12 or 13 songs that Prince performed with us. Then, they sub-licensed it to other labels and that's why you have so many labels doing the same music. So, everybody was making money off this music. We're still getting licensing from that music.
  Our deal was over with Charly in 2000... We thought "We're the ones who own the master recording, so, why don't we release our own version of The Cookhouse Five and put it out?" So we had Dr. Fink remix those five songs and we put it out (in 2011).


The Future


  I'm writing a book right now...the title is "From Brooklyn to Minneapolis." It's going to have everything in there, from me meeting celebrities and going to the store for them, coming to Minneapolis and starting the "Minneapolis Sound" with Prince, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Day and Cymone.
  We also helped a few other guys like Rockie Robbins. He was signed with A&M Records and he had a hit record ("You and Me" in 1980). He came to me for advice. I've helped Ricky Peterson and St. Paul Peterson from the famous Peterson family. (Ricky's) a great pianist who played with some the musicians that played with Miles Davis.
  All of that is going to be in my book, as well as other things that I've experienced through the life and times of music.

                                                           
                                                                 
  There's a company in Chicago called The Numero Group (numerogroup.com). They came into Minneapolis looking for (musical) groups from 1975 to 1983 that were good, but, didn't "make it." They licensed "If You See Me" and put it on vinyl. Then they do a little coffee table book, with a little history, the vinyl and pictures of the group. That's coming out in the fall.
We also have a label here called Reo Deo. We're doing a new CD and this is the first CD that we're doing without Prince. The tracks are "Dial My Number," which is finished now, "Any o' Time," "Let You Go" and Find Myself."
  These tracks are hot, I'm telling you. They are just... burning. Just for the hell of it, I took "Dial My Number" and I entered it in the "Song of the Year" contest (songoftheyear.com). (People enter songs) from all over the world and I was a semifinalist. We got a great congratulations for that.



                                                               
  (Our company) helps artists. We protect artists. We do exactly what we did for Prince. The business hasn't changed. The only thing that's changed is the music. You still have to copyright, you have to have that (songwriting) formula, you still need to have publishing and you still have to be part of a performer's rights organization. You've got to be protected out here. This is what we do for our artists.
  We just signed an artist named Monaye Love. She is backed by the Obamas. When President Obama came into Minneapolis, he stopped at Fort Snelling, and he saw her picture and asked one of the generals who it was. (The general) said "Take a look at this video."
  He played the video for the president, who said "Oh, Michelle (Obama, first lady of the United States) has to see this." He sent it to her and she said "She (Love) has to be part of the Yellow Ribbon Campaign." You can look Love up, she has a (video) on YouTube called "Finally Home." It's breathtaking and it's really good.
  We redid her vocals from the track. The track you hear when you go to YouTube is not one we did. They're matching the video with the new track right now, but, it's the same song. It needed to be a little more professional. Fink and I redid the vocals and fixed it. We've got the master back and Lazenberry's working on the graphics. We're getting ready to release that... along with our music on May 28.

The Cookhouse Five digital release artwork


                                                       
  We work hard all the time and we want to continue working. We want to help the young artists coming out and let them know this is a business. It's easy to write songs for most of us who have the talent. But, the hard part is the business part...You have to get through that.
  You have a lot of artists who are watching TV and they see people like Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys and Nicki Minaj who released their first record and sold millions. It doesn't happen like that for everyone. Some of us have to work a little harder.
  I always say that (the music business) is like being in a classroom and studying math: there are some people that are "A" students and they get it the first time. They don't have to study. Then you have your "B" students; they get it, but, they have to study a little bit. Then you have your other students, they are "C" students, because, they don't study enough. But, if they did study they would become "A" and "B" students. Their grades would go up. You have to work hard to get to where you're going. For some people it's easy...for some of us, we have to work a little harder to make sure we get a good grade. That's my analogy.


                                                           
  We love working with young people, teaching them, because, they really listen. When they get a little older, they get a little cocky. They don't listen and they screw up their careers...In this world we're in now, (artists) can't afford to make any mistakes. They have to get it right the first time. They have to treat people decently. They always have to pay their bills, pay their lawyer and pay all the people they're supposed to pay.
  Also, they need to remember...when they do interviews not to only talk about themselves, (but) to talk about the people who came before them, that helped them get into the position they're in right now.
  There are a lot of artists from back before I can remember who helped. Like Little Anthony and the Imperials, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Ben E. King, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder and The Four Tops. These groups struggled. They weren't getting all of their money and they weren't getting paid. Now you have these artists come up, they have one record and they are getting paid automatically. That's because of the hard work and the sacrifices that these other artists made... they have to learn to appreciate that.
  When they talk to the press, even if they've never heard of Dionne Warwick, Pearl Bailey or Mahalia Jackson, (they should) read about them. Study them, because, they're in the same business that we're in. See their struggles. Put their hearts out toward them and say "I have to hand it to all of these minority entertainers who helped make it possible for me to raise my family today."
  I see it in some of the artists, but, some of these brothers out there, I have to say it, they piss me off. I saw The Game (the rapper/producer) on TV one night pouring out a $1500 bottle of champagne on the street...He asked the cameraman "Do you know what this is?" The cameraman said "No." He said "Feeding the roaches."
  Now, come on. You don't have to do that. Do you how many people you could have fed for $1500? And you're out there throwing it away in the street. You have some of these other artists going out and "making it rain" in these clubs, gentleman's clubs they call them. "Make it rain" in your mother's house. "Make it rain" in your cousin's house. Throw $10,000 up in their living room and then leave, so, that they can have something. They're doing the wrong thing and it sets the wrong example for all of us. When we go into these records company now, they look at us like that. They have to stop. They have to do business. Jay-Z went out there to do his thing, Beyonce does her thing, Taylor Swift goes out there to do her thing.
  Some of these artists come out and make $400,000, $500,000, $1 million, $2 million or $3 million and they think that's it; they've got it made. Next thing they know, they're in bankruptcy court or the I.R.S. is after them, because, they didn't take care of their business... They have to do that. We try to instill that in all the artists who come in for consultation or artists that we sign.
 That's how we are, that's how we've always been and we'll never change.

Stay beautiful, Kristi

--

Lead photo: 94 East, courtesy of pepemusic.com.

--




1 comments:

  1. A supremely awesome interview touching on the life of musicians, the business of the music industry, and the help in raising up the career of Prince by Pepe Willie.

    What a rich historical background Pepe has, and he he's kept on giving toward performers' lives today, offering them his knowledge and keeping things positive. I have a cassette of the 94 East recordings, but I'll have to check out the new digital recording of these songs, and also check out Jesse Johnson's version of "Do Yourself a Favor."

    ReplyDelete