There's a new Prince record in your local record store this week called "Minneapolis Genius: 94 East."
At least, it looks like a Prince album. After all, the record jacket is bright purple. But is it really, as the label copy reads, "The Historic 1977 Recordings" featuring Prince's first appearance in a recording studio?
Technically, the answer is yes. In the mid-'70s, Prince--then the leader of a bar band called Grand Central Station--went into a Minneapolis studio to do some session work with Pepe Willie, a mainstay on the local music circuit who led a band called 94 East. Now, nearly a decade later, Hot Pink Records has released an album with six songs from those sessions. Prince's contributions are strictly musical. He plays most of the instruments on the album but does not sing on any of the tracks and only co-wrote one of the six songs. So the big question remains: Isn't it a wee bit misleading to use all this Prince imagery as a come-on for Prince fans to buy the record?
Not so, insisted Willie, who said he was an "adviser" to Prince early in his career, "showed him the ropes" and has remained "friends" with him ever since. "People can say what they want," Willie explained, "but if I'm cashing in, I'm cashing in on me. I got all this stuff started. I don't mean this in any ego trip way, but the whole Minneapolis scene wouldn't have happened without me."
According to Willie, he first met Prince at a ski-party and later helped shape the sound of his early groups, which also included Andre Cymone (who's on the new record) and Morris Day, whose mother originally booked the band. "There was no question that they knew how to play," Willie said. "But there wasn't any construction. They'd do a song for three minutes, then jam for 10 minutes, and one person would sing something different from what the other person was singing."
As for the tag, "The Historic 1977 Sessions," Willie said: "Hey, this was the beginning, the first time this 16-year-old kid was in the studio. To me, that's historic." Willie added that he hasn't heard anything directly from the Prince camp, just rumors. "But I'm pretty sure he's happy about it."
Though Prince's name is being used to attract record buyers, he won't be seeing much in the way of profits from the album. According to Andrew Frances, an executive vice president at Hot Pink Records, the Purple One was paid a fee to perform session work on the record and will receive royalties from the one track he co-wrote.
As for the timing behind the record's release--coming just as Prince is issuing a new album on Warners--Frances says it's strictly coincidental. "We had no idea that Prince was going to drop a single onto the world the week our record came out," he said. "He hasn't exactly been talking to us every day about his plans."
Prince's management had no comment. A spokesman for his record label, Warner Bros. Records, said: "This predates our involvement with Prince. Actually, when we saw the title, 'Minneapolis Genius,' we thought maybe they were talking about Harmon Killebrew."