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Purple Reign: Numero Anthologizes Early Minneapolis Funk Bands

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Purple SnowIt was something like Sly Stone or James Brown for the New Wave set: tight, sparse R&B jams peppered with funky guitar and pulsating bass, sweetened with electronic accoutrements in the percussion section and dazzling synthesizers where a horn section might be. The “Minneapolis sound” changed soul music dramatically in the ’80s, with Prince and his collaborators, associates and followers (The Time, Andre Cymone, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Alexander O’Neal) helping rewrite musical style for a new generation.

With much of Prince’s recent material partially focused on retrofied jams (his last studio albums in the U.S., 2009’s LOtUSFLOWER and MPLSound, were heavy on the Linn LM-1 drums and Oberheim OBX synths that propelled the likes of 1999 and Purple Rain into pop immortality), and an entire wave of activity surrounding the Tabu Records catalogue with the help of Edsel Records this year, the time seems right to revisit just where that sound came from. Enter cratedigger label extraordinaire Numero, whose double-disc compilation Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound takes listeners back to the earliest days of the funk revolution.

Many of the 32 tracks herein feature names familiar to Prince fans, but the leadoff track features The Purple One himself. “If You See Me” is a long-circulating outtake by 94 East, a band formed by local musician Pepe Willie, who was married to a cousin of Prince’s. The teenager was encouraged early on by Willie, who recruited both Prince and a childhood friend, bassist Andre Cymone, to play in his band. Prince would of course find success producing, writing, arranging and performing his own material when signed to Warner Bros. in 1978 – but he took Cymone with him in his live backing band. (Cymone was not an official member of the famed Revolution, eventually being replaced by bassist Mark Brown, though he did sign to Columbia Records shortly thereafter and cut three albums, most famously 1985’s The Dance Electric, with a title track written by – you guessed it – Prince.)

The notable names don’t stop there. Purple Snow features cuts by Flyte Tyme, a funk outfit that featured among its ranks keyboardists James Harris III and Monte Moir, bassist Terry Lewis and drummer Jellybean Johnson. Lead singer Cynthia Johnson would depart the group for Lipps Inc. (it’s her pipes that grace dance classic “Funkytown”), and she would be replaced by another Twin Cities up-and-comer, Alexander O’Neal. Those five would be considered for a project Prince was allowed to produce for Warner Bros.; ultimately, he kept all but O’Neal, whom he replaced with Morris Day. Adding guitarist Jesse Johnson and percussionist/comic foil Jerome Benton (and downplaying his writing-producing-performing output under the pseudonym Jamie Starr), Prince created The Time, arguably his best spin-off project. (Jam and Lewis were ejected from the band before the release of Purple Rain, in which The Time figure heavily; the band split up shortly thereafter but briefly reunited for new albums in 1990 and 2011.)

Jam and Lewis, of course, used the Flyte Tyme moniker to get their producing career off the ground in the middle of the decade, working for Tabu Records (writing and producing for O’Neal, Cherrelle and The S.O.S. Band) before hitting it big collaborating with Janet Jackson. But even before that, Jam was a principal member of Mind and Matter, another local outfit honored both on this set (with both sides of their only single and another outtake) and another forthcoming Numero title: 1514 Oliver Avenue (Basement), a compilation of nine unreleased home demos largely written and produced by the future Jam. Mind and Matter were, perhaps, a more organic alternative to the Minneapolis sound, and it’s a fascinating listen/companion piece to the mighty Purple Snow.

Purple Snow will be available as a 2CD or 4LP set, each packed in hardbound packages with copious liner notes and essays. The first 500 pre-orders from Numero’s website get an additional, Prince-ish vinyl treat: a 7″ single featuring “Twin Cities Rapp,” David “T.C.” Ellis’ 1985 single in tribute to the by-then internationally-renowned Minneapolis acts of the day. (T.C. would later affiliate himself with the Prince camp, co-starring in the bizarre Purple Rain sequel Graffiti Bridge in 1990 and releasing a full-length, True Confessions, on The Artist’s Paisley Park label a year later.) It’s in stores December 3, while Mind & Matter’s 1514 Oliver Avenue (Basement) is available now. After the jump, you’ll find the full track lists for both!

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Written by Mike Duquette

November 7, 2013 at 13:39