Friday, April 22, 2016

The Lewis Connection - 1979 - The Lewis Connection

The Lewis Connection 
The Lewis Connection

01. Get Up
02. Higher
03. Feel Good To Ya
04. Got To Be Something Here
05. Dynamic Duo
06. Mr. G

Alto Saxophone [Alto Sax] – Richard Hicks (tracks: 2, 5)
Backing Vocals [Background Vocals] – André Lewis (tracks: 1, 3, ), Pierre Lewis (3) (tracks: 1, 3, ), Randy Barber (tracks: 4)
Backing Vocals [Background Vocals], Guitar – Prince (tracks: 4)
Bass – André Lewis (tracks: 2, 3, 5, 6), Sonny Thompson (2) (tracks: 4)
Congas, Percussion – Paul McGee (2) (tracks: 6)
Drums – Chucky Adams (tracks: 6), Joe Lewis (8) (tracks: 4), Richard Lowe (5) (tracks: 1, 2, 3, 5)
Flute – Pierre Lewis (3) (tracks: 4)
Guitar – André Lewis (tracks: 1, 3, 5, 6)
Handclaps – André Lewis (tracks: 1), Barbara Bolar (tracks: 1), Richard Lowe (5) (tracks: 1)
Keyboards – Pierre Lewis (3)
Lead Vocals – Sonny Thompson (2) (tracks: 3)
Producer [Produced By], Arranged By – André Lewis
Producer [Produced By], Arranged By, Keyboards – Pierre Lewis (3)
Tenor Saxophone [Tenor Sax] – Aaron Weatherspoon (tracks: 2, 5), Bill Perry (6)
Trumpet – David Wright (21) (tracks: 2, 5), Jeffery Tresvant (tracks: 4)

Prince's contributions to Got To Be Something Here were recorded in late 1976 or early 1977 at Sound 80 while Prince also worked on his own tracks.

Teens funkin' for Minnesota. Short but sweet LP of pretty tight jams with some interesting (though of course dated) keyboard sounds throughout. Oh, should I mention that this record features some guy named Prince (on just one song)? To be fair, apparently it was reported that Prince said he did not play on it. But he is credited on the back cover. The fact that the record also credits Sonny Thompson on bass, who would go on to play bass for the Purple One cements it for me.

Besides that, you can tell this group had a lot of fun making the record. Their happy go lucky vibe transfers over easily to the listener. In fact, I think this album is considerably better than many of the supposed holy grails of late 70s rare funk. The Lewis Connection never went anywhere as a band, of course, but they can be proud of their brief recorded moment in time.
Who were the Lewis Connection, and seriously, why didn’t they check the spelling before printing the jacket?  This was a super sweet 1979 funk group featuring future NPG bassist Sonny Thompson (Sonny T on the Prince records) and their album features, on only one track, Prince himself.  People pay up to $1000 for this record* because its believed to be Prince’s first appearance on wax.
And its good, and the rest of the album is solid spacey and soulful 70s funk.

For years, collectors have lusted after the album, and in its rare appearances it sells for top dollar. The main reason for the interest has been the contribution of young Prince Rogers Nelson, then a 21-year-old sideman recruited by the Lewis Brothers for a single track recorded at Sound 80. His future sideman, Sonny Thompson, wrote the song and sang lead.

"Me and Sonny and Prince, we'd play at Sonny's house. We'd be switching instruments around; Prince could play all the instruments well," recalls Lewis from his St. Paul home. The three grew up together.

The track was originally recorded by an earlier Lewis brothers project, the Family — not to be confused with Prince's own mid-'80s Family — but never issued. Lewis explains: "When we recorded that song at Sound 80 it was expensive, $120 an hour. And we agreed that whoever hustled the money up first would have the right to the master."

"Got to Be Something Here" is primordial Prince, his first track on wax and a seminal moment in Minneapolis music history, but it's Sonny T's show. "He's incredible," Lewis says of the future NPG bassist. "I don't think he's even from this world. He was born with perfect pitch, and he sees music in colors. I don't even understand what he was doing." Lewis knew enough to raise some cash and stash the master tape away.

A couple of years later, the Lewis brothers had finished cobbling together an album. Working at several studios around the city with engineer David Rivkin, they found they needed an additional track to fill out the second side. The other five tracks featured Andre's funky bass, Pierre's keyboards infused with soul-jazz fusion, and a changing cast of sidemen, notably drummer Richard Lowe.

The band pressed a thousand copies of the album. "We used it to open doors we couldn't get into before," Lewis explains. Soon the Lewis Connection was playing better nightclub gigs, and opening for national acts. The band played in Florida for a while, where Lewis remembers "Got to Be Something Here" drew a little airplay.

When he was given the opportunity to play with James Brown's band, backing Precious Wilson overseas, Andre Lewis left. Pierre Lewis and singer Barbara Bolar starting playing with a Filipino guitar player, but when he left for Japan, taking Bolar with him, Pierre was stranded. "I was a single father, I couldn't leave the city." Only a year and a half after they released their album, the Lewis Connection was no more.

Circumstances conspired to take the album itself away from Lewis, too. "What happened was that while I was living out of the state, my sister cleaned up and threw away the master, and about four or five hundred copies of the album," Lewis explains. "There were boxes that hadn't even been opened."

Lewis laments the money he could have made off the albums, even before the record became a rare collector's item. "We would sell a few at shows; I would get them into record stores."

Prince's presence increased interest in the album in spite of its scarcity. Counterfeits appeared. "I can't blame somebody for trying to make some money, I guess, but I wish they wouldn't do that," says Lewis.

The Lewis brothers had moved from studio to studio chasing lower rates, and the album was hastily mixed and mastered. Ad hoc as it is, the album captures the intensity and potential of the Minneapolis scene in the late '70s. Jokes persist that the band couldn't afford two N's and that's why their name was misspelled on the cover. The back cover has a hastily taken shot of the band by Chris Moon on top of his studio.

The Lewis Brothers' funky tracks are as fresh today as ever, and the Numero reissue faithfully recreates the album while brightening some of the muddiness of the original master, bringing it closer to what the Lewis brothers intended in 1979.