When it comes to the Minneapolis sound, most folks might believe the entire history begins and ends with the musical genius known as Prince. While it’s obvious the multitalented artist will always be main symbol of Twin Cities artistic success, the recently released Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound successfully serves as an introduction to the local aural attitudes and funky grooves that influenced, inspired, and later included, the master himself.
Complied by former Wax Poetics editor Jon Kirby, Purple Snow is impressive even before one gets playing the 30-song set. With its beautiful packaging (featuring 30,000-word liner notes and dozens of back in the day photos by the late Charles Chambliss—a local shutterbug whose archives were donated to the Minnesota Historical Society), the collection is beyond impressive.
“Chambliss was originally from Pittsburgh, but he went to Minneapolis in the ’60s, and shot pictures for the local Black newspapers,” Kirby says. “He also shot a lot of band pictures in nightclubs and the groups used them for press shots. He sold them the prints for 10 dollars each.”
While there’s been so much attention showered on Prince and the artists he nurtured, the goal of Purple Snow was to examine the fringes of a scene that most fans may not know; Kirby felt an obligation to get the story right. Even for a self-proclaimed Minneapolis music fiend like myself, Purple Snow contains delightful surprises and secrets, including the falsetto vocalization of the little-heard-of group called Haze wailing on the majestic “I Do Love My Lady.”
Says Kirby, “Real prominent falsetto is one of the maker marks of the Minneapolis sound, and that comes across clearly on that track. Haze was local Black idols who influenced, inspired and empowered Terry Lewis, Jimmy Jam, André Cymone and Prince.”
While early efforts from André Cymone (“Somebody Said”), Terry Lewis’s group Flyte Time (“I’ve Got You on My Mind”) and Alexander O’Neal (“Do You Dare”) are wonderfully represented, lesser known acts Herman Jones (“I Love You”) and Orville Shannon (“Oh Lover”) also shine. “Some of these artists only pressed 500 copies of their single and sold them to church groups and old high school friends. Business wise, the scene wasn’t on the level of Detroit or Chicago.”
For Kirby, Purple Snow was no quickie project, taking two years of steady researching that involved writing letters, making phone calls and driving six hours to Minneapolis from the Numero Group label’s offices in the Windy City. “I started with a woman named Kim Johnson, who was in a group called Best Kept Secret with her sisters,” he says. “She warned me I was getting into some pretty heavy stuff. She also said, ‘This is going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done as well as the most rewarding.’ That was right up my alley.”
In addition, Charles Chambliss’s photographs served as the perfect road map leading to more people, other photos and lots of music. “A lot of the people I talked to had forgotten about their stuff. But when I reminded them by showing them pictures or mentioning names, they would remember all kinds of stories. It was an amazing experience.”
Certainly, more than a few of Purple Snow’s contributors did go on to fabulous careers, including former Mind & Matter (“Sunshine Lady,” “No One Else Can Do It to Me Baby”) member Jimmy Jam, Sue Ann Carwell (“Should I or Should I Not”) and, of course, Prince, who represents musically on 94 East’s mind-blowing soul concoction, “If You See Me.”
But for me, it’s André Cymone’s brilliant “Somebody Said” that’s the collection’s standout. Previously unreleased, this 1981 slice of electro funk was made in his brother Eric’s attic and has remained (according to Kirby) in a shoebox for decades. Cymone, who was excited about the Purple Snow project, sent Kirby various songs of himself, The Time frontman Morris Day and Prince when they were in Champagne. But it was “Somebody Said” that sparked Kirby’s interest.
“It reminded me of some kind of Sly Stone/Shuggie Otis masterpiece,” Kirby explains. “It is one of the most unique on the record and works as a perfect example of the fearlessness [and] creativity going on in the Twin Cities during that period. These artists weren’t following trends, they were making something unique.”
With the balance of disco-soul-fusion-electro-funk vibe flowing through its musical veins, Purple Snow is one of the finest reissues recently released.
Cultural critic Michael A. Gonzales has written cover stories for Vibe, Uptown, Essence, XXL, Wax Poetics and elsewhere. He’s also written for New York and The Village Voice. Read him at Blackadelic Pop and follow him on Twitter @gonzomike.