Former Prince mentor Pepé Willie shares memories of the late legend

The Song

Courtesy of Pepe Music Inc. This is the label to the original reel to reel recording of “If You See Me” (Part of the Cookhouse Five)

Although Willie continued to serve as a confidant to his friend, he knew that Prince was in good hands at Warner Bros. Thus, around the time Prince released his third album “Dirty Mind” in the fall of 1980, Willie began to extricate himself from Prince’s camp in order to focus on the day to day at PMI and other projects.

One day, in the spring of 1982, Willie was hanging out with Day in downtown Minneapolis. Willie reminisced, “We were just sitting there in Morris’ Mustang, when out of the blue, Prince approaches the car and hands Morris a cassette.” Morris proceeded to pop it into his tape deck. “Pepé, Pepé!That’s your song,” shouted Day.       

It took a few seconds for Willie to recognize it, but there it was, “If You See Me” completely reworked. “Prince told me right there that he was going to put it on one of his albums,” said Willie. “I was like, ‘that’s really cool. I really appreciate it.’ After some small talk, he walked away.”

Prince’s version—forever to be known as “Do Yourself a Favor—while remaining somewhat true to the spirit of Willie’s original composition, added Prince’s own sense of humor and trademark panache.

“Prince increased the tempo quite a bit and he led in with this really catchy, pulsating drum pattern,” Willie noted. “Then, at the end, he adds this hilarious soliloquy, I guess you’d call it. You could tell he had a lot of fun recording it.” In that soliloquy, which helps extend the song to nine minutes in length (a full three-plus minutes longer than the original), Prince testifies:

Look, don’t… don’t try 2 talk 2 me now baby
I’m doin’ okay,
I’m makin’ it on my own, baby, look here
You know… honey, you know I ain’t rich or nothin’
I ain’t claimin’ no miracles, but uh…
I’m a bachelor now baby, you know what I’m sayin’? Whoo!
So just do yourself a favor baby
and just walk on down the street
I ain’t got a damn thing to say to you now baby
Look out! Whoo!
When we was together did you try to understand me? No!
Just do yourself a favor and get the hell down the road.

In the spring of 1983, PMI threw Prince a big homecoming bash for Prince during the 1999 Tour. Late that same year, Willie spent the better part of a month on the set of Purple Rain working as a day player. In between, there were other parties, conversations, and time simply spent hanging out, but no further mention of “Do Yourself a Favor.”

In conclusion

Courtesy of A&M Records Label for the 45 of Jesse Johnson’s “Do Yourself A Favor” (b-side to the song “Lovestruck”)

With the release of 1985’s “Around the World in a Day,” Prince had now put out three studio albums since he’d recorded Willie’s song. For his part, he hadn’t thought too much more about it, until he heard from Jesse Johnson, who along with Morris, left The Time as soon as the filming of “Purple Rain” wrapped up.

“I was in the studio back in New York with Tony Sylvester (of The Main Ingredient fame), putting the finishing touches on 94 East’s ‘Minneapolis Genius,’” Willie mused, “when I get a call from Jesse. He wanted permission to use my song.” And since Willie presumed Prince was never going to release it, he told Jesse, “Sure. Go ahead.”

As Jesse would later recount to Donnie Simpson on BET’s long-running music program “Video Soul,” he’d heard Prince’s version of the track and thought it would be perfect for inclusion on his second solo record. When imagining how the song would go over live, Johnson told Simpson, “Yeah… I’m gonna have some fun with that one.” But when Prince later found out about it, he certainly wasn’t laughing.

Early sometime in 1986, Willie was with some friends at First Avenue when Prince arrived. The first thing he wanted to know was exactly why Willie hadn’t told him about the upcoming release of 94 East’s “Minneapolis Genius,” which heavily featured both Prince and Cymone.

By now, Prince was so big it was often hard to get a direct line of communication with him. Willie explained that he’d called Cavallo, to get word to him, but Cavallo told Willie that he didn’t think Prince would want to know about it. “So that’s not on me. That’s on your people,” added Willie.

Prince then turned the conversation to “Do Yourself A Favor.” “Why’d you give Jesse the song?” asked Prince, “I told you I was going to release that.” Willie’s responded with, “When were you going to put it out? 1999?” Those within earshot of the dialogue began to laugh, which naturally, irritated Prince even more and he walked away, according to Willie.

“After all those years,” lamented Willie, “that was the first serious argument, you know, like a real blow-up, we’d ever had.” Instantly, Wilie began to regret the exchange. The next day, Willie’s attorney called from New York to say, “I heard you got into it with Prince at some nightclub.” Astonished, Willie wondered aloud, “How on earth could you possibly know that?”

“What can I say? Word travels fast,” replied his lawyer.

A few months later, Willie was a guest at a party being hosted by Bobby Z, who, before becoming Prince’s long-time drummer, held the same position with 94 East. As he mingled with other guests, Willie noticed that Prince, while fashionably late, had entered the room.

Willie, although a bit apprehensive, maneuvered his way closer, smiled at his friend, and asked, “Are we good?” Prince smiled back, and said, “Yeah. We’re good.”

And that’s the story of “Do Yourself A Favor” (aka “If You See Me”). Although Jesse’s recording of the song came last, it was the first to be released, showing up on the 1986 A&M album “Shockadelica” and later as the B-side to his 1988 single “Lovestruck.”

Willie’s original 1975 version finally received its official release in 1995 on 94 East’s two-disc set “Symbolic Beginnings” (on the UK’s Charly Groove label). It appeared again in 2010 when the band celebrated the 35th anniversary of “The Cookhouse 5” on Willie’s own record label, Reo Deo.

And then, once more, when it was featured as a single and as part of the 2013 Numero Group compilation “Purple Snow: Forecasting The Minneapolis Sound,” which also included classic early tracks by the likes of André Cymone, Sue Ann Carwell, Flyte Tyme, The Lewis Connection, The Girls, Rockie Robbins, Mind & Matter, The Stylle Band, and Alexander O’Neal.

And finally, we have Prince’s version of this 44-year-old classic song. Not a third or fourth generation bootleg recording that has been around for decades, but Prince’s original master, straight from the vault, for all to enjoy, many for the first time ever.