Veteran pop-funkster Pepé Willie teams up with accomplished author Tony Kiene to entertain music lovers, especially Prince fans, with the page-turning “If You See Me” (Minnesota Historical Society).
Willie, a vocalist-songwriter whose pedigree harks to the seminal do-wop days of the ’50s, has an interesting tale to tell of his history in the industry, and Kiene conveys it effortlessly in a sharp, fluid style.
Immediately refreshing is that, unlike, for instance, “The Most Beautiful: My Life with Prince” by the late superstar’s ex-wife Mayte Garcia, this is by no means a blatant digging up of his bones for transparent purpose of self-promotion.
Willie doesn’t make himself out to be inseparable pals with His Royal Purpleness but a longtime friend and professional associate in a relationship that, like any other, had its ins, outs, ups and downs. Considering Prince’s public persona and the media’s attendant gossiping, its gratifying that Willie neither deifies nor demonizes him, but presents the picture of a very human, often admirable, and sometimes unlikeable person.
The book title comes from the song Willie penned that Prince basically appropriated and turned into “Do Yourself A Favor,” the sardonic, dance jam from 1999 about embittered love. Willie bears no grudge and, in fact, simply explains how this and other tunes were, shall we say, embellished on and lets it go at that.
The book is a true find in tracing Willie’s career from his integral involvement in
the ’70s Minneapolis Sound bands 94 East and Cookhouse 5, to his teenage years of
bopping around Bed-Stuy Brooklyn, latching onto his uncle Clarence Collins’ (who
provides the foreword) historic singing group Little Anthony & The Imperials.
He started out about as humbly as it gets, as a go-fer. His foot in the proverbial door, Willie nudged it open and eventually stepped through in his own right. By the time he takes a bow in the chapter “Hall of Fame,” he clearly has earned it. “[Both] The Time and Flyte Time’s” an excerpt relates, were inducted into the Minnesota Black Music Hall of Fame.
The next year, the awards show was relocated to Roy Wilkins Auditorium in downtown St. Paul. The move was made in order to accommodate what might have been the second most memorable event of 1987 (that is, after the Minnesota Twins’ World Series victory): a reunion performance by The Time.
“Sometime the following summer, I received notice of what would be one of the biggest moments of my career. On October 1, 1988, I was to be inducted into the Minnesota Black Music Hall of Fame. At that point, it occurred to me that someone had indeed noticed my contributions to the Minneapolis Sound.”
Take with a grain of salt the publisher’s claim that he is the “Godfather of the Minneapolis Sound. Though there’s no denying Willie played an important part after arriving in late 1975, that particular music scene was underway, having seen its formative years in the ’60s with the likes of such acts as Maurice McKinnies; The Champions, TheCastaways, Wee Willie Walker and others.
There are also gaps in the narrative, including Willie’s foray into drugs and later getting out of it, but not a word on what happened in-between, whether he had a habit that held him back or was simply a dabbler. Several chapters go a bit out of the way to continually name-drop and reminisce about hobnobbing.
Ultimately, there’s nothing in the pages to make you sorry you bought the book. It’s a welcome chronicle by a noteworthy man who was on-hand for some of the most remarkable music the business has ever seen.
For more book info, visit www.mnhs.org/mnhspress/books/if-you-see-me.