For years, “The Lewis Connection” remained a mostly forgotten record from the ‘70s. But a few years ago, record collectors began offering Pierre Lewis up to $1000 for his old band’s album — which credits Prince Rogers Nelson in the liner notes.
“I wasn’t surprised. I always knew. Cause Prince being on that one song, I said one day it was gonna be a collector’s item,” Lewis said. “I always said that, since a long time ago.”
The Purple One merely provided back-up vocals and guitar on the track “Got To Be Something Here.” The righteous rhythm and blues ballad was performed by Sonny Thompson’s group, The Family, in the famed Sound 80 Studio around 1976. The musicians involved agreed that whoever first raised the money for a mastering session could own the song, said Lewis, who was in the band at the time. A few years later, he was one track short for “The Lewis Connection” and added it in.
When the album came out in 1979, Prince was just launching his own career. According to the Star Tribune, he actually borrowed Pierre’s keyboard for his 1978 debut single “Soft and Wet.”
Pierre and his brother Andre formed The Lewis Connection after spending time with bands around Minneapolis that are now recognized as pillars of the “Minneapolis sound,” including The Family and Flyte Tyme, which later became the Time. The Lewis Connection played for about three years with Richard Lowe on drums and various vocalists joining them from time to time, including Sonny Thompson (future Prince bassist) and Jermaine Brooks. They also played with a horn section at times.
The band printed 1,000 copies of their album, which helped them play at better clubs and even work in Florida for a while, Lewis said. Now recognized as an early snapshot of the Minneapolis sound, the album was re-released in 2013 by the Chicago-based archival label Numero Group.
“We stayed really busy,” Lewis said. “We were playing all the time here, that’s why I was able to keep the group together.”
After the Lewis Connection ended, Andre eventually moved to Nashville, where he still works as a musician. Pierre moved across the country, working in Los Angeles, Indianapolis and Atlanta with musicians including Bobby Lyle, Joss Stone and KC & The Sunshine Band. Now, he’s back in the Twin Cities and plays at the Lux Lounge once a month when he’s not touring with The Commodores. A few weeks ago, he released his own album, “Spaceship.”
Jackie Renzetti is a student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She is a projects editor at the Minnesota Daily and works at Radio K as a Real College Podcast producer and host of “Off the Record.”