Pepé Willie's band – 94 East – will always be remembered as the band that gave the young Prince Rogers Nelson his first studio experience – let's face it, a good enough reason to be remembered. What's often overlooked is the skill and talent of Willie's ensemble and the influence it had on the developing 'Minneapolis Sound' – not to mention the influence it had on the developing Prince.“ – Quote from Snapper Music
94 EAST was originally formed in the 70s by Pepé Willie. The group was named after Interstate 94; and “East” acknowledges the connection between Pepé’s roots in Brooklyn, NY, and Minneapolis. Pepé was raised in a family of singers and musicians and learned the business of music in the 60s working with his Uncle, Clarence Collins, founding member of Little Anthony & The Imperials – 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. Little Anthony and the Imperials were at the height of their career with hits like Shimmy, Shimmy, Koko Bop; Going Out of My Head; and Tears On My Pillow topping both the R&B and pop charts. Pepé watched and listened, absorbing everything he could about the business and the making of hit songs. Pepé hung out with the likes of the Temptations and the Miracles, the Supremes, Chubby Checker, Marvin Gaye, and many others. He then began writing and recording on his own. It was this experience and knowledge that he brought with him to Minneapolis.
Pepé moved to Minneapolis in 1974 and met Marcy Ingvoldstad, and Kristie Lazenberry. Marcy and Kristie were singers and started working with Pepé doing background vocals and writing. Together with Wendell Thomas (bass), Dale Alexander (drums), Pierre Lewis (keyboards), and Pepe’ on rhythm guitar and lead vocals, the first iteration of 94 East was born. Later, Andre’ Lewis (lead guitar) joined the group and Dale was replaced with Bobby Rifkin (later known as Bobby “Z”, drummer for Prince’s band, The Revolution). Currently, 94 East is comprised of the three core members – Pepe’, Marcy and Kristie.
While working on 94 East’s demo, Pepe’ started working closely with his then-wife’s cousin, Prince (Rogers Nelson) and his band, Grand Central (Andre’ Cymone, Morris Day, William Dowdy, and Linda Anderson). Pepe’ hired Prince to record on 94 East’s tracks, known historically as the Cookhouse Five. PMI’s behind the scenes presence and significant contributions to the development of the Minneapolis music scene had a profound effect on the birth and consequent growth of the Minneapolis Sound and it’s part in American music history.
94 East released Minneapolis Genius 94 East featuring Prince; The Historical Recordings in 1985 on Hot Pink Records. In 1995, 94 East released an 2-CD set on the UK label, Charly Records, titled, Symbolic Beginning. The songs from this 2 CD-set have been licensed and sold all around the world giving 94 East an international following. In 2008, 94 East released 94 East featuring 10:15 & Fortune Teller Remix with Prince on Guitar on their label, Reo Deo (digitally distributed by Entertainment One). Two songs from this CD, 10:15 and Fortune Teller, were originally recorded at Sound 80 Recording Studios in Minneapolis. In 2010, 94 East released The Cookhouse Five, the original 1975 session, This 35th anniversary commemorative CD not only reflects the incredible talent of the young musicians of 94 East, but also the incredible talents of a 17-year old Prince. Most recently (2011), 94 East released the single, Leaving You Behind.
94 East’s music is characterized as positive, upbeat R&B/Pop with Hip Hop and Rock, appealing to a wide variety of listeners. They currently perform both track shows and full band shows. Their band includes Matt (“Doctor”) Fink on keyboards -- former Prince and The Revolution keyboardist, Marshall Charloff on guitar – an accomplished performer and songwriter who plays many instruments, a young talented drummer -- Brandon Johnson, and Ace Mack, a veteran bass player.