“We really didn’t need him,” Lewis insisted, laughing at the irony. He remembered that Prince borrowed a guitar for the session, as he would do a year or two later with one of Lewis’ instruments.
“That’s my keyboard you hear on ‘Soft & Wet,’ ” claimed Lewis, speaking of the first single from Prince’s 1978 major-label debut. “I loaned it to him and had to finally go get it from him. He wouldn’t give it back.”
“Got to Be Something Here” sat on the shelf for two years until the Lewises decided to bundle it with the other tracks on “The Lewis Connection,” pieced together from sessions that were often helmed by budding studio guru David Rivkin (a k a David Z, who was the brother of Prince drummer Bobby Z and later engineered much of Prince’s best work).
“I always thought there was some great stuff on that record,” Rivkin said after one of Prince’s Dakota gigs last month. “I’m glad somebody is finally putting it out.”
The opening cut, “Get Up,” is a “Funkytown”-like disco romp that was included in the “Twin Cities Funk & Soul” anthology. The other five tracks range from the horns-blasting funk workout “Higher” to the breezy, poppy, Earth, Wind & Fire-like instrumental “Dynamic Duo” to the spacey closer, a jam named for Morris Day’s pet poodle (“Mr. G”).
There’s only one update on the album: It’s now titled “The Lewis Connection,” instead of the misspelled “Conection” that appeared on the original cover. Legend was that the band didn’t notice the typo in time, but Lewis said it was intentional — “just to be weird and stand out.”
Although it never earned much sales or radio play, the album “was a good calling card to get us gigs,” Lewis said.
The Lewis Connection performed for about two years before splintering. Andre Lewis wound up moving to Nashville, where he still works as a musician, while Pierre bounced around until he returned permanently to the Twin Cities six years ago. He lived in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Indianapolis and worked for everyone from KC & the Sunshine Band to British soul-rock singer Joss Stone.
“I kept working, that was the main thing,” said Lewis, who has three sons and now four grandchildren.
His full-time gig with the Commodores came nearly three years ago. Lionel Richie is long gone, but the group plays many overseas dates, casino shows and corporate gigs with original co-vocalist Walter Orange and two other members from the group’s heyday era (see: “Brick House,” “Nightshift,” “Three Times a Lady”).
“I’m seeing parts of the world I’d have never seen, and I’m playing music that you can tell makes people feel good,” Lewis happily reported.
His own hole in the wall
Almost an exact flip side to his life with the Commodores — except for the part about making people happy — are the weekly gigs at the Lux Lounge, a far less glamorous corner of the world that Lewis has seen plenty of.
Known as the Spruce Lounge when he first played there, the bar, its small, checkered dance floor and the rest of its decor (or, more specifically, lack of decor) remain unchanged. That’s part of why he loves it.
“The memories are just kind of built into the woodwork for me here,” he said.
For the past year, he has made a point of returning home from his weekend Commodores gigs to make the 5 p.m. start time every Sunday with his new local group, the New Experience Band. The shows usually include a soul food buffet and attract a packed house (literally a “house”). Most of the patrons are close in age to Lewis, and show up dressed to the nines and ready to sing along.
Last week, the offerings included everything from Marvin Gaye, Maze and Gap Band classics to a sultry R. Kelly tune and the 1999 hit that seems to be the unofficial anthem of these gigs, Mel Waiters’ “Hole in the Wall” (“people dancing and drinking, and no one wants to leave ... I had my best time y’all at the hole in the wall”).
“I think, like the rest of us, he just has a good time being here,” lead singer Allen Hudson III said of Lewis. Like most of the patrons at the Lux last Sunday, Hudson did not know about the modest buzz around the “Lewis Connection” reissue. That was fine by Lewis.