Mint Condition sounds steeped in rich history
By Bob Kostanczuk Post-Tribune correspondent May 2, 2012 4:30PM
Mint Condition features (from left) Lawrence El, Stokley Williams, Ricky Kinchen, Jef Allen and O'Dell. The rhythm-and-blues band, which has toured with Prince, performs Saturday, May 12, 2012, at the West Side Theatre in Gary, Ind. | Provided Photo
If you go
◆ Mint Condition
◆ West Side Theatre at West Side Leadership Academy,
900 Gerry St., Gary
◆ 7 p.m. Saturday, May 12
◆ Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door; available at the West Side Theatre box office, Door J, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday, or call 977-2198, Ext. 14
Updated: June 5, 2012 11:25AM
Having been together for more than two decades, Mint Condition is a rhythm-and-blues band that will bring a rich history to its May 12 show in Gary.
Those who catch the buoyant 7 p.m. concert at the West Side Theatre can mull over an interesting fact that’s part of the group’s musical journey — one of Mint Condition’s fans happens to be funk-pop maestro Prince.
In the fall of 2010, Prince announced his “Welcome 2 America” tour that would showcase some of his favorite artists, including Mint Condition.
“The rumors that you hear about him having that big mystique — that’s real,” said Mint Condition keyboardist Lawrence El. “He’s really like that, but at the same time he was so wonderful to us and genuine, and really was kind of like a big brother in the business.
“He really seemed to be interested in trying to make sure that we were seen in the light that’s he’s seen. He’s got a vast audience, and I think he really wanted to help us along in that way — to introduce us to some of this fans around the world.”
Already established through such songs as “Someone to Love” and “So Fine,” Mint Condition saw its fame accelerated by touring with Prince.
“It was so extreme the amount of people that we were able to reach just from his offer to say, hey fellas, come on over here and hit this gig with me,” El said.
It was 20 years ago that Mint Condition reveled in the glow of its breakthrough hit — a ballad called “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes).” Reaching the Top 10 in America on the Billboard pop chart, the single was followed up by “Forever in Your Eyes,” a hit on the R&B charts. In 1994, Mint Condition made some pop-chart noise again with a Top 40 entry titled “U Send Me Swingin’”.
The roots of this purveyor of bedrock funk and soul ballads can be traced to growing up in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. The guys found themselves in an electric music scene fueled by the likes of Prince, The Time, the Replacements and Soul Asylum.
An early incarnation of Mint Condition played a 1989 gig at the First Avenue club in Minneapolis that caught the attention of noted producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, formerly of The Time (“Jungle Love,” “The Bird”).
El and company were signed to Jam and Lewis’ Perspective Records. The band’s debut album, “Meant to Be Mint,” hit the streets in 1991.
Since then, Mint Condition’s music has embraced funk with a hip-hop tinge, along with traces of rock and jazz.
“We’re finishing up the next CD — trying to get it mixed and get the finishing touches on it,” El said. “It’s entitled ‘Music at the Speed of Life.’ It’s eclectic like usual, where we’ll have steel drums and different instruments that we play. It’s got a hybrid feel to it.”