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Interview:
Time Is Right For A Time Reunion
 

By GARY GRAFF
of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

It’s time for The Time again.

The funk band from Minneapolis — whose iconic status was cemented by performances of “Jungle Love” and “The Bird” in Prince’s 1984 film “Purple Rain” — last released an album 20 years ago. But since reuniting for a performance at the 2008 Grammy Awards, the original incarnation of the septet has been playing periodic shows and working diligently on the follow-up to 1990’s “Pandemonium,” which keyboardist Jimmy “Jam” Harris III guarantees we’ll “absolutely hear” this year.

“It’s an exciting time for us,” says Jam, 51. “We’re getting along great. I think we’re older and wiser. We’re all family men now. We all have kids, which is a great way of lessening your own ego. So we’re not taking (the band) for granted. We want to try and do some things and have some fun.”

Frontman Morris Day adds that, “There is something special with everybody being there. You can see the crowd; everybody has this look on their face, kind of taking it all in — ‘Wait, that really is Jesse (Johnson) up there. Wow, that’s Terry (Lewis) and Jimmy! Wow, that’s all the guys.’ We love that.”

And, they add, there are few audiences that appreciate the gravity of The Time’s original lineup being together more than Detroit, a city which Day notes “was instrumental in breaking The Time” when it rolled out of Minneapolis in 1981.

“Detroit was the first city where our singles broke loose in a big way,” Day, 52, recalls, crediting legendary DJ the Electrifying Mojo’s support for the success. “He created a frenzy for us. We showed up at the radio station and we couldn’t even get out of there, so many people showed up. There was a mob outside.”

Jam, in fact, calls Detroit one of The Time’s “two undeniable cities” — the other being its hometown, Minneapolis — and therefore one of only three towns the group is playing on its spring Stingy Tour.

“Everybody is so excited about Detroit that I can’t even tell you, man,” Jam says. “Detroit is like our second home and was the first city to embrace us when we came out, so it just makes sense to do it there.”

The Time was put together in Minneapolis by Prince, who took the band Flyte Time — with Jam and fellow keyboardist Monte Moir, Lewis on bass and drummer Jellybean Johnson — and added childhood friend Day, guitarist Jesse Johnson and Lewis’ half-brother Jerome Benton as a high-stepping foil and “valet” for Day. Prince oversaw (and played the instruments on) the group’s first three albums, which yielded nine rock-tinged funk hits on the R&B charts. Lewis and Jam were fired after missing a show due to a blizzard in 1983, while The Time itself disbanded after “Purple Rain” and its 1984 album “Ice Cream Castle.”

Day and Jesse Johnson pursued solo careers, and the singer subsequently led his own version of The Time, which included Moir, Jellybean Johnson and, occasionally, Benton. Jam and Lewis, meanwhile, became Grammy-winning producers for Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Usher, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige and scores of others.

The Time’s original lineup regrouped for 1990’s “Pandemonium” — whose single “Jerk Out” was the group’s only R&B No. 1 and Top 10 pop hit — but that didn’t stick. It was the 2008 Grammy invitation, when Jam was chairman of the Recording Academy, that spawned the current spate of activity.

“That was the catalyst,” Jam recalls. “Hanging out and doing the rehearsals, I think we didn’t realize how much we missed being around each other. We’d always see each other one or two at a time, but to actually have all seven of us together, the energy and camaraderie and laughter, it was crazy. It was the funnest week I can remember having, ever.

“After that, we got serious.”

The Time quickly started hunkering down on old material for the as-yet-untitled album, some of which dates back to the immediate wake of “Pandemonium.” “We didn’t anticipate we wouldn’t make another album for 20 years,” Jam explains. “Most of those ideas are still valid ideas.” Day, however, notes that the 15 songs currently under consideration for the album — including titles such as “Stingy,” “Strawberry Lake” and “If I Were Your Man” — are more recent developments.

“We pretty much, with the exception of maybe one or two (songs), phased out all the stuff we cut years back,” he says. “We really had some good stuff then, but maybe the new stuff is just fresher for us.”

He describes the material as “hard to classify. It’s got funk and it’s got rock. It’s cool, sexy music with attitude.” Jam, meanwhile, promises that “there’s definitely going to be some extended jams on there. We’ve never been into writing three-minute songs.”

Day says The Time won’t be previewing any of the new material in concert yet, and Jesse Johnson, 50 — who released a new solo album, “Verbal Penetration Vol. I & II,” this year — notes that “we’re really just visiting some of our favorite stomping grounds before we release this new record and then do something major.”

Day, meanwhile, says The Time’s future as a going concern is “still to be revealed,” but he’s been buoyed by the response to the reunion performances as well as a fan appetite for something new from the band.

“It’s nice to know we created something that has meaning and that people still care about after all these years,” he says. “We came up with some good, timeless — pun intended — music. And we still put on a great show — we bring the personality and the humor, and it’s fun. I think they walk away from us feeling like they experienced something. We deliver a total entertainment package — always have and, whenever we’re together, always will.”



The Time and Teena Marie perform at 8 p.m. Friday, June 11, at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $68 and $88. Call 313-471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.

Web Site: www.olympiaentertainment.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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