An Interview with Jimmy Jam of The Original 7ven, Part One

The band formerly known as The Time is back with funky new music.

By , Contributor

The name on the record may be different, but the musicians who play on Condensate are the same ones who started out some 30 years ago as The Time. Joining forces for their first album since 1990, Morris Day (vocals), Jerome Benton (percussion), Jimmy Jam (keyboards), Terry Lewis (bass), Jesse Johnson (guitar), Jellybean Johnson (drums), and Monte Moir (keyboards) are now The Original 7ven. The funky new album manages to sound fresh while simultaneously feeling like a satisfying throwback to the band’s ‘80s heyday.

Under the guidance of Prince, The Time scored a series of hit singles culled from four popular albums: The Time (1980), What Time Is It? (1982), Ice Cream Castles (1984), and Pandemonium (1990). The band also toured extensively with Prince during the early ‘80s. The phenomenal success of Prince’s Purple Rain in 1984 sent the band’s popularity soaring. Though the film didn’t feature The Time’s entire original lineup, the comic interplay of co-starring Time members Day and Benton arguably stole the show from Prince. Performances of “Jungle Love” and “The Bird” were not only highlights of the film, they were Top 40 radio and MTV fixtures.

Each of the seven Time members has achieved success on his own, the most prominent being the superstar production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Together, Jam and Lewis have produced dozens of hit singles, including nine Billboard Hot 100 chart-toppers by Janet Jackson (some of which featured contributions by various Time members). Morris Day and Jesse Johnson scored solo hits. Day has fronted a touring version of the band that included some, but not all, of the original lineup.

More recently, the original members decided that 20 years was enough time apart. Condensate was the result of a concerted effort by seven musicians who have shared a strong bond for more than three decades. I recently spoke with Jimmy Jam about the impetus behind the reunion, the band’s future plans, as well as the reasons behind The Original 7ven name change.

What lead to the reunion of all seven original band members?

The beginning of this project actually started when we were asked to perform on the Grammys in 2008. We had talked before about the idea of getting back together, but nothing concrete. When we were asked to perform, that became the line in the sand. My sense was, if we can’t get back together for an opportunity like this, we’re never going to get together. I couldn’t think of anything that would be more important or more fun to be involved with.

Was there resistance from anyone initially?

Most of the guys were good right away. A couple members were a little like, “I’m not so sure.” But eventually everyone came around. I had said to [Grammy executive producer] Ken Erhlich, “Only if we can get everybody back together.” If we can get the whole group, the Original 7ven so to speak, that would make me want to do it.

At the time, was there already talk of a full-fledged reunion project?

We had such a great time, great rehearsals, but we didn’t really plan anything after that. It was truly a one-off. After the show we did press and everyone was like, “What are you guys going to do now? You must have an album coming out. Are you getting ready to tour?” We didn’t think of that, we were just like, “Let’s get together and have some fun.”

Eventually we ended taking the gig in Las Vegas. It ended up being a summer vacation. We did 15 shows at the Flamingo, which was cool for us. The room felt very old school, it was kind of the perfect place.

At what point did you start talking about recording together?

When the Vegas gigs went really well, the talks started about maybe recording stuff. So we were recording on and off for maybe a couple years. Once again, it was line in the sand time: are we really going to finish this record and put this out? We’re all riding around in our cars listening to it, loving it, but are we actually going to finish it up?

Everybody committed to putting in the time to support it. It’s tough to do, but we finally felt like everyone was in a good mind space. We’re not getting any younger and all of us are healthy now. We started watching people around us, a lot of our contemporaries, either come upon bad health or pass away.

O7 press photo color[1] (380x234).jpg

What was the recording process like? Were you all in the studio playing together?

It varied from song to song. We did some songs like that, where we would all be there, basically a jam session, figuring out a song from that. There were also examples where we took advantage of today’s technology. For instance with the song “Lifestyle,” I remember Jesse sent a track to Terry and asked him what he thought. Terry gave it to me and I put a bridge on it. Then we sent it to Morris and he loved it. Monte put a keyboard part on it. We were able to do that being in different places. Monte and Jellybean live in Minneapolis. Me, Terry, Jesse, and Jerome are in Los Angeles. Morris lives in Las Vegas.

“Go Home to Yo Man” is one where literally we were all in the studio at the same time. Conceived it, wrote it, recorded it, the whole thing all together. It was really any combination that worked, and that made it a lot of fun.

Did a lot of the new songs evolve out of jams?

Yeah, we like the idea of doing that. When we initially decided to do the Vegas shows, part of it was because we wanted to play together. We can all write pretty well, but I think the idea was we wanted to know what everyone’s strengths are. By doing those gigs, it put us in that frame of mind so even if we were not all together, we all had the feel of what things should sound like. So the jam part of it — playing live, the audience reaction — that’s all really important to me. We’re using different technology to record, but we tried to always keep the feeling of the band on all the songs.

Being the first album you guys have done from start to finish with no involvement from Prince, would it be fair to call Condensate your debut album?

I think it’s totally fair to say. I think we all felt the same way about it. Although I have to say that we did not shun Prince’s involvement in any way. We actually invited him on numerous occasions to be part of the project. I totally agree that it is the first true album of the seven original guys. But we always wanted—and honestly expected—that Prince at some point would say, “I’m going to give you this song,” or that he would be involved. The project was not, “Let’s make a record without Prince.” That was absolutely not the thought the process, I just want to be clear about that. But I agree that the result was the first true record without him.

But I also have to say the record has his influence. As The Time or The Original 7ven, we can’t make a record without Prince’s influence. He was so instrumental in doing the first album in particular, but really in varying degrees all the Time albums. So I think that his influence is absolutely there on Condensate. In a way, we feel like we’re his kids. We got a message from him when the record first came out. He said, “I love the record, I love the name.” It was short but supportive, so that was cool.

Why do you think he didn’t allow you guys to call it The Time?

Well, I think he feels that he’s a member of the group because he was the architect of those earlier records. To draw the distinction, we were not put together by Prince. We were already a band and had been for quite a while. We actually used to compete with Prince’s band, Grand Central, in the early Minneapolis days when we were called Flyte Time. That was sort of the origin of everything. But when Prince got us the record deal, it was the biggest break that we ever had because it set forth all the events that have happened since then, including myself and Terry’s career.

I think that because Prince was the architect of the first record in particular, which continued through the second and the third album, though he started loosening the reins a little bit, letting us be a little more involved in the writing and the concepts, I think he feels that he birthed The Time, basically. He feels he gave it life, so he feels he has the right to kill it. I think you can kill the name, but you’re not going to kill the guys in the band. You can certainly throw road blocks in our way and, by the way, the name change is a huge roadblock. But at the end of the day, we just said, “Let’s make our record.” Hopefully people find it and enjoy it.

How did you personally feel about his attitude regarding the band name?

I think he’s certainly within his rights to do that. It was interesting because when “Morris Day and The Time” have toured, and it’s only three original members of the group, it’s okay to call that The Time. But when all seven of the original members get back together, it’s not okay to call it The Time. The only thing I can figure out is that because it is new music that Prince was not involved with, it can’t be The Time. But it can be The Time as long as it’s old music that he was involved with. If you think about it, it’s the only logical explanation.

It’s not a business thing, because we never had a business conversation about doing it. It was simply, “I own the name, you can’t use it.” Cut and dried. The other little quirk is that we can use it to tour. But we can’t use it to record. So to me, that’s another clue that anything new that we do, Prince isn’t comfortable with us using The Time name because he doesn’t feel he’s a part of it. I think because of the fact that he enjoyed the album, maybe through fan pressure and maybe through common sense, he will decide that we are not ruining the legacy of the band in any way. Maybe one day he’ll be comfortable with saying that we are The Time. But that’s up to him.

Speaking of touring, how has the departure of Jesse Johnson affected your plans?

The plan is to absolutely go forward and do dates. We’re putting those together right now. Our plan is to do festivals where we can get in front of a lot of people, not only the old fans but potential new fans. We’re working along those lines. Our thought is, we’re in it for the long term and aren’t really looking at it as a one-off project. We’re looking at it as supporting Condensate, but also thinking about the next album and future songs.

Jesse is a member of the family and always will be. We wish him well with what he does. We hope all the fans will support him and everything that he does. We obviously don’t see eye-to-eye about some things at this time. At some point, down the line, you never know what’s going to happen. You may see us all together again. In the meantime, we are going to audition guitar players for The Time so we can tour and support the record. Six out of seven ain’t bad, so we’ll go with that.

Was there any talk of not continuing?

Everybody worked hard on the record. We had a long conversation about what everybody wants to do. We’re not necessarily on a timetable. It’s not a shelf life type of project, where if you don’t get it out by a certain date, it expires. I think the project will sound the same a year from now because the roots of it are really in the ‘80s anyway, when we all started. We plan on going forward and we wish Jesse the best, we really do.

So when you’re playing gigs, will it be The Time or The Original 7ven?

You’ll most likely see The Time in a live performance. You may see some sort of Original 7ven reference, so people will know it’s not “Morris Day and The Time.” You’re going to be hearing new songs from Condensate. We’ll figure out how to articulate that a little bit better. It’ll be The Time. We’ll make sure people know it’s basically the original guys, as opposed to the touring band.

Watch for part two of this exclusive interview with Jimmy Jam, only on TMR.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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