Category Archives: The Time

Dystopian Dance Party presents Jheri Curl June: Jesse Johnson

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Every year in the month of June, my blog Dystopian Dance Party throws a month-long celebration of the wet, silky ’80s R&B we like to call Jheri Curl Music: a kind of hazily-defined intersection of post-disco boogie, electro-funk, and the Minneapolis Sound that, like pornography, is unmistakable when you hear it. And for the past three years, we’ve commenced our Jheri Curl June festivities with profiles of major figures in the style, timed to line up with their birthdays in the beginning of June. In 2014, it was Prince (born June 7); in 2015, it was Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (the former born June 6); last year, it was L.A. Reid (June 7 again). But until now, we’ve never managed to make time for another architect whose birthday falls as close to the beginning of June as possible: June 1, 1960. I’m talking, of course, about Jesse Johnson.

Jesse, in our defense, hasn’t exactly been a stranger to Jheri Curl June. His “Be Your Man” was our second-ever JCJ post back in 2014, and we’ve also considered his work both as a member of the Time and as the producer of late-’80s Minneapolis funk-rockers dáKRASH. But we’ve never taken a deep dive into his music–and that’s a damn shame, because whatever Johnson might have lacked in the innovation of his former associates Prince, Jam, and Lewis, he more than made up for with some of the strongest pure Jheri Curl Music of the mid-to-late 1980s. In other words, there’s no better person with whom to launch our fourth annual celebration of all things wet and silky in ’80s R&B music. So let’s get to it!

The Time in 1981 (Jesse Johnson far right); photo stolen from Lansure’s Music Paraphernalia.

Jesse Johnson was born in Rock Island, Illinois and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, but he will forever be associated with Minneapolis: the city where he launched his career in 1981 as lead guitarist for Prince’s first and greatest “protégé group,” the Time. Much has been made of the Time as a kind of dummy act for their svengali‘s straight-up R&B material, but Johnson in particular played a greater role in the studio than has been acknowledged; recently, for example, he released his own early demo version of the group’s second-biggest single, “Jungle Love,” long widely assumed to have been written by Prince alone. Yet, like so many other musicians over whom Prince ruled with a lacy fist, Johnson’s independence chafed against his employer’s desire for control, and by the end of 1984 he and the rest of the Time had jumped ship.

© A&M Records

Like his fellow Time escapees, Jam and Lewis, Johnson started out as a songwriter and producer: a role he’d already inhabited while in the Prince camp, penning not only “Jungle Love” but also “Bite the Beat” for the Vanity 6 project. In fact, while Jimmy and Terry are the bigger names, Jesse actually beat them to the punch in one respect: contributing two songs to Janet Jackson’s 1984 sophomore album Dream Street, a year and a half before Jam and Lewis did Control. The first of these tracks, “Pretty Boy,” may not be “Nasty,” but it’s a nice, fizzy dose of New Wave-inflected jheri curl pop; and Johnson himself re-recorded the second track, “Fast Girls,” for a B-side in 1985 (his version is the one included here). After Janet, Jesse’s next major break came in the unlikely shape of the Breakfast Clubsoundtrack:  his “Heart Too Hot to Hold,” a duet with fellow A&M artist Stephanie Spruill, obviously fell short of Simple Minds’ epochal “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” in capturing the zeitgeist, but I can’t imagine he minds when those residuals come in.

© A&M Records

For all intents and purposes, however, Johnson’s debut as a solo artist came with the release of his 1985 album Jesse Johnson’s Revue. It was at this point when his characteristic take on the Minneapolis Sound, hinted at in his earlier production work, came into full bloom: surprisingly keyboard-driven for a guitarist, explicitly New Wave-influenced, and with plenty of the fiery guitar solos that had been his specialty in the Time. Songs like “Can You Help Me,” “Let’s Have Some Fun,” and the yearning ballad “I Want My Girl” established Johnson as a kind of middle ground between the Time’s good-time funk and the sexier, artier stylings of Prince.

© A&M Records

Indeed, it’s clear that in 1985 A&M was positioning Johnson as a potential competitor to W.B.’s Prince: it didn’t hurt, of course, that Jesse was a dead ringer for his former employer, with the mandatory mid-’80s thin moustache and even a trademark color, pink, to match Prince’s purple. Johnson was less comfortable with these comparisons, however; and his response, the B-side “Free World,” became one of his most enduring songs. Not only did it address the elephant in the room–“Nobody likes the way I hold my mic / They say it’s too much like my friend”–but it was also an influential work of electro-funk on its own merits: just try and listen to the Egyptian Lover’s “Freak-a-Holic” and tell me he didn’t have “Free World” on the brain.

© A&M Records

Jesse Johnson’s Revue wasn’t the runaway success it should have been, but A&M wasn’t ready to give up on turning Jesse into “their” Prince: he even got his own protégés, Ta Mara and the Seen, led by the crossover-friendly (read: white) singer Margie Cox, a.k.a. Ta Mara. Their “Everybody Dance” was as “Jesse Johnson” as Vanity 6 had been “Prince,” and has become as much a part of the Minneapolis Sound’s legacy. Johnson also made time for another Brat Pack soundtrack in early 1986, contributing the New Wave-y “Get to Know Ya” to Pretty in Pink.

© A&M Records

The followup to Jesse Johnson’s Revue, 1986’s Shockadelica, carried on the inevitable comparisons to Prince–though this time through no fault of Johnson’s own. The story goes that Prince, after hearing the name for Jesse’s new album, tried to convince him to write a title track–then, when Jesse declined, went ahead and wrote it himself, leaking it to Minneapolis radio so listeners would assume he’d come up with the title first.  It’s unfortunate, because Shockadelica shows a lot of musical growth for Johnson: plucking Sly Stone out of his self-imposed obscurity for the lead single “Crazay” and incorporating prominent freestyle influences on “Baby Let’s Kiss.” But on some level, at least, Johnson also got the last laugh: his “Do Yourself a Favor” nicks Prince’s unreleased arrangement of “If You See Me” by Minneapolis Sound godfather Pepé Willie, but credits Willie alone, ensuring he got all the royalties.

© A&M Records

Shockadelica was another modest, but not overwhelming success, and Johnson continued to produce for other artists, collaborating with Ta Mara on “I Need You” by Paula Abdul. His next album, 1988’s Every Shade of Love, fell short of the previous records’ sales, but it still had some gems in “Love Struck”–Johnson’s biggest hit since “Crazay”–and the mellow, soulful “I’m Just Wanting You.”

It’s convenient, for our purposes, that the first wave of Johnson’s solo career ended along with what we like to call the “jheri curl era”: after Every Shade, he still contributed to soundtracks and other artists’ projects, but wouldn’t reemerge with an album of his own until 1996’s rock-oriented Bare My Naked Soul. Today–after another, 14-year leave of absence–he’s arguably at his highest profile since the ’80s: performing with D’Angelo and (occasionally) the original lineup of the Time, most recently at the 2017 Grammy Awards. Earlier this year, he played to a packed house at the Minneapolis club Bunker’s to commemorate the one-year anniversary of his old sparring partner Prince’s death. Things, it seems, have come full circle; Johnson has both outlasted Prince and become more inseparable than ever with his legacy. And he’s built a hell of a legacy of his own: one we’re proud to celebrate this Jheri Curl June, and many more in the future.

For more Jheri Curl June, check out Dystopian Dance Party every weekday for the rest of this month; I’ll also be posting highlights for my remaining Saturday guest posts. See you again soon!

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Filed under Janet Jackson, Jesse Johnson, Jesse Johnson's Revue, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Pepe Willie, Prince, Sly Stone, The Time

Welcome 2 the Dawn: Grading the Purple Rain Deluxe Edition against My Own Expectations

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Hard as it is to believe, it’s been over three years since NPG Records and Warner Bros. announced the new, expanded Purple Rain remaster–the first, one would expect, of several such projects in the years to come. One of the first pieces I wrote for my own blog, Dystopian Dance Party, was a list of demands humble requests for bonus tracks I wanted to see included in the package: a post I was able to revive here on Andresmusictalk the second time the reissue was announced, last fall. Now, six months later, we finally have a track list, and the two configurations of the album–Deluxe and “Deluxe Expanded”–are available for preorder, to be released on June 23. So, I thought, in the spirit of reissues, why not recycle this three-year-old content once again–you know, for old time’s sake? Let’s take a look at my predictions from April 2014, and see whether or not I really had my finger on the pulse of Paisley Park:

14. Dez Dickerson’s “Modernaire”

13. Vanity 6’s Version of “Sex Shooter

12. Prince’s Versions of Songs from the Time’s Ice Cream Castle

Well, I can’t say I started strong. For better or worse, the new Purple Rain contains nothing but music by Prince and the Revolution: no side projects or protégé material, even the stuff that appeared in the movie. Really, though, I can’t say I’m surprised; and as much as I love the Time and Vanity 6, I wouldn’t want something of theirs to make the cut over a proper Prince track from the Vault. Let’s save these for the expanded reissues of Ice Cream Castle and Apollonia 6 (those are coming, right?).

11. “Extraloveable”

Now this one I am actually a little disappointed by, though again not surprised–both because of the reasons I noted in my original article (it was already released, albeit in bowldlerized/Andy Allo-ized form; it’s mad rapey), and because it’s more of a transitional track between 1999 and Purple Rain: there’s still a chance that it will come out with the inevitable 1999 reissue. I still want to hear it without that awful tape chew in the circulating recordings, but now just isn’t the time.

10. “All Day, All Night”/The Dance Electric”

All right, now we’re cooking! I’m giving myself this one because I hedged my bets, and we are in fact getting Prince’s version of André Cymone’s “The Dance Electric”; and who knows, maybe there are plans in the future to release the 1984 birthday concert where “All Day, All Night” was initially recorded. Would I have liked to have gotten both? Of course; frankly, I’d have loved for this thing to be eight discs long. But if we only had to get one, as a studio track, “Dance Electric” is the logical choice.

9. “When Doves Cry” with Bass

The first real missed opportunity–though more for historical than for musical significance. We all know (assuming Susan Rogers told the truth, and/or Prince didn’t destroy it) that the bass line for “When Doves Cry” exists somewhere in the Vault. So, especially with a full third disc on the “Deluxe Expanded” edition devoted to alternate single mixes, would it have killed them to let us hear it? It’s frustrating, because I totally get the geeky completionist impulse behind that much-derided disc of alternate edits–but if NPG is going to cater to geeky completionists, why not go whole hog?

8. The Complete August 3, 1983 First Avenue Concert

Word on the street is, I was actually kind of right on this. You might recall that an earlier announcement of the set promised “two incredible albums of previously unreleased Prince music and two complete concert films,” but the final product contains only one DVD; based on rumors (and a leaked clip of the performance in previously-unseen high fidelity), it seems the Revolution’s live debut is still in the pipeline, but wasn’t ready in time for the June release date. A little disappointing, but whatever; as long as we get it eventually, I’m happy.

7. Prince and the Revolution: Live

Now here’s the concert we actually are getting in June: the Revolution’s March 1985 date in Syracuse, New York, previously released on VHS as Prince and the Revolution: Live. There’s been some complaints in the fan community about this–it isn’t the best Purple Rain show, it’s already out there, etc. Personally, though, I’m happy to have it cleaned up for a proper digital release; I, for one, haven’t seen it, because who wants to watch a VHS in 2017? Frankly, I barely want to watch DVDs in 2017, but I still look forward to experiencing this show in glorious SD.

6. “Electric Intercourse”

Another point for me–and as an added bonus, we can already hear it! When I wrote my original post, I thought “Electric Intercourse” was a long shot–this was back when it was widely assumed that the song’s “studio version” was just the 1983 First Avenue performance dressed up with a few overdubs. Turns out that it’s actually an entirely different recording, and…well, to be honest, I found it slightly disappointing. But even below-average material from Purple Rain-era Prince is decidedly above-average compared to the output of mere mortals, and I can’t overstate the thrill of finally being able to hear the song.

5. The Extended Version of “Computer Blue”

Really, I’m not even going to pat my back for this one: the extended cut of “Computer Blue” (a.k.a. the “Hallway Speech” version) was a shoo-in for any Purple Rain reissue worth its salt; if it hadn’t made the track list, there would be riots outside Paisley Park even as we speak. But I’m still glad to have it, if only because now a whole new audience can hear the whole, brilliant psychodrama. Hearing this for the first time was one of those moments that transformed me from a reasonably normal person into a hardcore Prince fan: it’s thrilling to think how many others are about to get the same opportunity.

4. “We Can Fuck” (“We Can Funk”)

Now this, on the other hand, is a genuine surprise; and, to be honest, I’m pretty skeptical that the owner of the world’s most famous swear jar would have approved of this song–one that even a pre-Jehovah’s Witness Prince saw fit to censor for 1990’s Graffiti Bridge–being released in its unexpurgated form. Not that I’m complaining, of course: I’ve been dying to hear a nice-sounding, complete take of “We Can Fuck” basically since I became aware of its existence. And if Prince, wherever he is, has a problem with it, I’ll gladly toss a few bucks in his ghostly swear jar for the privilege.

3. “Possessed”

Not quite as exciting as “We Can Fuck,” but still welcome: “Possessed” is a jam, one of those bootleg tracks that totally blew my mind the first time I heard it. There’s been some speculation that the version included on the set is different from either of the takes currently in circulation, but I’m not even going to set my expectations that high; I’ll be satisfied with just a good copy of the one I’ve been listening to for 10 years. Anything more, I’ll consider to be a pleasant surprise.

2. “Erotic City (‘make love not war Erotic City come alive’)”

Another no-brainer–but then, you’d think keeping one of the most beloved 12″ singles in the history of the format accessible for purchase would have been a “no-brainer,” too. Yet here we are, in 2017, still awaiting the first official appearance of the extended (and far, far superior) “Erotic City” on CD and digital music services. If I sound bitter, it’s because I am; but at least Warner/NPG is finally making amends. 33 years late is still better than never.

1. Something We’ve Never Even Heard About

Now this is the one I’m most surprised, and pleased, to be wrong about. Unlike most of the other tracks on this list, I have no idea what “Katrina’s Paper Dolls” sounds like. I have no idea what “Love and Sex” sounds like (though I’ve heard good things). I did hear “Velvet Kitty Cat” when it leaked recently, and…meh, but I’ll take it. The fact that the curators of the new Purple Rain collection took care to select some songs that weren’t even in wide circulation among bootleg traders–and promoted them as such!–suggests that the future is pretty bright when it comes to music from Prince’s Vault. Of course, the deluxe Purple Rain isn’t perfect: “Wednesday” and “Traffic Jam” are missing, as are the 30-minute “I Would Die 4 U” and the longer edit of “17 Days.” But when I look at what we are getting, it’s hard for me to complain. Three years ago, I fully expected to be disappointed by whatever Warner Bros. came out with; now, I’m actually excited. Sometimes it’s good to be wrong.

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Filed under Andre Cymone, Apollonia, NPG Records, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, The Time, Vanity, Warner Bros., When Doves Cry

The 8 Records I’m Most Excited about Not Buying for Record Store Day 2017

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I tried Record Store Day for the first time last year, and was woefully unprepared for the task; by the time I made it to my local wrecka stow, everything I was remotely interested in had already been snatched up by more enterprising/experienced shoppers. This year, I won’t be making the festivities at all: my family plans for the morning of April 22, unfortunately, do not involve any crate-digging. But that doesn’t mean I can’t look at the list of special releases and sigh wistfully at what might have been. Here are a few highlights:

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“All Together Now” by André 3000 (7″, ltd. to 5000)

I did not know the most delightfully weird member of OutKast covered one of the most delightfully goofy songs by the Beatles. Now I do know, but there’s no way this thing is gonna stay in stock past the ten-minute mark. At least I can listen to it on YouTube.

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“Strawberry Fields Forever”/”Penny Lane” by the Beatles (7″, ltd. to 7000)

Speaking of the Beatles, there’s no rational reason for me to own this. I don’t even particularly love 7″ singles: if I’m gonna buy a piece of plastic with two songs on it, it’d better be at least 10″ in diameter. But I was a Beatles fanatic as a preteen, and seeing that 1967-era picture on the sleeve hits me straight in the nostalgia zone.

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BOWPROMO (box set, ltd. to 5000) and
Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74) (3-LP set, ltd. to 5000)
by David Bowie

Now these I do actually want, but to be frank, I doubt I could afford them: new pressing, multi-LP sets are a little rich for my blood, especially in limited editions. But come on: raw mixes of Hunky Dory-era Bowie? A live set I haven’t heard from the Diamond Dogs tour, one of his most fascinating and underrated periods? If I was even slightly more comfortably middle-class than I am, I’d be all over these. But I can take comfort in knowing that all 10,000 of these records will be hoovered up within minutes anyway.

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“Groove is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite (12″, ltd. to 3000)

If you catch me in the right kind of mood, I might make a wildeyed claim that “Groove is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite is the greatest song of all time. And while I probably wouldn’t be right, I also know I wouldn’t be wrong. I would love to own this on vinyl and hear that slide whistle hook in superior fidelity. Alas, this April, it’s not meant to be.

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“Little Red Corvette”/”1999” by Prince (7″ picture disc, ltd. to 5000)

Does anybody actually like picture discs–listening to them, I mean? I don’t especially care for them–I like playing records more than I like looking at them–but god damn if I don’t want this one. Sadly, I might as well just print out the inner sleeve pic from 1999 and découpage it over a regular 7″ single, because with Record Store Day falling the day after the one-year anniversary of His Purple Majesty’s passing, there is approximately no way in hell 5000 copies will survive a single day’s demand.

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RSD 2017 Tote Bag by Run the Jewels (ltd. to 2500)

This isn’t even a record, but the artwork is dope and it would go great with the T-shirt I picked up from Run the Jewels’ Run the World tour back in January. But now I just have to hold back my jealous tears when I see some lucky asshole walking around with it.

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What Time is It? by the Time (LP, ltd. to 2500)

Are you kidding me? The motherfucking Time?! This actually pisses me off for two reasons, because an album like this deserves a full-fledged re-release, not a limited-run one-off for Record Store Day. But I can’t promise that if I saw a brand new pressing on April 22, I wouldn’t be doing “The Walk” out of the store with it in hand. Fortunately–or unfortunately–that won’t be an option for me.

In all seriousness, though, missing RSD this year isn’t that big a deal: after all, there are approximately 364 other equally good days in the year to patronize our local record stores. If you’d like to see a few of my favorites, from Northern Virginia to Reykjavík, Iceland, check out my Wrecka Stow video series on Dystopian Dance Party. And if you make it to the stores on the 22nd, buy yourself something nice in my honor.

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Filed under 2017, Andre 3000, David Bowie, Deee-Lite, OutKast, Prince, Record Store Day, Record Stores, The Beatles, The Time, Vinyl

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Condensate’ by The Time (Credited As The Original 7ven)

During the 2008 50th Grammy Award presentation,the original seven members of The Time appeared for a performance along with Rihanna. In the coming years,members such as Jesse Johnson began making some serious noise about a reunion tour and album. Of course nothing had come from the band since 1990. Only a Morris Day project featuring different members and a semi reunion on the Rosie O’Donnell show in the late 90’s.

Finally this album dropped in 2011,apparently independently distributed. It was credited to The Original 7ven-apparently at the bands own choice seeing as they didn’t want to keep delaying an album release simply due legal complications between them and Warner Brothers over their name The Time. The question was what would this album have to offer musically.

The album begins (and eventually continues) with an interlude where Morris Day is asked first by the band and by a mock news reporter if he’s “lost his cool” in terms of attitude. The musical response to this is “Strawberry Lake”-full on arena friendly Minneapolis style synth funk admirers of The Time should already know well. “#Trendin” uses a similar template and a lyrical theme humorously revolving around online social networking and the trendy phenomenon of hash tagging.

“Toast To The Party Girl” melds both the post punk guitar based new wave and hard JB style Minneapolis synth funk styles of the Time’s salad years perfectly together. The title song comes out with a heavier live band JB style bass and rhythm section while “If I Was Yo Man” is more a melodic pop/rock number with chiming,bell like percussion throughout.

“Role Play” brings out a far slower grinding bluesy funk flavor about it-with it’s witty fetish setup. “Sick” has a straight up hard rock flavor while “Lifestyle” has the flavor of a modern R&B ballad…inspired somewhat by Minneapolis though…melodically not quite as interesting. “Lifestyle” is another bluesier piece again in a modern setting while “Cadillac” comes at the music with some powerfully live band oriented funk.

“Aydkmn” brings back out the bluesy hard rock guitar groove again while “One Step” brings out a stomping juke joint style shuffle that actually goes perfectly with Morris Day’s funky gigolo persona. “Gohometoyoman” is a classic slow shuffling soul ballad to close out the album. Only “Hey Yo” seems like a very stereotypical contemporary R&B type of song from this album to me,anyway.

Overall? My impression of this album is that many of the tracks do keep the funk alive. In fact,the band add elements of the Afro futurist types of funk,which seeks to reconcile the past,present and continuing journey of the funk/soul music spectrum together,on many of these songs. In fact a lot of them sound as if they could come out of a Janelle Monae right now more than anything the Time were once associated with. The only quality about this album that drops it a bit in quality is that the handful of attempts to modernize their sound.

This modernization really drag the grooves and instrumentation of the album down a lot. I doubt many will remember the popular dance/R&B/hip-hop styles of say 2004-2008 as being any wondrous contributions to funk. And frankly? It just doesn’t seem like something a band of this caliber,whose members have been so responsible for key developments in funk based dance music in the last three decades,need to be at all concerned with. Aside from this,a decent album to get if you can still locate it inexpensively.

Adapted from my original Amazon.com review from December 13th,2014

Link to original review here!

 

 

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Filed under 2011, Amazon.com, Jellybean Johnson, Jerome Benton, Jesse Johnson, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Monte Moir, Morris Day, Music Reviewing, synth funk, Terry Lewis, The Time

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Fake” by Alexander O’Neal

Alexander O’Neal’s importance to the Minneapolis music scene of the 1980’s probably hasn’t been as documented as it should be. The Mississippi native migrated to the twin cities by age 20. During that time,he became a member of two bands who’d eventually come together through the late Prince Rogers Nelson to become The Time: Enterprise (of whom Morris Day was a member) and Flyte Tyme (first home of Jimmy Jam,Terry Lewis and Monte Moir). O’Neal was to have been The Time’s original lead singer. He and Prince didn’t seem to have gotten along. So he was dropped in favor of Morris Day.

What O’Neal did do,with the help of Jam & Lewis’s production,was to conceptualize the Minneapolis sound on a solo career he launched in 1985. Cherrelle’s 1985 album (on which O’Neal appeared as a duet partner on “Saturday Love”) and his own sophomore album Hearsay two years later both followed loose concepts revolving around romantic issues of the mid/late 80’s such as artifice and honesty. As far as O’Neal’s album went,one of the best examples of how this concept dovetailed so well into the funkiest of his music came with the 1987 UK hit single “Fake”.

A pounding,cymbal heavy,percussive drum machine starts out the song. A synth piano scale down gets right into the rest of the song. Another main rhythmic feature of the song comes in-a thick,brittle (and possibly double tracked) synth bass part. Over this is a sizzling synth string orchestration. A higher bass tone accents this on O’Neal’s vocal parts. On the brief bridges before the choruses,big melodic synth brass plays call and response to O’Neal’s vocals. The chorus and refrain both maintain the same similar backing even to the fade out of the song itself.

Friend Henrique Hopkins described this as being a type of funk that’s “punishing”. And that description fits extremely well. This is hardcore,cutting edge industrial funk of the highest order-similar to Janet Jackson’s “Nasty” only with an even thicker funk bump to it. Lyrically it goes well with the albums concept as O’Neal is attracted to a lady who does little more than put on series physical airs just to get attention. The song on the other hand makes no apologies for how funky it is. It manages to be stripped down and sonically dense all at the same time. And its probably my very favorite piece of funk from O’Neal.

 

 

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Filed under 1987, Alexander O'Neal, drum machines, Industrial funk, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, string synthesizer, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, The Time

Prince (Protege) Summer: “Chocolate” by The Time (1990)

The Time’s story was covered last month extremely well by my newest blogging partner Zach Hoskins. Today is the birthday of Jerome Benton. He has not only been a member of every lineup of The Time (including the Original7even) but was also part of The Family-the protege band of a protege band. The story of The Time itself is complex and intricate. But in 1989,they were planning a comeback with Prince for an album entitled  Corporate World. That album was never released. But The Time did actually make that comeback a year later with a reworked version of that album entitled Pandemonium.

Pandemonium, along with its newer songs,contained a number of tunes that had actually been recorded long ago. This kind of goes with Prince’s tendency in the year 1990 of dipping into his vault a great deal. One of these songs was recorded in the spring of 1983 for The Time’s Ice Cream Castles. It originally featured Prince playing all the instruments. But for this album,the song was reworked to feature some instrumental participation from the band members. Happily in any case,it was among the funkiest songs on the album as well. It was called “Chocolate”.

The sound of a car screeching to a halt,along with Morris Day’s trademark scream. Then the drum solo comes in-somewhat similar to The Jacksons “State Of Shock” in tone actually. After the first few beats,the 10 note bass line comes in. The main chorus of the song rushes in after that. This consist of fast paced synth brass interlocking  with a similarly paced,deep rhythm guitar. This strips down a bit for the refrains. For sections where Morris Day does some of his comic raps,a thick chicken scratch guitar takes over. Morris and the synth brass all come to their own halt again at the songs conclusion.

“Chocolate” is one of those funk jams where it is clearly out of the school of the synth brass heavy,stripped down funk sound of Prince’s early 80’s jams. Including the musical touches added by people such as guitarist Jesse Johnson,Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis,the reworked song really brings out how much,in a manner similar to “Housequake”,how much of a modern day James Brown funk sound it all is. In this one,the JB approach is even more overt overall. Still its the funky instrumental personality and The Time’s humor that really bring this song to life.

 

 

 

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Filed under 1990s, chicken scratch guitar, drums, Funk Bass, Jam & Lewis, Jerome Benton, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Morris Day, naked funk, Prince, rhythm guitar, synth brass, The Time

Prince (Protégé) Summer: The Family

thefamily

Unlike Sheila E., the Time, or even Vanity/Apollonia 6, the Family aren’t exactly household names (unless, that is, your household still has a subscription to the NPG Music Club). Among those in the know, however, their self-titled 1985 album is a buried gem. It’s certainly of interest to fans of the group’s svengali, Prince: with its mix of post-psychedelic whimsy, sweeping Classical Hollywood glamour, and organic jazz-flavored funk, it’s effectively the missing link between His Purple Majesty’s 1985-1986 albums Around the World in a Day and Parade.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the Family were born out of the Time‘s acrimonious mid-1984 split: Andre has aptly described them as the Led Zeppelin to the Time’s Yardbirds. With the majority of the band now fired or resigned, Prince retained drummer Jellybean Johnson and dancer/comedic foil Jerome Benton, promoting “St. Paul” Peterson, who had joined the group less than a year earlier on keyboards, to the role of co-lead singer. The other frontperson was none other than the twin sister of Revolution guitarist Wendy (and Prince’s then-fiancée), Susannah Melvoin. Finally, the lineup was rounded out with saxophonist Eric Leeds, with additional support by Sheila E.’s guitarist Miko Weaver.

Arguably the real star of the Family, however, was never actually part of the group–and, in fact, never even shared the same room with them. Prince had long been a fan of jazz keyboardist, composer, and arranger Clare Fischer: specifically, his more pop-oriented work with Chaka Khan and Rufus from the mid-to-late 1970s. And though they would share a fruitful partnership of their own throughout the rest of the ’80s and into the ’90s, it was The Family that marked their first-ever collaboration. Fischer’s orchestrations add a layer of musical sophistication to the album, particularly on slower, dreamier tracks like first single “The Screams of Passion” and the Bobby Z.-penned “River Run Dry.”

Elsewhere, more conventional funk tracks like “High Fashion” and “Mutiny” betray the Family’s origins in the Time; while two instrumentals co-written by Eric Leeds, “Yes” and “Susannah’s Pajamas,” prefigure Prince’s growing interest in jazz fusion, to be explored more thoroughly in side projects the Flesh and Madhouse. Today, probably the best-remembered track on the album is “Nothing Compares 2 U“: the original recording of the classic Prince ballad later made famous by Sinead O’Connor. I go back and forth on which version I prefer, but I can definitely say that the Family’s is the more “Prince-like”–and Fischer’s arrangement, of course, is gorgeous.

Even in the volatile world that was Paisley Park in the mid-’80s, the Family were especially short-lived. Sales for the album were weak compared to Prince’s other projects at the time–it reached only number 14 on the Billboard R&B chart, missing the “mainstream” charts entirely–and St. Paul chafed under Prince’s micro-management, opting to ditch the group for a solo career in late 1985. In the end, the original incarnation of the Family played only one live show, at Minneapolis‘ First Avenue in August of 1985. Perhaps that’s why, more than any of the other “spinoff” acts, the Family tends to be thought of more as an extension of Prince’s solo work than as a separate entity. Certainly, that’s a point of view Prince encouraged when he absorbed Susannah, Jerome, Eric, and Miko into an expanded version of the Revolution in 1986, even performing his own version of “Mutiny” onstage–not to mention reappropriating the group’s whole velvet-jacketed aesthetic for his film Under the Cherry Moon.

Still, like their evolutionary ancestors the Time, the Family would later return for a second act without Prince’s involvement. A one-off charity gig in late 2003 eventually blossomed into a full-blown reunion, as “fDeluxe,” in 2009; since then, they’ve released two studio albums, a disc of remixes, and a live recording from Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. The fDeluxe records obviously aren’t up to quite the same standard as The Family, but still well worth listening to for anyone who wants to hear more of their uniquely baroque take on the Minneapolis Sound. Most recently, like Sheila E., the Family/fDeluxe have found new vitality in the wake of their onetime mentor’s death: on May 4, 2016–exactly seven hours and thirteen days after Prince passed away–they reunited once again to record a new version of “Nothing Compares 2 U.”

Next week…well, to be honest I haven’t 100% made up my mind about what to tackle next week. It’s between Mazarati–more of a “Prince protégé protégé,” I suppose, but one with an interesting history–and Jill Jones. Any preferences out there? Let me know. And as always, you can see more of my writing on Prince at dance / music / sex / romance, and more of my writing in general at Dystopian Dance Party.

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Filed under 1980's, 1985, 1986, 2010's, 2016, Eric Leeds, Jerome Benton, Miko Weaver, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Paisley Park, Prince, Prince & The Revolution, Susannah Melvoin, The Time, Time, Uncategorized, Wendy Melvoin

Prince (Protegé) Summer: The Time

the_time_vinyl_front_cover

As an avowed fan of His Royal Badness and the tradition of silky, wet 1980s R&B he inspired, I was thrilled and honored to be asked to guest blog during the holiday season that is Prince Summer. Since Andre is covering the mainline Prince projects, however, I thought it would be best for me to fill in with some material on Prince’s extensive stable of side projects, from the 1980s to his untimely death in 2016. And where better to start on the Prince spinoff tip than with the greatest band in the world: the muthafuckin’ Time.

The Time were formed in early 1981 as an outlet for Prince’s more conventionally R&B-oriented material, after 1980’s Dirty Mind took his own music further in the direction of New Wave. His connection with several of the individual band members, however, goes back much further. Frontman Morris Day actually got his start as the drummer for Prince’s first band, Grand Central, while the pair were still in high school; they used to play in battles of the bands around Minneapolis in the mid-1970s with a rival act called Flyte Tyme, whose lineup included drummer Jellybean Johnson, keyboardist Monte Moir, and of course, future Minneapolis Sound architects Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on keys and bass, respectively. The Time, then, started life as a combination of the two older groups, with Flyte Tyme singer Alexander O’Neal on lead vocals–that is, until clashes with Prince led to O’Neal’s removal and Day’s promotion from behind the drums to the front of the band. Finally, Prince rounded out the group with the addition of lead guitarist Jesse Johnson, a recent transplant from Rock Island, Illinois.

the_time_vinyl_back_cover

It’s this lineup that would appear on the Time’s self-titled debut album–or at least, that’s what Prince wanted you to think. Production on the first Time album was credited to Morris Day and “Jamie Starr”: a mysterious figure who was, of course, none other than Prince himself. And he didn’t just produce the record, either: he largely wrote and performed it, using the same “one-man band” approach (with uncredited assists from his band members) as on his own solo records. His guide vocals are even clearly audible on songs like the opening track and lead single, “Get It Up.”

The Time was a commercial success for Prince (who, as the artist directly under contract with Warner Bros., pocketed the vast majority of the profits), and it helped to solidify Minneapolis’ standing as a new musical hotspot, even if it was still almost entirely through the efforts of one guy. For today’s listeners, though, it’s of interest mostly as a historical document. The aforementioned “Get It Up” is good: its lascivious lyrics, Oberheim OB-X synthesizer squeal, and borderline heavy metal guitar solos make it sound like the Controversy outtake it is. And other standout tracks, like followup single “Cool” and the Lisa Coleman-penned workout “The Stick,” laid the groundwork for Morris Day’s larger-than-life persona: a more cartoonish version of the gravel-voiced “pimp” character Prince would adopt while cutting up behind the scenes. But Morris’ singing voice was thin, especially on the slow numbers–“Girl,” inexplicably released as the third single, is just painful to listen to–and Prince still hadn’t hit on quite the right tone for his ghostwriting.

On stage, though, the Time were monsters–which of course resulted in tension when Prince took them on as the opening act for his Controversy tour in late 1981 and early 1982. By hiring some of the best musicians in the Twin Cities as a ghost band, then feeding them deliberately crowd-pleasing material, Prince effectively created his own competition; and by paying the band a pittance of a salary and severely limiting their creative control, he bred resentment and a desire for the puppets to upstage their puppetmaster. These tensions ultimately came to a head on the last date of the tour in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Prince and his band threw eggs at the Time during their opening set, then handcuffed Jesse to a coat rack and pelted him with Doritos. Later, after Prince left the stage, the Time retaliated, and a food fight raged all the way back to the hotel. All in good fun, I suppose–until Prince billed the damage to Morris, claiming that he’d started the whole thing.

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Shenanigans aside, Prince recorded another Time album, What Time Is It?, in early 1982, Morris once again replicating his guide vocals with exacting precision. Andre already posted about this one back in 2014, so I won’t dwell too much on it, but suffice to say that if you only listen to one Time record, this is the one to hear. The grooves are skin-tight, the comedy is on point–hell, Morris even figured out how to sing a ballad (see: “Gigolos Get Lonely Too“). But on the ensuing “Triple Threat” tour with Prince and Vanity 6, the rivalry from the previous jaunt continued unabated. This time, tensions flared after Jam and Lewis, who had been producing a few tracks for SOLAR Records on the side, missed a date in San Antonio after being grounded by a blizzard during sessions with the Atlanta-based S.O.S. Band. Prince scrambled to cover for their absence, drafting Lisa to fill in for Jam on keyboards and having auxiliary Time member Jerome Benton mime on stage while he played Terry’s bass parts from behind the curtain. When the duo finally caught up with the rest of the tour, Prince docked their pay, then fired them entirely; Monte Moir also departed in their wake.

The result of all this turmoil was a strange irony: the Time were in shambles, at the very same moment that they were poised for their greatest success. 1984’s Ice Cream Castle, recorded to dovetail with the group’s appearance in Prince’s breakout feature film Purple Rain, was another middling record, but its breakout hits “Jungle Love” (see above) and “The Bird” introduced them to a massive crossover audience. Ultimately, however, it was too late: Morris took off for a solo career soon after the release of the film, leaving Prince to tour for Purple Rain accompanied only by the Revolution, his costar Apollonia, and his newest protegée, Sheila E.

Each of the former members of the Time stayed active in the ensuing years. Jerome, Jellybean, and St. Paul Peterson (Jimmy Jam’s replacement) formed the core of yet another short-lived Prince project, the Family (more on them later). Morris pursued music and acting, both to mixed results. Jesse released a few well-regarded solo albums, to modest commercial success. Jam and Lewis, who frequently retained Moir as a collaborator, had the best run of them all–their former mentor arguably included, as their production of Janet Jackson‘s Control managed to keep Prince and the Revolution‘s Parade off the top spot of the charts in 1986.

By the end of the decade, however, a reunion was brewing. Prince recorded a full “Time” album with just Morris and Jerome in 1989, to be released under the title Corporate World. Warner, however, wanted the full lineup involved; so the album was cancelled, and Morris, Jerome, Jam, Lewis, Jesse, Jellybean, and Moir all reunited to costar in Prince’s ill-fated 1990 sequel to Purple RainGraffiti Bridge (see above). In other words, W.B., be careful what you wish for.

Thankfully, 1990 also saw the release of the band’s much-better album Pandemonium, which combined re-recorded leftovers from Corporate World with resurrected ’80s outtakes like “Chocolate” and “Jerk Out” (see above). The record is a little overstuffed–at 11 tracks not including skits, it’s almost twice the length of any previous Time album–but it’s probably their most satisfying since What Time Is It? Unfortunately, the bonhomie didn’t last, and the group disbanded again shortly after.

And with that, we’ve reached the end of the Time’s official recorded tenure; the group has had an impressive afterlife, however, with Morris, Jerome, Moir, and Jellybean still touring as “Morris Day and the Time” to this day. The original lineup also reunited again in 2011–albeit billed as “the Original 7ven,” due to Prince’s strict control over the “Time” name–for a fun, well-received album called Condensate. Some of the material is unquestionably hokey (was anyone really clamoring for a Time song with a hashtag in the title?), but it’s nevertheless a strong argument that after 30-plus years in the game, the Time’s irrepressible charm remains intact.

There’s a deeper reason, too, why the Time remain arguably the most highly-regarded of Prince’s various side projects. Their rivalry with Prince, both in real life and as dramatized in Purple Rain (we won’t speak any more of Graffiti Bridge), stands as a potent symbol of one of the defining tensions of the Purple One’s career, between humble generosity and iron-fisted tyranny. Prince was more than happy to help his brothers out with a slice of his success–just as long as it was on his terms and they didn’t step on his toes. But the group Prince once described as “the only band that I was afraid of” stepped on his toes with aplomb, all while looking sharp in their Stacy Adams. So let’s hear it for the Time: the original seven lunatics who ended up running the asylum. Like a great man once said: “The Wright Brothers can’t fuck with that.”

I’ll be back next Saturday with a post on the second big project from “Jamie Starr”: the delightfully campy Vanity 6. In the meantime, for more of me blathering about Prince protegés, check out the podcast I recorded for my blog Dystopian Dance Party last month. And of course, come back during the week as Andre resumes his regularly-scheduled programming.

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Filed under 1980's, 1990s, 2010's, Apollonia, Jerome Benton, Jesse Johson, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Lisa Coleman, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Morris Day, Prince, Purple Rain, Sheila E., Solar Records, The Time, Vanity, Warner Bros.

Prince Day 2016: Prince In The 1990’s

Prince In The 90's

Prince’s musical output during the 1990’s represented a complex period for him. Personally,these albums were his newest statements when myself and other members of the late 70’s/early 80’s born age group were really beginning to explore Prince as teenagers. Heard many of his songs on the radio and in videos over the years. But it was during the middle of the 90’s that I began going back and listening to his albums all the way from the beginning to his newest releases of the era. As with most things that came from the 1990’s,it was a soul searching period where Prince was reinventing his identity.

When Prince changed his name to O(+> in 1993,he was the butt of jokes and accusations of going over the edge. Even I did my share of giggling more or less over how it was portrayed by the media. Of course today as a grown adult dealing with the difficulties creative must face myself, it has become clear that what Prince was doing in the mid 90’s was no joke. As he explained to Tavis Smiley in 1998, he had come to see more of the word “con” in contract. That they allowed for a musician essentially  to be a type of slave to a middle man who peddled their musical wares like watches from a trench coat.

Not that Prince ever mentioned anything specifically about watches or trench coats. But he did write “Slave” across his face during this time. His reason for changing his name had to do with his real name Prince being “owned” by Warner Bros. And since they weren’t allowing him to release his massive volume of music as he wished,he needed an outlet to do that. He began putting together a new label imprint in NPG Records-eventually recording artists like Chaka Khan and Larry Graham without the use of any recording contracts. This actually put him on the cutting edge of truly indie music.

Prince released nine official studio albums during the 90’s decade. The deal he had with Warner’s at the time specified that albums credited to the name Prince could only consist of music from his vault of unreleased music. In all honesty,I don’t feel the albums credited to the O(+> were as consistently strong as what he’d done in the 80’s. In terms of full length albums,it’s interesting his 90’s output that I prefer were the ones under his own name. So here is a look back at my four favorite Prince albums that came out during his second full decade as a recording artist.

Graffiti Bridge/1990

This soundtrack to his third and final motion picture is somewhat of a revue of some of the artists signed to Paisley Park and/or working with Prince at the time. Of them the young singer Tevin Campbell got a big hit from the song “Round And Round”. A couple of my favorite numbers on here come from The Time in the frenetic funky drumming of “Release It” and the brittle rock ‘n soul of “Shake”. As for Prince,it has his epic pop rocker “Thieves In The Temple”,the electronic blues of “The Question Of U” and the slamming funk of “New Power Generation”

The Love Symbol Album/1992

Personally I feel this album really put the funk/house/hip-hop hybrid of Diamonds And Pearls into fuller focus. It has the Hi NRG hip-hop opener of “My Name Is Prince”-as well as the James Brown funk jam “Sexy MF”.  “7” really mixes his mid 80’s psychedelic touches into a trance like modern funk/rock sound. “The Sacrifice Of Victor” mixes early 90’s funk with a potent post Rodney King racial consciousness and he even brings in some reggae for “Blue Light”. The flow of the entire album makes it likely the most consistent of his early albums with the New Power Generation.

Come/1994

When I first read about this album,it was actually Prince’s newest at the time. And it was described as a record he did solely to fulfill a contract. Listening to it recently,it’s actually one of his most adventurous albums for the time. The title track and “Letitgo” explore his raw sexuality through some horn heavy jazz hip-hop/funk. “Loose” throws down some intense industrial dance rock while the psychedelic soul/funk of “Papa” frankly discusses the ineffectiveness of child abuse. In a way,it almost sounds and looks like an album where Prince is seeking to shed every element of himself in favor of his new persona.

The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale/1999

According to the liner notes,these songs were written between 1985 and 1994. And that Prince and the NPG recorded them on the latter end of that period “4 personal use only”. On a personal level,this comes across as Prince’s most consistently strong album from the 90’s. It has a very strong live band flavor not dissimilar to his latest release Hitnrun Phase II-with club friendly jazz/funk jams like “It’s About The Walk”,”Extraordinary”,the title song and of course “She Spoke 2 Me” really showcasing Prince more as a bandleader and less as a puppet master.

One of the overriding themes I’ve been discussing with my friend Henrique Hopkins lately is how significant Prince was to keeping the funk alive in the 1980’s. To turn a phrase, Prince did spend much of the 1990’s looking to catch up with newer artists such as D’Angelo who’s greatest achievement at the time would likely be to catch up with Prince. A lot of this had to do with Prince’s rhythms. During his 80’s heyday,he could take the Linn drum and throw down jazz and Afro Latin rhythms on songs like Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl” and The Time’s “777-9311”.

While the 1990’s soul/funk/R&B scene became influenced by the drum programming Prince pioneered,it wasn’t quite the same. A lot of producers of the early/mid 90’s simply didn’t bring the excitement or drama out of the drum machine as Prince once had-opting for a more formulaic shuffle.  When Prince followed that formula on the drum machine,his rhythms also began to sag. However Prince did use some of the newer ideas that derived from his sound to re-invent himself. And allow for him to remain prolific and maintain his creative longevity for what would turn out to be his final two decades.

 

 

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Filed under 1990s, drum machines, Funk, hip-hop jazz, jazz funk, New Powe Generation, NPG Records, Prince, psychedelic soul, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, The Time, Warner Bros.

Anatomy of THE Groove: “She Won’t Let Go” by Jesse Johnson’s Revue

Jesse Johnson has had been a major, if often commercial underrated, contributer to the modern funk age. From the mid 1980’s to the present day. His career arc has taken him from the Prince-derived funk band The Time to his current gig playing with D’Angelo’s band The Vanguard. No irony is lost that D’Angelo is an artist often mentioned in terms of carrying on Prince’s musical legacy now that Mr.Nelson is no longer with us. Johnson has also had a sporadic solo career over the years as well. Yet there was also his first group after leaving The Time who were vital to him getting his own groove on.

The Rock Island,Illinois native began playing guitar at 15. After moving to Minneapolis,he became a member of Morris Day’s first group Enterprise before becoming the lead guitarist in The Time. Seemingly frustrated over Prince’s lack of interest about his creative input in the group,Johnson left The Time after 1984. He signed to A&M as a solo artist. And took second tier Time members Mark Cardenas and bassist Gerry Hubbard with him-along with several others to his new band called the Jesse Johnson Revue. My favorite track on their self titled 1985 debut was called “She Won’t Let Go”.

The sound of low church bells begin the song before Bobby Vandell’s drum kick comes in with a revving synth bass. Vandell keeps the hefty rhythm going with a steady,brittle and funkified shuffle throughout the song. There are three main synthesizer parts. One is a quavering one that simulates the bell at the start of the song,on is a deep pulsing synth bass,and the other are  Minneapolis style synth brass charts playing the changes. On the bridge of the song,Vandell’s drumming leaves more space between the beats for Jesse’s chicken scratch rhythm guitar to solo before the song fades out on it’s main chorus.

To me anyway,this song is a standout Jesse Johnson solo number because it extends on the direction he was taking  on The Time’s “Jungle Love”. This song has the trademarks of the Minneapolis sound-with the heavy use of synth brass and bass. But the sound is far busier than the lean,stripped down sound Prince pioneered earlier. So it showcased purple funk as something evolving into a bigger and more dramatic synth/electro funk sound. Jesse’s guitar playing also has a lower,more aggressive sound to it. So this song is one of many songs that represent Jesse Johnson’s contributions to the evolution of twin city funk.

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Filed under 1985, A&M Records, Bobby Vandell, chicken scratch guitar, drums, elecro funk, Gerry Hubbard, Jesse Johnson, Jesse Johnson's Revue, Mark Cardenas, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Prince, synth bass, synth brass, synth funk, synthesizers, The Time