Jam & Lewis: Flyte of Fantasy Part II

Jeff Lorez continues his in-depth report on the tenth anniversary of Jam & Lewis’s Flyte Tyme Productions.

JIMMY AND TERRY’S initial inroads into outside writing and production were temporarily called to a halt as the Time geared up for their second US tour behind the What Time Is It album in ’82. The tour line up featured Prince as the headliner supporting his groundbreaking 1999 album and Prince’s offshoot sex kittens, Vanity 6, as the opening act. “The Vanity 6 thing was interesting because we basically were their back-up band,” remembered Jimmy. “The original idea was that we were gonna wear disguises as their band. The problem was that the disguises were so wild that the management said we were taking all the attention away from the girls! Jesse used to wear this big beard and have a bottle of whiskey like a drunk and he’d talk with an Arabic accent! It was ludicrous! I had this big, long George Clinton wig. In the end the management put a big curtain behind Vanity 6 as a backdrop so it was like watching a track show.

“We were on the road for the same time period as the last tour — November to April — and this tour was even more organised than the last one. We got a whopping raise to $250 a week! The money was still the downside. But I must say Prince and his management really had their act together with the general treatment we got and the organisation of the tour.

“Tennessee was our opening date for the tour. By this time we’d already done ‘Wild Girls’ for Kylmaxx and Prince had heard the track before it came out and liked it. He sat at his board and turned it up and said, “This could be a hit”. I remember that was his only critique of it. Anyway, we’re in Tennessee and Billboard magazine comes out and it’s like a scene from a movie because me and Terry were running around trying to hide all the Billboards so no-one could see the Klymaxx record had charted. The first week the record came out it charted at no. 83 then it went down the charts from there, so any flack that could have arisen just faded away because the record was such a big flop.

“That’s when we began to learn about record company politics. That Klymaxx record came out at a time when Solar was switching distribution from RCA to Elektra and it wasn’t a smooth transition. There were albums by Shalamar, the Whispers and Lakeside that also got lost in the shuffle. A lot of people are under the perception that the first thing we did was ‘Just Be Good To Me’by the S.O.S. Band and it’s been “Boom!” ever since. ‘Wild Girls’ was a flop. The Reel To Real record which came out after that, ‘Can You Treat Me Like She Does’, never charted and we had another song on the Real To Reel album and that album never even came out.

“We also did a couple of local 12″‘s in LA. One was called ‘Cold Wind Madness’ which Ice-T rapped on. Then we did ‘Bad Times, I Can’t Stand It’ by Captain Rap which is something of a fixture in LA. It’s probably the biggest record we did that never charted and that we never got paid for. We made all the errors people make when they’re hungry and trying to get started.”

DESPITE PLAYING in bands for the majority of their lives Jimmy openly admitted that the transition from players to producers wasn’t at all as smooth as some people may have imagined it to be. “We really faked our way through our first productions! We had this engineer called Tavi Mote who really helped us. We’d turn on the drum machine and come up with a pattern and we’d tell him to hook it up. He’d say, “okay, I usually run the bass drum through a limiter”. We’d say, “urrr… yeah… we do that too”. I mean we didn’t know nuthin’! So we faked our way through.

“I think we had good instincts but technically we didn’t know what we were doing. The little we did know came from watching Leon and Prince in the studio and seeing how opposite they were in their approaches and how both approaches worked.

“When we were on tour we’d written ‘High Hopes’ for the S.O.S. Band. We didn’t produce it, Leon did — and he produced it very close to our original demo which was kind of stiff because of the limitations of our little Casio keyboard. I remember we had a two week break from the tour in January of ’83 when we were gonna do some TV shows like Soul Train and American Bandstand. While we were in LA Dina Andrews hooked up a meeting with Clarence Avant (head of Tabu Records). He told us he really liked ‘High Hopes’ and asked us what we would have done differently if we would have produced it. I told him we would have put the chilli sauce on it, He goes, “Chilli Sauce? (laughs). I like that. Y’all wanna produce two songs on the S.O.S. Band?!”

Although still in their early 20s, I pointed out to Jimmy that the lyrics of ‘High Hopes’ showed a certain amount of maturity — especially as it deals with the breakdown of a marriage.

“I think at that point in our lives me and Terry were both romantic people. I know I was. I was a total romantic. I still am but back then I was always falling in love. I came up with the chorus of the song and Terry took the whole thing from there. I think we’d done quite a lot of living by that point.

“We rejoined The Time tour again and went to New York in February of ’83. The next date four days later was going to be San Antonio, Texas. We thought we could use those four days to go to Atlanta and get the S.O.S. Band thing done. The two songs we’d written were ‘Just Be Good To Me’ and ‘For Your Love’. We just went down there and whipped those songs so fast! People made a big deal of the drums on ‘Just Be Good To Me’, but the only reason I used an 808 drum machine was because it was there in the studio! It was no great decision on my part.”

AN UNDOUBTED feaure that earmarked all Jimmy and Terry’s work with the S.O.S. Band was the way they managed to combine punchy, funky grooves, often ground-breaking for the time, with impressive layers of musicality on top. The epic feel and arrangement of ‘Just Be Good To Me’ certainly separates it from much of the other dance music that was being made at the time.

“Ever since me and Terry started writing, my ideal song has always been one that’s very funky on the bottom but very textured and pretty and melodic on top. That’s why I like the things that people like Simon Law, Loose Ends and Soul II Soul have done. I love that Chante Moore record Simon did and the stuff we did early on with the S.O.S. Band I think was in that vein, too. ‘Just Be Good To Me’ really grew in terms of being dramatic because we were taking a song that we’d demo-ed on a four track with a little Casio keyboard to 48 tracks, so we wanted to fill the sound up. It’s mostly a lot of layers of keyboards.

“There are two basslines on that song. There’s one which is dominant and kind of plods and a looser draggier thing underneath to make the bottom fatter. There’s also a lot of room to breathe on there because the 808 drums are very crisp and tight. Another key element in ‘Just Be Good To Me’ is the organ that’s there. The S.O.S. Band’s organ player, Jason Bryant, who we used to call Pimp Daddy, gave the song a whole new dimension. It’s one of the few songs I wrote lyrics for and I remember thinking it would never work because the verses were too long and there was a third verse, too.”

‘Just Be Good To Be’ really was a key indicator of Jam and Lewis’s emerging sound. At the time of release it really stood apart from most other R&B dance music, both in it’s dramatic feel and in the actual arrangement of the piece.

“We never wrote songs with traditional R&B type arrangements”, explained Jimmy when I asked him about the musical progressions and chords he tends to favour. “I was always into pretty Isley type major chords, all the Gamble and Huff stuff and Blue Magic. I wanted those type of chords but with a funky bottom end. That’s where Terry came in because he was the funk guy. I had an idea of what I thought was funky but Terry knew how to make things really funky.”

The recording of ‘Just Be Good To Me’ was significant for the two up-and-coming super producers. It marked their first major success together and also signalled the beginning of the end of their days with The Time.

“This was when we got caught up in that famous snowstorm. I remember we had a rentacar in Atlanta. We’d stayed all night in the studio and we drove to the airport, which, if you’ve ever been to Atlanta airport, is like four airports in one. There are four separate terminals and you need to take a train to get to each one, so we left in plenty of time to make sure we’d get our plane.

“I told you the story about Terry playing a gig with his head bandaged up. Well the fact that we never miss gigs was a real source of pride to us. When the snow started falling and they started cancelling flights, to this day I don’t remember feeling as bad as I did at that time. We were so helpless, running up and down from terminal to terminal trying to get on any plane. Then when we realised we weren’t gonna make it… man, that was horrible.

“We finally got on a plane and got into San Antonio late, around ten or eleven at night. Of course the gig was over. We sneaked into the hotel and Terry ran into ‘Bean and asked him what happened. Bean said, “Oh we did the gig. Jerome stood where Terry does and just danced and we made it work”. I’ve seen a video of that gig and it was actually pretty good. Prince obviously knew the show, so he played bass from backstage and on the video you can see he’s having the time of his life with the bass turned up real loud. Between Lisa and Matt Fink they figured out the keyboard parts.

“We felt so bad at the hotel that night, though. Terry just stayed in his room and some of the band were going to this club, so I said I’d go with them. When I got there everyone kept coming up to me and saying how great the show was. That made me feel even worse, so I just left and went back to the hotel. At that point me and Terry thought ‘we’re history!’. When Prince found out we’d missed the gig because we were in Atlanta he just laughed and said, ‘see — that’s what you guys get for running off!’ He fined us $3000 each which, considering we were making so little money, really hurt. Basically the incident blew over until about a month later when Billboard ran a picture of us and the S.O.S. Band which had a caption saying we were in Atlanta cutting tracks with them. Then the shit hit the fan, but it was still kept from us. The ironic thing was that Prince thought we’d gone to Atlanta to see some girls and he was cool with that! When he found out we’d gone to work with the S.O.S. Band that was the beginning of the end”.

STILL OBLIVIOUS to Prince’s fury, Jimmy and Terry finished out the Time tour, before going out to LA to complete the S.O.S. Band project. “We had to mix ‘Just Be Good To Me’ so we hired Larabee studio and hired Steve Hodge as the engineer because he’d mixed all Leon’s stuff. Later that day, just as we were about to go to the studio, we get a call telling us to meet Prince at Sunset Sound in LA. We thought ‘O.K., cool — that means we’re getting ready to start the next Time record’. Prince called us into this little lounge and Jesse and Morris were there. Prince basically said, ‘I told you guys how I felt about you doing the outside production and I realise that’s what you wanna do so I feel at this time it’s best to part ways’. Then he said ‘Is there anything you wanna say?’ I said , ‘Nope’ and walked out the room. Terry hung around for about a minute and then left.

“I think the person who felt much worse than me and Terry, I guarantee, you was Morris. Morris felt that The Time was his band and we were all very close. We loved Morris. He’d always been so fair and honest with us. There was a lot of mutual love. Terry and Morris had a real closeness because they both led the band together. Morris really depended on Terry a lot to help him out. I know for a fact that Morris ended up having some personal problems because of that meeting.

“After that Morris disappeared for two months. No one could get hold of him or knew where he was. He had a serious depression over it. I remember he said that after that meeting he felt like his band had become like a hotel with revolving doors with people just walking in and out, and he never wanted that.

“Prince and Jesse went out that night and Prince’s comment was, ‘We’ll see how they like that — being out of the band’. For us The Time was our priority — no question. I mean, we had Steve Hodge sitting at Larabee with an S.O.S. Band tape and Prince was at Sunset Sound calling us about The Time. There wasn’t even a question in our minds where we’d go.”

However, a revelation about Jimmy and Terry’s firing from The Time that I had never been made aware of was that the whole thing turned out to be a huge bluff on Prince’s part — a bluff that eventually back-fired on him!

“The weird thing about it was that, even after we’d gotten fired, we were still getting our pay cheques! We didn’t say anything because, hey, we needed the money. The way we found out it was a bluff and we weren’t really fired was because we went to this Whispers concert and this guy, Lee Bailey, who does a radio show in the US, shoves a microphone in my face and says, ‘I understand you guys have been fired from The Time. What’s the bottom line?’ Of course I say, ‘Who are you? — no comment’. Every week we’ve been going to the accountant to get our pay cheques. One week he says he can’t give us our cheques because he heard on the radio we’d been fired! I said, ‘you heard on the radio!… we’ve been fired for two months and no one told you?

“After the bluff blew up, Prince had Jellybean call. He wanted Terry back but not me. They were just getting ready to do Purple Rain. I said to Terry he ought to go and be in the movie. He just said, ‘No way. It’s me and Jimmy and we’re doing our own thing’.”

Despite these revelations and Prince’s treatment of the two, especially Jimmy, he refuses to utter one bad word about his former musical mentor and is able to view the whole thing with the type of detached, philosophical approach which at times seemed quite remarkable.

“Like I said, now I totally understand the way he felt. He had basically given us our chance and he felt he could handle our careers because he knew a lot more than us. We were still kids in a lot of ways. Prince was like our dad. He was nurturing us and it was like me and Terry were the two bad seeds. So Prince was like, ‘Well, if that’s the way you feel, you’re not gonna disrupt my family. I want discipline in my family and I want my business handled my way because it’s my shit’. He was absolutely right. You see, I’m in a position like Prince now where I employ people and I’m like their dad. I have to try to keep them from making the wrong decisions. I can totally relate to what Prince must have felt. I can’t comment on how he handled it, though.

“As far as I personally am concerned, there are some people you really get along with and others you don’t. It’s nothing personal. It’s just because your personalities are so different. Myself and Prince were never really close as in hangin’ buddies the way me and Terry are. We had certain things in common, but generally, I think he put up with me. When the original Time was formed he didn’t want me to be the keyboard player in the band and it was Morris who insisted on me. Then just two weeks into The Time thing we had an episode when we were both going after the same woman, so we didn’t get off to the best of starts!

“I’ve always had a lot of respect for him. I love the fuck out of him. To me he’s the best, ever. I don’t have an ounce of any negative feeling towards him. I think Prince respects my opinion and that’s all I want. I mean we’ve talked and he asks me things.

“The thing about Prince is that he leads by example. After all the success he’s had he still works like a madman. It’s easy to sit back once you’ve had some success. I see a lot of young acts who haven’t made it not prepared to put in the work he does. That kind of commitment demands respect and he expects people around him to work as hard as he does… and rightly so.”

AT THE TIME of being fired from The Time, Jimmy and Terry weren’t able to view the whole incident with the type of divorced perspective they do now. With precious little in the way of money and future work by no means guaranteed, the S.O.S. Band project now took on a whole new level of importance.

“Going back to that night we were fired, we picked ourselves up and went over to Larabee for the session. Steve (Hodge) said, ‘What’s wrong with you guys?’ we told him we’d just got fired from The Time. He said, ‘I wouldn’t worry too much about it, because you got a smash, here.’ We hoped we had something for our sakes because it was serious now. It was no longer a hobby on the side. We had to make a living from this.

“All the time we had the rough versions of ‘Just Be Good To Me’, we wanted to play them to Clarence but he always said, ‘I’ll hear it when you’ve finished it’. We were so fortunate he, Dick Griffey and Leon all gave us the freedom to be ourselves. That shaped our philosophy about the way we treat our producers now. We let them be creative. After we did ‘Just Be Good to Me’ Clarence told us to go in and remix it and make it sound more raw. Steve did that by EQing the bottom end differently. He knew exactly what Clarence meant. We’ve learned so much from Steve over the years about mixing.

“Clarence was really happy with the record and asked us if we wanted to do two more songs. We said, ‘Sure’ and went back down to Atlanta. One of the songs we did was ‘Tell Me If You Still Care’, which, again, was very Isleys-influenced — very, ‘Footsteps In The Dark’. That song was going so well that we didn’t end up doing another one because we thought that was all the album needed. Of course we needed Clarence’s permission, so we ended up calling him at two in the morning to get it!”

‘Just Be Good To Me’, an undoubted turning point in Jimmy and Terry’s career, was also the song that started to finally earn them serious recognition within the industry.

“The buzz on the S.O.S. Band even before it was really a hit was huge. All the executives at CBS loved it. That was so exciting for us. After that Clarence hooked us up with Cherrelle (for her debut album, Fragile, containing the hit ‘I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On’) and Dina (Andrews) hooked us up with Cheryl Lynn.

With notoriety on the increase, Jimmy remembered a particularly funny birthday party he had around this time.

“By this this point we’d moved out of the little room we had with those people and were living in a three bedroom apartment with Dina Andrews. Dina and Terry threw a surprise party at the apartment which I didn’t know anything about. We’d gone to the studio that day and worked ’til around six in the evening. This was in June ’83. I walked in the door and everyone said, ‘Surprise!’ The party went on ’til four or five in the morning.

“It was this tiny ghetto apartment and it was really star-studded. I’m the type of guy who when he has to dress up, likes to dress smart, but when I’m at home the first thing I do is get out of my clothes. So as soon as I got home I put on my bath robe and I’m walking around the apartment in my bath robe and there’s this photographer from Black Beat magazine there taking pictures of me in a bath robe with Jody Watley! They got published. Man, they were some funny ass pictures! I mean everyone was there, too — Reggie Andrews from the Dazz Band, Howard Hewett, Leon.”

WITH THE projects now rolling in and Jimmy and Terry writing new material every day, they found themselves having to make a conscious effort not to repeat themselves musically in an attempt to give each artist their own individuality.

“We always look at the artists like we’re fans of theirs. When we got asked to do Cheryl Lynn, I remembered back to when I was a DJ and used to play her records. So we thought, ‘Okay, what’s the fantasy Cheryl Lynn record we’d like to hear. We knew it had to be really funky. ‘Encore’ was totally different from the S.O.S. Band, especially with the drums. She was a really fun person to work with.

“Next up we did the Change project which was weird. We really loved ‘Glow Of Love’ and their old stuff and we felt we knew exactly what would work for them. We were told before hand that their manager was a shady guy and we should be sure to get our money upfront. We did the album in Modena, Italy where they make Ferraris. The villa we stayed in had a recording studio built into it with cooks and the whole thing. We actually finished the album a week before we had to but the airline ticket we had to take us back to the States was booked for a week later and as we didn’t have any credit cards or anything, or any real money to speak of at that point, we couldn’t change ourflights so we were in other people’s hands. There was an airline strike the day before we were meant to fly back, so we missed the plane and got kicked out of the hotel. Terry was over there with his now ex-wife who was pregnant at the time. It was a complete mess!

The complications of the Change project also signaled the decision to return to Minneapolis for future writing/production work.

“We actually cut the track ‘Change Of Heart’ in Italy but we didn’t do any vocals on that there. The plan was we’d go to New York to do the vocals. We started out doing some vocals in New York. We had been booked into this hotel which was like $150 a night and we were meant to be watching the budgets! We proposed to bring the whole group to Minneapolis for cheaper than it was for us two to be in New York. Plus, we felt the vibe would be a lot cooler. We worked out of that studio in the basement, Creation Audio which had now expanded to a 24 track. We also did Cherrelle and Thelma Houston there. This was around ’83/84.

“We did go back to New York to mix the Change record, though. We used a guy called Michael Brauer who did a lot of the early Luther Vandross stuff to capture that old Change sound. We really wanted to capture the same staccato vocal thing they did with those classy tracks. Change had a great guitar player, this guy Mike who I’ve seen on the road with BBD, Chaka Khan, Freddie Jackson and then there was the bass player, Timmy Allen, who just did the Hi-Five song, ‘She’s Playing Hard To Get’. Ironically I came up with the bass line on the song, ‘You Are My melody’ and I remember he stayed up all night trying to learn that part.

“Looking back, that was a fun album to make. We did get stiffed. We didn’t get paid by the manager of the group… and a few years later they found him dead at the bottom of the ocean, so, hey, what can I say? We’d been warned he was shady. He gave us a cheque and it bounced so we ended up borrowing money from Terry’s sister to pay the hotel bill! Those were some very lean times but we were doing what we loved to do and that made it worthwhile.”

“After the success of the S.O.S. Band everyone wanted a song like ‘Just Be Good To Me’ and we had to say, ‘no we won’t do the same thing’. With ‘Change Of Heart’ the drum track is similar to ‘Just Be Good To Me’, though because that worked with that track and was something they really wanted. Over the top we did everything entirely different.

“In ’84 we started work on the next S.O.S. Band album in Atlanta with ‘No One’s Gonna Love You’ and ‘Weekend Girl’, which again is a very Isley Brothers type song. By this time people had started to offer us deals to form a band again. It was crazy. Everyone kept asking what our concept was and we told ’em we didn’t have one. When we said that, the prices started to go up!

“We’d really begun to get some clout by now. That’s how we ended up with a project that never happened called the Secret. It stemmed from all those people bidding on something they hadn’t heard, but everyone thought everyone else had heard it. It was ridiculous. It really enlightened us about the business — that everyone wants what someone else has got. We ended up doing a deal with Tabu and Clarence who said, Y’all can go where you want, but here’s my offer and it’s a fair one — take it or leave it.’ In the end we took it because we wanted to be in business with him. It was half what everyone else was offering, too. We never cut the record, though, because we didn’t have time.”

DESPITE THEIR in-demand status and growing acclaim, not everything Jimmy and Terry touched turned to gold… let alone platinum. “Thelma Houston wasn’t a hit, but it was a lot of fun. Then the follow-up for Cheryl Lynn, ‘Fidelity’, which was basically an ‘Encore’, Pt. II, didn’t work. We continued to work out of Creation Audio and did Howard Johnson for A&M. We hooked up with John McClain over there who was bidding for the Secret. We did four songs on his album.

“A really great project from that time was the Patti Austin ‘Heat Of Heat’ one. She came to town and I told her we had three songs for her. She said, ‘Fine. I need three days!’. I said, okay Patti, whatever you say, thinking no way could she do that. Into the second day she was totally done! After the first day she sang so much we ran out of ideas. The other thing about working for Patti that was so cool was that it was for Quincy’s label. Bearing that in mind, we wanted to do something Quincy would be proud of and something that would match up to Patti’s standards, so we used real strings for ‘Heat Of Heat’. Terry came up with that great bassline and Monte (Moir) came up with those jazz chords. We gave the string arrangements to this guy, Lee Blaskey.

“I think that song has been the biggest solo single of her career. We’d love to work with Patti again because she’s just so good. Some people deserve more success than they have. She’s too talented for her own good! We really wanted to knock Quincy out with that project and I think we did because he called us up and told us how much he liked it. That, was the ultimate compliment.”

MOVING INTO ’85, Jimmy and Terry logically decided to build their own studio. At first they considered a partnership with Creation Audio, but it was their accountant who pointed out that it didn’t make much sense to be partners when they had the resources to own their own set-up.

“We moved into our own studio and did ‘Tender Love’ (from the film Krush Groove which starred Sheila E, amongst others) for the Force MD’s as a demo,” remembered Jimmy. “We cut it with this out-of-tune electric grand with the intention of going back and putting a really good sounding piano on it. That never happened. It basically stayed in the same form as when we demoed it. We got a Mirage keyboard to do strings on it and if you listen to the strings on it they’re out of key with the piano. That was our first top 10 pop record! The next project we had lined up was Cherrelle’s High Priority album.”

It was an album that not only saw Jimmy and Terry forced into engineering their work, because of disagreements with their previous engineer whom they hired from Creation Audio, but also contained one of their biggest UK club/chart hits.

“I came up with the idea for ‘Saturday Love’ at home on my little Yamaha Electric Grand. I remember being really embarrassed to sing the chorus to Terry because it was like something off Sesame Street! I mean it was just the days of the week. Terry was cool with it, though. The funny thing is that the first and second verse of that song are the same but just sung different. We never seriously thought it would be a single, but when the album came out everyone said ‘Saturday Love’ was the song — even, though ‘You Look To Me’ was the first single.

“After ‘Saturday Love’ was released because of the way the release schedules worked we ended up having a lot of hits on the charts at the same time. People began to call us “hot” producers — which is my least favourite saying because it implies you’re a flash in the pan and one day you’ll cool off. We’d prefer to be thought of as consistently warm!

Like it or not, though, I don’t think there could be any disputing how hot Jimmy and Terry were and, in fact, still are. Contrary to what the term may imply, their heat has yet to cool off. A flash-in-the-pan type of success is usually so brief because it’s not backed up by any depth of talent. However, where Jam and Lewis are concerned, their success has continued for a decade because of the fact that they are, indisputably, talented. In ’85/86 they were about to embark on a project that would increase their heat yet again.

“John McClain from A&M came to us with another female vocalist… not her, though (Jimmy motioned to the room behind him where Janet Jackson was chilling out with her friends). For some reason, that singer didn’t want to work with us. John was really apologetic and asked us if there was anyone else on his roster we’d like to work with. The one who really intrigued us was Janet. John asked us if we wanted to do four songs on the album and we said, no — we wanna do the whole album. We’d met Janet twice before, once backstage at the American Music Awards when The Time were up for the What Time Is It album and then in the studio when Leon was working with her.

“We had a meeting with her and they played her our previous stuff like Patti Austin and Cherrelle and she got worried. She said she loved it, but that’s not what she wanted to sound like. We assured her she’d have her own sound. Then I remember her dad told us, ‘Just don’t make my daughter sound like Prince!

“We told Janet we wanted to record her in Minneapolis. As usual, when we went in start cutting the Control tracks, we went into as fans, imaging how we’d like to hear a Janet Jackson record. We thought the closest anyone had come to sounding the way we thought she should was Jesse Johnson. He put in a little sexiness there. We wanted some funky tracks she could dance to and we also knew she could sing melodies well because of the things Rene & Angela had cut with her. There was also a cut on her first album, ‘Come Give Your Love To Me’, which Foster Sylvers produced which I thought was cool. Lisa Keith and Spencer Bernard cut a track called ‘He Doesn’t Even Know I’m Alive’ which we thought would be good to see where she was at vocally.

“It was funny because we’re really easy-going here in Minneapolis. When she arrived at the airport we didn’t send a limo to pick her up… we just drove down there and picked her up in our regular cars (this being before the days of the Ferraris). Then we took her to a Chinese restaurant and then onto this live music club called ‘Felties’. There was a guy at the club who was hassling her. I was watching what was going on from afar. After the guy went away she walked up to me and said, ‘That guy was bothering me’. I said, ‘Yeah, I saw that’. She goes, ‘Well how come you didn’t come and help me?’ I told her, ‘It looks like you got away from him your own self’. She thought for a minute and said, ‘Yeah, I guess I did!’. I’ve told that story a lot of times and it gets played up too much.

“I don’t like the perception that somehow we changed her. She was a person in evolution. She’d made the decision for the first time in her life that she wanted to sing and be in the record business. Before, it was always her dad who decided for her and he secured her record deal. She’d done TV shows and got married which didn’t work so a change in her life had to come. She was getting her marriage annulled and she’d decided to quit TV. She’d gone through a lot in the last couple of years and coming to Minneapolis and being around easy going people like me and Terry allowed her to vent that.

“Just through talking to her we were able to put the things she was saying into songs. Two or three songs into the album she started catching on and said, ‘Wait a minute guys. We were just talking about that last night!’ It made for a very positive experience all the way round. It helped her get over her problems and it helped her feel a part of the record instead of someone giving her tracks to sing over.”

IN A CONSCIOUS attempt to create a distinct, identifiable sound for Janet that meshed with her life, the creative process and recording of the album also went against the grain compared to previous Flyte Tyme Productions.

“We didn’t finish the tracks,” explained Jam. “We did the tracks as basic as we could . When we did ‘Control’ and ‘Nasty’ we gave her just a beat, a bass and a chord, just enough for her to sing to. After she’d sung the vocals then we’d add things around the singing so it really was her album and her sound. In the interim we enjoyed her vocals so much that we didn’t end up adding a lot of things. In fact, the most production was on the song ‘Control’.

“Most of the time when we write songs we’ll do it conventionally, coming up with chords and melodies but this time, on a lot of the dance things, we went in the opposite direction and came up with the beats first and played something on top. At this stage we were also learning about technology and there were new sounds from new equipment like the Linn drum machine and DMX which made it very different compared to other things we’d done. The album was very spontaneous. In total time it took six weeks to do. Out of those six probably three were actually spent recording.

“We sent the bulk of the album to John McClain who said he loved it but he wanted another hard hitting type song. ‘What Have You Done For Me Lately’ was a song we’d originally planned to do as part of our Secret project which never happened. The bass line on that song is actually the bridge to another song we were working on which Terry heard me playing and thought would be great for it. That was one of those songs that when we done it we knew it would be the first single. The other girl on the dialogue intro is a friend of hers, Melanie. There are some really funny out-takes from that session when I basically told her to go in and say some crazy stuff. We’ve got stuff on tape where they’re saying, Yeah, he probably took you to Micky D’s!’ I was behind the board saying, ‘Stop. You can’t say McDonald’s on a record’ (this being before the days when Ice Cube made McDonalds discourse a rap standard).

The ballads on Control also provided a perfect, musical, sensitive counter-balance to all the dance frenzy.

“Until ‘Funny How Time Flies’ and ‘Let’s Wait A While’, with the exception of ‘Tender Love’ we weren’t really known for ballads. With ‘Funny How Time Flies’ we wanted to give it a jazzy edge. I really like jazz but I can’t play it, so I faked it on there!”

The working approach initiated by Control spilled over into both Rhythm Nation and her new album which was being worked on at the time of the interview.

“Janet now has her own sounds. On the new album we’re doing now she’s really involved in gathering sounds for it. I’ve got DATs logged with sounds that have worked for her. A few days ago she sat in the room with me for 6 hours just going through sounds. There’s a Janet Jackson file just like there’s a Ralph Tresvant and Johnny Gill file. After the project is done that file goes away until we do the next project.”

Control also heightened the awareness of ex-Time colleague, Monte Moir as part of the Flyte Tyme set-up. It was Monte’s ballad work with Alexander O’Neal prior to Control on his debut album that had first caused stirrings, particularly in the UK.

“Yeah, Monte was responsible for most of those ballads on Alex’s first album,” stated Jimmy. “Alex did those around the same time as we were doing the S.O.S. Band in ’84. Clarence had sent us another male vocalist he’d signed to Minneapolis to work with us. We were gonna have Monte work with him as we were gonna be in Atlanta with the S.O.S. Band. Monte called us there and said, ‘Hey, this guy I’ve got, can’t sing!‘We flew back to Minneapolis and heard him and he couldn’t sing!’ We went over to St. Paul where Alex was giggin’. We told him to meet us in the studio. We put his voice on three songs Monte had done and sent them to Clarence who flipped.

“The thing about Alex is that he can do both uptempo and ballad songs really well. A lot of singers can’t do both. Another thing about Alex which is so cool is that he has this voice that sounds like he’s been through a lot. When you hear Sam Cooke or Otis Redding, those soul singers have the same quality in their voice that says, ‘I’ve had a hard life and I’ve felt the pain’. That’s an amazing quality to have.

“When we did ‘Hearsay’, we used the same philosophy as ‘Control’. We realised Alex had a story/commentary to tell concerning the way he sees life. It really brings across the pain/doubts and heartaches. We knew Alex from way back and he was there struggling with us in Flyte Tyme. We knew he’d been promised a lot in his life and when things didn’t work out, when The Time thing didn’t happen for him we told him that if we ever had the opportunity to get him a deal, we would. We have his respect for that and that’s one of the reasons he’s so easy to work with.

THEY SAY A change is as good as a break and as Jimmy and, Terry had been been working solidly without a break for the past five years, they knew the only way they were gonna remain locked in the studio was if they were working on something entirely different from previous projects.

“After Control John McClain called us up and asked us if we’d be interested on doing the Human League. We needed to do something different so we accepted. We felt Phil Oakey was a better vocalist than on the records he’d done before. Those previous records were very robotic. Their band wasn’t conventional in the way most bands are. It consisted of a drum and keyboard programmer, a bass player, a drummer two girl singers and Phil.

“Normally we’re writers and producers and that’s our strength — producing what we write. Someone like Narada or Quincy can take other people’s songs and produce the hell out of them but for their album (The Human League)they’d already written the bulk of the songs and demo-ed them with sequencers. We wanted to re-do them and basically give them more of a human feel. That’s why we came up with the song ‘Human’ because we felt it would be nice to hear Phil sing something more emotional. The drum program in ‘Human’ is one from an S.O.S. Band song we never cut.”

Working with the Human League during the crazy post-Control success in Minneapolis kept Jimmy and Terry’s feet firmly on the ground when it seemed all around them were struggling to maintain a semblance of levelheadedness.

“At that time we were sitting up in our studio in Minneapolis very much unaffected, but in LA, the whole thing had become a phenomenon. They just reached another level of sucking up to us… like they’d start taking us up to the next level of restaurants from those they took us to before. We never got into that whole materialistic bullshit thing. When Janet’s record took off it was winter in Minnesota and the Human League were with us in this little studio. We were happy for Janet but we never got too elated at the time because we were busy working.”

The fact that at times working with the Human League was far from smooth sailing also ensured there was no chance of Jimmy and Terry believing the LA hype.

“That Human League project was a learning project,” stated Jimmy with his usual sense of diplomacy. “For a start there was a certain clash of cultures. They were from Sheffield, England which is small town in England. It wasn’t like they’d come to LA or New York — they’d come to this frozen wasteland in Minnesota. It was a weird vibe all the way round.

“When we started doing ‘Human’ there was big flap because Lisa Keith sang a background part and the girls in the Human League were livid about it. We explained to them that the only reason she was singing on there was because we wanted her vocal texture. I mean it wasn’t that they weren’t singing on the song. They didn’t mind Terry singing on it, they just didn’t want Lisa to sing on it. I said to them, ‘Let me put it this way. Phil sang his ass off on leads and we want to create a comfortable bed for his leads to lie in and Lisa’s vocal texture provides that. It helps the song come over.’ That argument didn’t work. So I said, ‘Okay, let me put it this way — Lisa’s either on the record or that song’s off the record!’ By that time it had been picked as a single. That was the only time to this day that we’ve ever had to issue an ultimatum like that. After that, me and Terry told them, ‘We’ll mix our songs our way and you mix yours your way’.

“I felt sorry for Phil because he was the man in the middle. He was going out with one of the girls. He actually agreed with us but he had to go home with her!

“We hadn’t taken a break ever up to that point. Clarence had always suggested to us to take a few weeks off but we always told him, ‘Nah, we wanna work’. At that time, May/June of ’86, we felt we needed three weeks off just to cool out. We never left town or anything, we just didn’t come into the studio for three weeks and at the end of the three weeks we felt like we never wanted to come back into the studio! We were mentally fried at that point, even though we were still writing songs and doing mixes for Janet.

“The thing that pulled us out of that lull was Herb Alpert. He said he was going to make a record and he wanted us to be involved.”


© Jeff LorezBlues & Soul, 19 January 1993

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