Jeff Lorez concludes his in-depth report on the tenth anniversary of Jam & Lewis’s Flyte Tyme Productions
FEELING BOTH mentally and musically exhausted for the first time in their careers, Jimmy and Terry began work with Herb with the philosophy that a change was as good as a break. “We thought working with Herb would be great therapy,” Jam explained. “He wanted to make a hip contemporary record, but he wasn’t concerned about making hits. I mean, he’s not gonna fire himself from the label if he doesn’t have a hit record! It was a no-pressure project where we could create and have some fun. We also learned a lot business wise from Herb — about how he and Jerry (Moss, Herb’s partner in A&M) started A&M. We really thought that in a lot of ways we were paralleling what they had done with their partnership. Musically Herb’s a very heavy cat. He’s very much into the feel of things. Because we’d been working at breakneck pace from ’81 to ’86, we were just mentally tired and working with Herb really helped us. On top of that, the record turned out to be a hit without trying.”
By now Jimmy and Terry had something of an A&M crew to back them up with Herb Alpert and John McClain (themselves both label execs and musicians) and, of course, Janet Jackson all voicing their support. All three were called in for the smash single from Herb’s album.
“The big hit, ‘Diamonds’, was John McClain’s idea,” remembered Jimmy. “It was one of those tracks we cut that was just sitting around. In fact, it wasn’t even called ‘Diamonds’. It was just a drum program. John McClain heard it and told us, “You’ve gotta make a song outta that!”
“Janet was in Minneapolis at the time and heard the music from ‘Makin’ Love In The Rain’. She wanted to sing on it, but ended up doing backgrounds and Lisa Keith sang the leads as Lisa sang the lead on the demo. So on ‘Diamonds’, Janet and Lisa both share lead vocals. In fact, it’s a unison vocal all the way through. It turned out to be great for Herb because he had a big hit the year A&M were celebrating their 20th Anniversary.”
The success of their last three album projects by Janet, the Human League and Herb, coupled with Jimmy and Terry’s newfound drive, also signalled a change internally at Flyte Tyme, as the company started to shape into its current day nucleus.
“When it came to mixing Control, we basically cut it all and cut all the vocals. The mixer we were using at the time had kind of left us because we hired him from Creation Audio and I think the people over there didn’t like the fact he was spending so much time with us, so he started to show up less and less. This left us with a problem. We needed someone to mix Control. I told Terry it’d be great to have Steve Hodge mix it, but I didn’t think we could get him because he was always so busy in LA. Terry called him and he said he’d love to come up. When he (Steve) put on the Control tapes, he said, ‘Oh my God! Who recorded these vocals?!’ We told him we did and he said, ‘Well, I’m gonna have to give you some lessons in how to record things.’ You see, we’d recorded everything distorted in the red. Fortunately for us, Steve said he could save the recording and he mixed the Control album.
“When we recorded the Human League album, Steve called us up and asked us if we’d started to track it, because he said he’d like to come over and show us how to track. After he mixed that album we realised how great it would be to have Steve work as our full-time engineer. But again we thought we’d never get him because he was in LA making too much money. Finally, Terry made him an offer and he said he’d love to move to Minneapolis. Steve was sick of LA. He had a daughter who was about five or six and he was into fishing and things like that and basically he just wanted a quieter life, away from the hustle of LA and a life where he didn’t have to worry where his next pay cheque was coming from.
“Terry called hiring Steve the best decision we’ve ever made and I totally agree with him. Steve has always been a part of Flyte Tyme. He was there the day me and Terry got fired from the Time. He mixed our first Klymaxx record, ‘Wild Girls’. The thing that’s really cool is that not only is Steve really good technically but he’s always willing to try and experiment. He doesn’t engineer by the rule book of engineering, which means me and Terry can always bounce ideas off him. He’s really sensible and so when we come up with some really crazy things he keeps it all in perspective (no pun intended). On top of that he so easy going and is probably the nicest guy you’ll ever meet.”
AS STEVE became a permanent fixture at Flyte Tyme, Monte Moir was saying his good-byes. Jimmy explained the turn of events. “When myself and Terry first started production seriously when we were fired from the Time, Monte quit the Time as well in protest at what happened to us. At one point, everyone was gonna quit the group but Terry said, ‘look, you guys, we’re okay, but you should stick with it and make something of it — for Morris’s sake as well as your own’. When Monte joined us, he wanted to become a third partner in what we were doing. We felt he couldn’t be a partner because if you go back to the day when Terry said, ‘I’m going to LA. Who’s coming with me?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll go’, at that point the partnership was defined. We went to LA and were living in this little bedroom with a four track. We couldn’t even afford to eat so we’d eat the lunch special at Golden Bird Chicken every day for $2.99. We didn’t even have enough money to rent a car, so we relied on lifts or got the bus. Those were all the things that said to me ‘partnership’. When we were going through those hard times, everyone else was in Minneapolis saying we were crazy.
“After that, anyone who wanted to be a part of what we were doing was fine with us and we tried to help them out but it’s always been and always will be 50/50 me and T.
“Monte wasn’t happy about that, so he deserted us around the same time that the engineer did to work with him. When we were putting the Time back together, Morris asked if we’d be cool working with Monte again. I told him, we haven’t got a problem working with Monte when it comes to the Time because we’re not petty people but he ain’t gonna be workin’ for Flyte Tyme no time soon!”
Jam and Lewis stomped into ’87 with renewed gusto, firstly ensuring Alexander O’Neal’s career continued to move firmly in the ascendant.
“The Hearsay album has to be one of my favourite albums we’ve ever done,” stated Jam. However, as often is the case perhaps, Alex’s biggest single to date came more by chance than anything else.
“‘Fake’ was a fluke!“he admitted honestly. “It was another one of those cases where we had a drum machine with an old program in it. The drum program to ‘Fake’ is, I think, the pattern to ‘Making Love In The Rain’, just sped up with different drum sounds in there. Our nod to The Isley’s on that album was ‘When The Party’s Over’ which I really love.”
With Hearsay completed, Jimmy and Terry prepared to face up to one of their biggest production challenges to date — New Edition, a group who at the time were undergoing the most crucial changes of their brief career. Jam and Lewis were brought in as the musical guru’s who would supposedly take teeny heart throbs to credible adult soul crooners with no compromise on either side. A tall order.
“We did a song with Patti Labelle called ‘Just The Facts’ for the Dragnet soundtrack. When they asked us to do that they told us what the title should be and what the tempo had to be. There were just all these restrictions and in the end it wasn’t a major record or anything. That kind of put us off doing soundtracks for a long time. Of course it was great to work with Patti Labelle. We also worked with New Edition on a song called ‘Helplessly In Love’ which was cool because it gave us a chance to get to know the guys. At that point we’d been offered their next album, so it gave us a taster to see if we’d want to do that.
“They were going through quite a bit of turmoil at the time and they had to make a decision as to whether they wanted a fifth member or not. The rumour had it that Johnny Gill was gonna join the group. I remember we were at this MCA meeting and we were gonna do something for the Beverly Hills Cop II movie but that didn’t work out. While we were there Jheryl Busby (now president of Motown) was kicking around the names of some male vocalists he was thinking about signing, asking us if any of them interested us in terms of us producing them. We said, ‘Jheryl, if you wanna sign a male vocalist you need to sign Johnny Gill’. Jheryl thought about it and said, ‘Yeah, he is good’. I said, ‘Yeah, and he’s young, too. All these other guys you’re talking about are older’. Then he said, ‘Okay, I’ll sign Johnny on the condition you’ll produce him’.
“We were cool with that because we’d been fans of his since his Cotillion days. After this meeting we got wind of the fact that Johnny was gonna join New Edition. I saw him at a party and asked him about it and he said it was true. I just looked at him and said, ‘But why?’ He just said being a part of a group was something that really appealed to him.
“At that point me and Terry started to get perplexed. The concept of him being in the group was a good concept from one standpoint but as a production challenge it was a big one. I mean, how do you integrate that voice into New Edition. We had to grow New Edition up, just like the Jacksons had to grow up and just like New Kids are gonna have to grow up. They had to get away from bubblegum music and still take that audience with them. On top of all that we now had to add Johnny Gill into the mix. It may have been a great idea on paper but we were the ones who had to put that theory into practice.
“The first thing we did when the fellas came to town was sit them down and have a big meeting. We basically really grilled Johnny. We asked him why he wanted to be in the group and he’d say, ‘I’m just into it. I like the fellas and get along with them and I feel it’s good for me.’ So at this point I really wanted to test his dedication, so I said things I didn’t mean, just to gauge his response. I told him, ‘Johnny, you know it ain’t Johnny Gill solo vocalist anymore. You probably ain’t even gonna sing on this album ‘cos your voice ain’t gonna fit in — so you still wanna be part of the group?’ He said ‘Yeah’, so we were cool with that. That proved to us he was into the group mentality.
“It was interesting because we thought there might be an ego problem between Ralph who was the lead singer and Johnny. It could have been very intimidating for Ralph, but those two took to each other immediately. They both really admired each other vocally. Johnny admired Ralph’s ability to sing melodies because that’s not Johnny’s strong point and Ralph admired Johnny’s amazing, powerful voice. They were like the mutual admiration society. They would both sit in on each other’s vocal sessions, so it was a really positive thing in the end.
“Another thing we did in those meetings was question the group as to why they wanted Johnny Gill in the group. The conversation went round in so many ways. At first two of the group wanted him in and the other two didn’t. Then it switched and the two who originally wanted him out now wanted him in and vice-versa! The group had also gone through a lot with management. There was a lawsuit out by Maurice Starr and so those meetings really helped to voice and air a lot of things which was a really a good thing. We cleared the air before we went in to record.”
THE NEW EDITION album also coincided with a mass change in the sound of R&B Stateside with hip-hop grooves infiltrating into mainstream soul — a movement Jimmy and Terry were hip to. “Yeah, we tried to put a little hip-hop flavour on it, but we wanted to keep the harmony and melody ideas that worked on the things they’d done before. We felt ‘If It Isn’t Love’ would be a good first single because Ralph was singing lead and it sounded like a New Edition record but more mature. It could pull in an audience that dismissed them as a bubblegum group. We also did ‘N.E. Heartbreak’ using rap because we wanted to bring Michael Bivins and Ronnie Devoe into the picture because they hadn’t really been used before. I mean it wasn’t straight-up rap, but it had that style.
“We came up with ‘Can You Stand The Rain’ because we wanted to introduce Johnny Gill, but not on a song of his own but with other leads. On that song Johnny comes in and starts the song off and Ralph takes it through the chorus. That album went double platinum in the States and we were really happy with the way it turned out. It really helped them to make a transition.”
Working with New Edition, then in their late teens, also enabled Jam and Lewis to spot the various emerging talents within the group.
“We recognised Michael Bivins’ talent for putting things together and we made sure to tell Jheryl Busby to watch out for him. (Bivins now has his own Motown affiliated label, Biv, on whose roster are the likes of Boyz II Men and Another Bad Creation). He was really good for coming up with concepts for things. On ‘Can You Stand The Rain’ there was a space in the song and he was the person who came up with the line “Come on baby, let’s go get wet”. He was also very conceptual with regard to the look of the group. He’s the type of person who’s got an overview of everything. All he talked about was the business side of the industry.
“I remember at the end of the N.E. Heartbreak Tour we were sitting in LA and I knew we’d be working with both Ralph and Johnny on solo records. So I asked Ricky, Mike and Ronnie (Bell, Biv, Devoe) what they were gonna do. Ricky said he was gonna try and get into some producing, I don’t remember what Ronnie said and Bivins said he wanted to manage some acts. Me and Terry told them, ‘You guys should do a record’. They looked at each other and said, ‘What kind of record’. We said, ‘Well, look, two of you guys rap and the other one sings, so you should do a record that combines rapping and singing’. The timing for something like that was perfect.
“Bivins took that idea and ran! In the end BBD were bigger than Ralph and Johnny. The way Bivins put that group together showed a real talent. He was always very inquisitive when he was with us in the studio and he was always talking to Terry a lot about the business side of things.”
IN BETWEEN work with the various N.E. youngbloods, Jimmy & Terry also found time to hook up with their old pal Morris Day for a slice of pure retro self-indulgence that harked back to their crazy days together in the early ’80’s.
“We did ‘Fishnet’ in ’88 and it came out in ’89”, Jimmy recollected. “Basically we did it because we were missing Morris a lot and we thought it would be a lot of fun, which it was. Morris came up to Minneapolis for a week and we hung out and put the groove down. It was so natural.
“We did it the way we used to jam with the Time. Morris got behind the drums, Terry got on the bass and I was on piano and we just jammed for about an hour. We taped the jam onto a cassette, made copies and all went back home and listened to it. We all came back the next day saying, ‘oh man, there’s this part on the second side about five minutes in, where we hit this groove…’ Everyone agreed that part was so funky and we ended up building the song around that. It was great doing that song because I pulled out all the old Time keyboards.
“The title of the song came about when Popeye Greer who manages Mint Condition (a Perspective Records act) was standing outside this club with us and this girl who we call Patti Pool (because she’s always playing pool) comes over. We all get in the car and she’s wearing these fishnet stockings and Popeye remarked something about them. When he said that, we knew ‘Fishnet’ would be a great title for a song, so we went home and wrote the title in this book where we store hundreds of titles of songs. Morris came up with the hook from there.”
Jimmy and Terry’s affection for their old band leader is obvious. At odd times throughout the interview whenever Morris was mentioned, Jimmy would go off at a tangent, reminiscing and philosophising about his and Terry’s days with Morris.
“We miss Morris a lot. He’s a cool, genuinely nice guy. We felt for the longest time that the one thing missing from our lives was Morris Day and ‘Fishnet’ was a way of having him back for a second. Morris is very laid-back and he keys off other people, that’s why he was very comfortable in the Time because no matter what he did, no matter how crazy, we would always be there to back him up and egg him on. After the Time reunion record we planned to do some of Morris’s solo records and we told him to get his drum chops back together because we wanted to use some of his live drumming. Unfortunately, as is always the case, we just didn’t have time to do it.”
IN FACT, IN recent years, Jimmy and Terry have embarked on perhaps their most chaotic production schedule since the early/mid ’80s. 1988-89 saw work on Janet’s all-important second Jam and Lewis produced album, Rhythm Nation.
“We wanted a very industrial, stark, dark sound for that album,” Jam explained. “Sonically we wanted to make it very frantic and different. We wanted the first thing on the album to say something along the lines of, ‘Hello, this is the new Janet Jackson album and it’s different from her last one’. I think it was an adventurous thing to do, coming three years on from Control. We could have made a Control Pt II but that would have been a cop-out. Although we’d done successful follow-up records on the S.O.S. Band, Cherrelle and Alexander O’Neal, we never had to follow up anything as big as Control. I think being in Minneapolis helped a lot, too, because we didn’t feel the pressure a lot of people may have felt. Vocally Janet had improved since, Control and generally, as we were all good friends, we were a lot more adventurous in the way we’d record things.”
Rather than cool down during the commercial success of Rhythm Nation Jimmy and Terry, having now marked the first anniversary of the opening of their new Flyte Tyme Studio’s complex, increased the workload yet again, involving yet more acquaintances from their musical past.
“We started on the movie Graffiti Bridge in February 1990. The intent was to take some time off and just concentrate on the movie and the Time album. I remember, though, Ralph (Tresvant) and Johnny (Gill) were both in town around the time we were doing the movie. We went to film shoots for 12 hours, then we’d go in the studio and rehearse and try and put the Time record together. We must have been doing stuff with Ralph around that time, too, because he was there watching the rehearsals.”
Although Jimmy readily stated that hooking up with his old musical cohorts again was fun, making Graffiti Bridge definitely was not!
“Making a film is the most boring thing anyone can do! I don’t see how anyone does it. It’s a bunch of hurry up and wait. Originally that film was gonna be a Time movie and things changed and it became a Prince movie and we just went along with the program. When we originally planned to do the Time reunion album it had nothing to with Prince and we were the ones who brought him in and said, ‘It’s not gonna be a proper reunion unless you’re involved’. I think he may have been shocked at first but then he really got into the spirit of it.
“While it wasn’t a big success commercially, I think it was successful in mending a lot of fences. I would have loved to tour but again there just wasn’t the time do it. At least doing that record got being part of the group again out of our systems. The one thing me and Terry never wanted to do was look back in years to come and say, ‘Damn what if we had put the group back together…?’
With the initiation of their Perspective label now imminent and records by Ralph and Johnny already underway, great consideration was made, as always, to ensure everything retained its own separate identity.
“The Ralph record was a 180 degree turn from Janet’s. I think with the UK soul/dance market, Ralph’s record may have clicked a lot bigger than Janet’s, but in the US Janet’s was huge. We knew in Ralph’s case that coming in after Johnny Gill and BBD we had to make sure we established him as a separate identity. We didn’t want anyone to say, “Well Johnny Gill or BBD or New Edition would have done that record better’. ‘Sensitivity’ did that. It was very atmospheric and emotive.
“Ralph is one of our favourite artists to work with because of his studio dedication. He works so hard. He’s a joy to write for because he’s so good melodically. You can be very creative with Ralph. He’s willing to try anything. He’s fearless and that’s good because when you’re trying to get ideas across the last thing you want is someone saying, ‘Oh, I don’t think I can sing that’!
“‘Rated R’ was something of a departure for us. It was our interpretation of rap. I hesitate to say it was a rap record because I don’t think anything we do is really rap because we’re not the Bomb Squad or Ice Cube, but we just give our interpretation. ‘She’s My Love Thang’ was fun as well because we used a sample from Eddie Kendricks’ ‘Keep On Truckin” (by now samples and loops were a tried and tested part of the Jam and Lewis musical arsenal, having first got into it when working on Rhythm Nation and Johnny Gill’s ‘Rub You The Right Way’). ‘Do What I Gotta Do’ was a big record here. It was a ballad which basically kept in line what ‘Sensitivity’ was about… here’s a guy who’s gonna break your heart, but he’ll be honest about it. Those songs with Ralph came together really fast.“
AND SO ONTO the launch of Perspective Records in 1991 and the Sounds Of Blackness with probably the best record Jam and Lewis have committed to tape since the inception of Flyte Tyme a decade ago.
“Someone from the UK asked me a while back what my favourite record is that we’ve done and I told them, ‘Optimistic’. Well, I still feel that way.”
The launch of Perspective Records with an aggregation as strong and identifiable as the Sounds Of Blackness (the name itself could almost be seen as a label logo) meshing traditional black music with the current day was undoubtedly a move that not only provided Jimmy and Terry with some of their best works to date but took their level of respect, particularly with their core market, to a completely new plane.
“We did ‘The Pressure’ and ‘Testify’ and we felt like we needed another song for the album. There’s just a gut feeling you get when you know a record’s done and we knew the album needed something else. The thinking I had for the song was that the Sounds have so many good voices that we should make use of them. So I thought it would be a good idea to have a song that that starts off like one vocalist then builds into a trio, then into ten and then into a whole choir. The title ‘Optimistic’ was just a title in our book of song titles which we pulled out.
“Tony (Talbot aka Prof T) and Lance (Alexander, both of the group Lo-Key?) came up with the beat and I was sitting in the studio one day with the headphones on, just playing these chords on top of the beat. Terry heard what I was doing and called in Gary (Hines) who started writing down all the things he could associate with the word optimistic. Then I came up with the part ‘As long as you keep your head to the sky, you can win’. Terry added, ‘Be optimistic’ and Gary came up with all the harmonies. The whole thing was done in two days.
“‘Testify’ was another song that just came together really quickly and we loved the idea of ‘The Pressure’, combining a hip-hop feel with organ and revival clapping. That Sounds Of Blackness album is one I know I can put on when I’m feeling down and it’ll make me feel better and there are only certain records that can touch you in that way. We realise we’re by no means geniuses in what we do. We just make music we like and hope people share our opinion.
“In the case of the Sounds Of Blackness we not only liked the music but it was something that was very heartfelt, too. It just took what we do to another level because not only did other people like it but it affected them in a deeper way and that transcends record sales and chart positions. ‘Optimistic’ and the whole Sounds album is one of those projects which well look back on when we retire from the production rat-race with a real sense of pride.”
Having built Perspective Records on such a musically strong base as the Sounds, Jimmy explained that the creative possibilities that are sprouting from within their framework is proving to be limitless.
“Well firstly there’ll probably be another Sounds Of Blackness record before Ann Bennet Nesby’s solo record, but the Sounds themselves have so many talented musicians as well. Ann’s a really talented songwriter and piano player as well as vocalist. Then there’s her brother Jimmy who’s amazing and Carrie who starts off ‘Optimistic’ is classically trained. I would love to see the Sounds and Gary become involved in scoring things for TV which now looks like it could happen. It also really pays to have a really deep musical roster because they can all be involved on each other’s projects which stops any animosities from happening. Some of the Sounds are involved on Janet’s new album.
“We’d also love to do a heavy, far-out jazz record one day with Gary Hines along with Larry Waddel and Stokely from the Sounds. There are just so many possibilities because of the musical nucleus we have here. There’s probably more talent than opportunities to fill.”
Whilst Jimmy and Terry positively revel in the creative prospects Perspective has sprouted, Jimmy readily admitted that becoming label-runners and dealing with the music industry on a far more day-to-day basis was something they didn’t naturally take to.
“It’s tough. We learned very quickly that we couldn’t run a day-to-day operation and still be creative too. It’s important for us to have people in places where we can direct them, but be left alone to work on music. When we started out we had the Sounds record and we had a lady named Karen Kennedy who ran the label and she was perfect because she had a lot of energy. She was here for six months then the label grew and we realised we needed to bring in someone else, so we brought in Kevin Flemming, a friend from Minneapolis who was involved in the Polygram system when he was at Island (Polygram Records also own A&M, who Perspective are licensed to, as well as Island) so he knew how the system worked. We still have to be involved a lot because we found out as soon as you think things are being done, that’s when they’re not! The Flyte Tyme staff have been able to help the Perspective staff as sometimes their jobs will overlap. Everyone does what it takes to get the job done. Another real plus is that everyone has been here at Flyte Tyme in Minneapolis three or four years, apart from the receptionist who recently joined.
“Both myself and Terry like the idea of being able to teach others something about the business and give them the freedom to be creative. I think we have an obligation to make this work. We realise we can’t be a company like a Warners or an MCA and release twenty records at once. Our philosophy is to release one record and work it ’til it can’t be worked anymore, then release another one. Thus far we’ve only been in existence for two years and we’ve only released four albums with the Sounds, Mo Money (soundtrack), Lo-Key? and Mint Condition and we’re four for four.
“We have a 16 year old keyboard player/writer/producer, Bobby Avila, who’s incredible and his brother’s a rapper, Izzy Real, and they’ve done a 12” together which we’re gonna put out. Then Bobby’s doing his own solo album and then there’s the album by Krush which is a retro, gutsy girl group type of thing. After that, there’s Lisa Keith’s album which is a folky/funky kind of album. She’s a classically trained vocalist and pianist. Spencer Bernard produced a lot of it (the two wrote ‘The Pleasure Principle’ for Janet Jackson). Her voice is just incredible. It’s so warm. So basically Perspective gonna be kept busy over the next year and hopefully those acts will take what we’ve got at the present to the next level.”
IN BECOMING label heads, Jimmy and Terry realised the type of undertaking they were committing themselves to. They also made sure to seek advice from others who have themselves taken a similar steps over the years. As well as already mentioned names such as Herb Alpert and Clarence Avant, Jam and Lewis cite Gamble and Huff as two men they are proud to call on for both inspiration and information.
“They got out of the rat-race of producing like we will one day… but perhaps not quite as gracefully as they would have liked. They were given a raw deal towards the end of their CBS association. I really feel honoured to call them friends. We can call them and get advice and when we go to Philadelphia we can chill and hang out.”
Jimmy, bearing in mind the trust and the closeness of the relationship he and Terry have forged with Gamble and Huff, preferred not to get too specific with regards to the actual type of advice the Philly legends passed on to them.
“A lot of the things they told us I don’t even want to share. It’s too personal… but one thing we have realised through talking to them is how little the industry has changed today from when they were in it. A lot of the negative things that are racially motivated still go on today. They told us a lot of things to watch out for. It was great to see we share a lot of the same philosophies. Just to have them there to talk to is so helpful… and Kenny Gamble is so deep.“
Jimmy particularly remembers an award he and Terry had to present to Gamble and Huff at a ceremony earlier this year to celebrate the Soul of American music which took place at the time of the LA riots.
“The speech Gamble gave was so heavy about the racist side of things… it was really enlightening to a lot of people. He’s a man who’s not afraid to speak his mind. With people like that it’s not just one or two things you learn but it’s what you take in from just being around them.”
Although, the actual music making process has changed dramatically since Philadelphia International were enjoying their halcyon days in the ’70s, Jam is confident the level of musicianship and artistry witnessed then is once again on the upsurge.
“Everything goes in circles. There used to be a lot of bands because you used to need other people to make a record, just like you needed an orchestra to have strings. Now with the technology available everything’s been simplified, so that one person can make a record… but I think musicianship is definitely coming back.
“One of the things that’s had a lot to do with that is sampling. I think when people are saying, ‘Oh that’s a great drum loop’, other people are saying, ‘Wow, I wanna learn how to play the drums like that’. I think kids are realising that they don’t have to rely on sampling other people’s music but that they can learn how to play for themselves.
“It’s interesting to see what a stir it causes when live bands come back. I remember when the Brand New Heavies came out and everyone was shouting about them. I think what they do is great but what they lack at the moment to me is the tightness and seasoning some acts used to have. I question whether there’ll ever be the same tightness the Time, Con Funk Shun and Cameo used to have. Maybe a few years down the line the Brand New Heavies will become that tight. There’s a kind of instinctiveness that occurs between musicians who have been playing together day in, day out.
“Unfortunately, over the years I think we’ve (he and Terry) regressed as musicians. I think we were at our best as musicians when we were with the Time in ’81 and ’82 because we were rehearsing for two or three hours every day and that improved us so much. I mean we’re still good, but not like we were. Making the Time reunion improved us again as musicians. It forced us to play together again. I remember at our first rehearsal… man, we sucked! It was horrible! By the second one we started to click again.
“I know I can sample and run drum machines so my thought to kids coming up today is, ‘Yeah, I can sample like you do, but can you really PLAY?’ A few years ago I think their answer would have been no, but today I think that’s changing.”
THUS, WITH this change in mind, Jimmy is optimistic about the current state of black music but is angry that creative talent is not being embraced as it should be by those who have an obligation to serve as an outlet.
“The diversity in rap today is so wide which is really great to see but the thing I really hate is when American radio says, ‘We don’t play rap’. What does that mean? Does that mean you’re not gonna play Ice Cube or Arrested Development or the Fuschnickens or Hammer. I like the diversity of the innovative rap groups but I also think a lot of it is beginning to sound very similar.
“I also like what Teddy (Riley)’s doing and what Dallas Austin, Jermaine Dupris and the Bomb Squad are doing. Their stuff has an edge. But above all that I think it’s brilliant that LA & ‘Face can do a totally traditional R&B ballad (Boyz II Men’s ‘End Of The Road’) and it becomes the biggest American single of all time. That shows me that songwriting isn’t dead… that a good song can still be as big if not bigger than a Kris Kross. Songwriting is something I know we can do.
“I think music is definitely in a positive state but the thing that’s most detrimental to black music at the moment is the close-mindedness of black radio people who say they won’t play rap. This is the most vital new form of black music there is and they’re just closing their ears to it. Obviously it doesn’t seem to matter because it’s outselling all the other types of R&B and without any radio play. If I was in radio I’d start to think, ‘just how important is RADIO?’.“
Ironically, despite being the breeding ground of some of America’s most prolific R&B writer/producers, black radio has traditionally been and still is — particularly poor in Jam’s native Minneapolis… a situation he and partner Terry would dearly love to rectify.
“We’d love to start our own radio station. We’ve been pursuing it for a while. When the right opportunity comes along we’ll do it. In Minneapolis we need one — badly! It’s a really bad picture up here.”
AS EARLY evening turned into night and then into the early hours and we wound down our mammoth interview session, Jimmy reflected and philosophised on the ten years of Flyte Tyme, wishing to acknowledge in particular those who he felt had been particularly influential on his and Terry’s career
“No one’s been more valuable to us than Clarence (Avant). Quincy’s (Jones) also made a point to reach out to us and just to have him there to talk to has been really helpful. Obviously people like Dina Andrews have helped us just by letting us live at her house. She also was the connection in what we were doing and Dick Griffey. There’s also a lady named Margaret Nash who was Klymaxx’s manager at the time and I heard it wasn’t Dick that heard ‘Wild Girls’ but Margaret who convinced Dick to give us a shot.
“Leon Sylvers was an immense help, letting us in the studio and teaching us. Then on the other side Prince gave us the real break getting us into the Time which made way for everything else. We’ve got to mention John McClain at A&M for hooking us up with Janet and supporting us. It really helped us to deal with executives who were also musicians. At one stage when we were going to form Perspective we were in two minds whether to go with A&M or another label. We were about to sign with the other label but the thing that sallied us against that was that they didn’t want us to do a Time reunion record. We felt we had to get that out of our systems before we became corporate bods!
“A lot of A&M’s understanding about us doing the Time thing stemmed from Herb being a musician. He realised that there are things you have to do as a musician to make you happy. Being able to deal with the business comes from you being content as a musician and being creative. It’s the creativity that comes first. It’s the music business not the business, music!” •
• B&S would like to thank Jimmy and Terry, Gary Hines and Ann Bennet Nesby and the staff at Flyte Tyme in Minneapolis for their time, help and co-operation in preparing this feature. Here’s to another ten years!
© Jeff Lorez, Blues & Soul, 2 February 1993