Who first had the idea, Tina Turner or the Time, to use the 50th annual Grammy Awards to launch a comeback?
Well, the Time’s reunion was batted around last fall. There was a conference call, recalled keyboardist Monte Moir. Then bandmate Jimmy Jam mentioned the idea to the CEO of the Recording Academy, which stages the Grammys.
Before you could say “What time is it?” the seven original members reunited Feb. 10 after 18 years apart to perform with Rihanna on the Grammys. That brought a call from a Las Vegas promoter and, on Tuesday, the Time will begin a three-week engagement at the Flamingo Hotel.
While the comeback isn’t as high-profile as Turner’s fall arena tour after an eight-year retirement, it is heartening for fans of one of the tightest, funkiest and most fun R&B bands of the 1980s.
“We’re getting along great,” drummer Jellybean Johnson said recently while shopping for cymbals at the Guitar Center in Hollywood. These guys are my brothers.
Why a reunion now?
“It’s like Terry (Lewis) is telling all the interviewers: ‘It’s just time,’” said Johnson, who spent the past three weeks rehearsing in Los Angeles, where the other members live; only Johnson and Moir still live in the Twin Cities.
The project is being spearheaded by Lewis, the group’s bassist, Jam’s partner in the Grammy-winning Flyte Tyme production team and the consummate businessman, said Johnson. Lewis cut the deal with the Flamingo, he said.
The Time is actually the replacement for this gig: Toni Braxton was supposed to perform this 15-show engagement at a 700-seat showroom, but became ill.
This isn’t just a trip down memory lane. The Time is about three-fourths finished with a new album that could be available in the fall. One or two new numbers might sneak into the group’s 90-minute Vegas set.
“It’s certainly in the same vein,” Moir said. ‘We didn’t want to try anything new or hip-hop-ish. We’re sticking to our roots.”
But as Johnson points out, “This is not a normal band.”
He was referring to three issues: There are now two versions of the Time; the original members have not always gotten along, and all of them have other musical obligations.
From the get-go, the Time has been a rocky proposition. In 1980, Prince, then a budding star, decided to give Flyte Tyme, a Minneapolis R&B band, a makeover. He made drummer Morris Day the lead singer, wrote a bunch of songs for the band and the renamed Time had a series of R&B hits (“Cool,” “777-9311,” “The Walk”). The group toured with Prince for two successful years before “Purple Rain.”
Then Prince booted Jam and Lewis from the band when a producing job caused them to miss a gig. Although it scored more hits, including “Jungle Love,” the revamped group imploded after appearing in “Purple Rain.”
The original members reunited in 1990 to appear in Prince’s movie “Graffiti Bridge” and record the album “Pandemonium” before quickly disbanding again. Jam and Lewis, by then top-flight producers, and guitarist Jesse Johnson refused to tour with the group.
Day put together a new touring act six years later. Of the other original members, only Moir and Johnson joined him. That group, billed as Morris Day and the Time, has gigs booked through at least August, including an Aug. 15 show at the Minnesota Zoo and one this weekend in Oklahoma.
Balancing the two lineups is a problem, Johnson said, “but we’re not looking at it like that,” acknowledging that the original group is meriting a handsome fee. But he sounded confident that the situation will sort itself out.
Similarly, the often-strident relationships among the original members have mellowed.
“Everybody’s in a good place,” he said. “Of course, we’re all 50 years old. You should be at this point.”
After three weeks together in Los Angeles, Moir said the band “has the potential to be a lot healthier than it’s ever been. Everybody’s in a different place these days. We’ve raised kids and gotten past some of the silliness that maybe went on in the earlier days.”
Of course, this long-awaited comeback could be complicated by the Purple One. He owns the rights to the band’s name.
“We’ve talked to him,” Moir said. “He’s given us his blessing to do what we’ve got to do.”
That means an album and possibly more touring in the fall. Well, maybe.
Said Johnson: “It’s like Morris said: It’s a 12-step approach. One day at a time.”