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'Pandemonium' Marks Time's Timely Reunion : Rhythm & Blues: The band seemed destined for superstardom until Morris Day and Jesse Johnson opted for solo careers. Neither has become a big star.

September 22, 1990|DENNIS HUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"It's Time time again--you know what I'm sayin'," crowed Morris Day, the breezy, preening hipster who personifies the swagger and rollicking spirit of the Time's funky R&B music.

What he was really saying is that the Time, after an untimely split seven years ago, has reunited. Day spent the good part of a late-afternoon interview boasting about the group's new album "Pandemonium," which has gotten rave reviews.

Arguably the best funk band of the '80s, the Time is now the best funk band of the '90s--so far anyway--with a recent Top 20 album and a Top 10 single, "Jerk Out."

Not only that, the Time has four songs on "Graffiti Bridge," the sound-track album from Prince's movie, which is due for release in the fall. The Time is also featured in the film, a sequel to 1984's "Purple Rain."

A Minneapolis-based band that Prince boosted to prominence in the early '80s, the Time also features keyboardist Jimmy (Jam) Harris, bassist Terry Lewis, singer Jerome Benton, keyboardist Monte Moir, drummer Jellybean Johnson and guitarist Jesse Johnson.

When the Time split up--on the heels of the success of "Purple Rain"--the band seemed on the verge of superstardom. A major factor was Jesse Johnson's and Day's succumbing to the lure of solo stardom.

Ironically, since the split, Harris and Lewis, who formed a producing/songwriting team during their Time tenure, have been the most successful, masterminding Janet Jackson's last two hit albums.

Though Jesse Johnson did three albums on A&M Records, he has never become a major star. Benton has been dabbling, with mild success, in music and films. As a session musician, Jellybean Johnson is a major cog in the Harris-Lewis production team. Moir's biggest credit is working as a producer/writer with that team.

But after making such a vivid impression as the droll rogue in "Purple Rain," Day seemed the most likely to become a big star--as a singer or actor, or maybe both. But his two albums were just modest hits. He has had featured roles in TV sitcoms that never made it big--including "New Attitude," which was made for ABC. His most recent movie role was in "The Adventures of Ford Fairlane," a part that he downgrades as "a minor part in a bad movie."

So it's obvious that Day's reason for doing the Time album was to boost his career. Right? "That's jive," Day said. "I did this project so I could work with my buddies again. I have a lot of projects to work on. I like working in the Time but I don't need the Time. I'm not desperate."

Neither, he added, are any of the other members--especially Harris and Lewis. For that pair, part of the fun of the reunion is the chance to be musicians again for a change. Like Day, they also wanted a chance to re-establish the camaraderie they enjoyed in the old days.

Also, Harris added in a separate interview, the Time represented unfinished business--a sentiment echoed by Day.

"Everybody had a feeling that the band ended prematurely, that there were still some good years left in the band--if we could ever put it back together," Day said.

A prelude to this reunion was a brief get-together in 1987 to play an awards show in Minnesota. "It wasn't an official reunion because Monte didn't play," Harris said. "But it felt good playing together again. We all knew it was something we wanted to do when the time was right." Originally, Harris said, the Time had planned to make its own movie, with a cameo appearance by Prince. "But then Prince came to us about doing a movie--a Prince movie with an appearance by the Time," Harris recalled. "We wound up doing it his way. He was persuasive."

On one important level, the road to the reunion was smooth. "There were no hostilities between members," Harris said. "If some people hated each other we would have never even thought about a reunion. We got along together and we stayed in touch."

In the past year, Day said, the only obstacles to the reunion were red tape and scheduling conflicts. "Terry probably did more than anybody to put this thing together. Everybody was trying to find time to do it. I was one of the last members to agree to be part of the reunion.

"But then we had 10 months of meetings about the project. There were individual record company ties that had to be dealt with. And I had to get out of some legal ties."

Now that the record is a hit, what about a tour?

"Not sure about it at this time," Harris said. "That would be as tough to organize as the album."

"Pandemonium" isn't updated, high-tech funk. Harris is quite proud of the fact that the band didn't modify its music to fit the current climate.

"The point was to continue what we were doing back when we quit," Harris said. "One critic said the album sounded like it was made in 1985. To him that may have been a criticism but to us it's a compliment."

If you're in the market for social and political relevance, Day added, don't waste time on this album, which was written and produced by all seven members. As he blithely put it, "We ain't deep. That's not where we're coming from. We want to have a good time, not lay any heavy messages on anybody."

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