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Purple Reign: Numero Anthologizes Early Minneapolis Funk Bands

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Purple SnowIt was something like Sly Stone or James Brown for the New Wave set: tight, sparse R&B jams peppered with funky guitar and pulsating bass, sweetened with electronic accoutrements in the percussion section and dazzling synthesizers where a horn section might be. The “Minneapolis sound” changed soul music dramatically in the ’80s, with Prince and his collaborators, associates and followers (The Time, Andre Cymone, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Alexander O’Neal) helping rewrite musical style for a new generation.

With much of Prince’s recent material partially focused on retrofied jams (his last studio albums in the U.S., 2009’s LOtUSFLOWER and MPLSound, were heavy on the Linn LM-1 drums and Oberheim OBX synths that propelled the likes of 1999 and Purple Rain into pop immortality), and an entire wave of activity surrounding the Tabu Records catalogue with the help of Edsel Records this year, the time seems right to revisit just where that sound came from. Enter cratedigger label extraordinaire Numero, whose double-disc compilation Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound takes listeners back to the earliest days of the funk revolution.

Many of the 32 tracks herein feature names familiar to Prince fans, but the leadoff track features The Purple One himself. “If You See Me” is a long-circulating outtake by 94 East, a band formed by local musician Pepe Willie, who was married to a cousin of Prince’s. The teenager was encouraged early on by Willie, who recruited both Prince and a childhood friend, bassist Andre Cymone, to play in his band. Prince would of course find success producing, writing, arranging and performing his own material when signed to Warner Bros. in 1978 – but he took Cymone with him in his live backing band. (Cymone was not an official member of the famed Revolution, eventually being replaced by bassist Mark Brown, though he did sign to Columbia Records shortly thereafter and cut three albums, most famously 1985’s The Dance Electric, with a title track written by – you guessed it – Prince.)

The notable names don’t stop there. Purple Snow features cuts by Flyte Tyme, a funk outfit that featured among its ranks keyboardists James Harris III and Monte Moir, bassist Terry Lewis and drummer Jellybean Johnson. Lead singer Cynthia Johnson would depart the group for Lipps Inc. (it’s her pipes that grace dance classic “Funkytown”), and she would be replaced by another Twin Cities up-and-comer, Alexander O’Neal. Those five would be considered for a project Prince was allowed to produce for Warner Bros.; ultimately, he kept all but O’Neal, whom he replaced with Morris Day. Adding guitarist Jesse Johnson and percussionist/comic foil Jerome Benton (and downplaying his writing-producing-performing output under the pseudonym Jamie Starr), Prince created The Time, arguably his best spin-off project. (Jam and Lewis were ejected from the band before the release of Purple Rain, in which The Time figure heavily; the band split up shortly thereafter but briefly reunited for new albums in 1990 and 2011.)

Jam and Lewis, of course, used the Flyte Tyme moniker to get their producing career off the ground in the middle of the decade, working for Tabu Records (writing and producing for O’Neal, Cherrelle and The S.O.S. Band) before hitting it big collaborating with Janet Jackson. But even before that, Jam was a principal member of Mind and Matter, another local outfit honored both on this set (with both sides of their only single and another outtake) and another forthcoming Numero title: 1514 Oliver Avenue (Basement), a compilation of nine unreleased home demos largely written and produced by the future Jam. Mind and Matter were, perhaps, a more organic alternative to the Minneapolis sound, and it’s a fascinating listen/companion piece to the mighty Purple Snow.

Purple Snow will be available as a 2CD or 4LP set, each packed in hardbound packages with copious liner notes and essays. The first 500 pre-orders from Numero’s website get an additional, Prince-ish vinyl treat: a 7″ single featuring “Twin Cities Rapp,” David “T.C.” Ellis’ 1985 single in tribute to the by-then internationally-renowned Minneapolis acts of the day. (T.C. would later affiliate himself with the Prince camp, co-starring in the bizarre Purple Rain sequel Graffiti Bridge in 1990 and releasing a full-length, True Confessions, on The Artist’s Paisley Park label a year later.) It’s in stores December 3, while Mind & Matter’s 1514 Oliver Avenue (Basement) is available now. After the jump, you’ll find the full track lists for both!

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Written by Mike Duquette

November 7, 2013 at 13:39

Reissue Theory: The Time, “All-Time Greatest”

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Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we focus on notable albums and the reissues they could someday see. On the 30th anniversary of the first album by one of Prince’s most notable associated acts, we picture a release that’s never happened: a career-spanning compilation for The Time.

Thirty years ago, a major musical milestone occurred: Prince started transforming from a freaky, funk-rock gem of the Minneapolis music scene into an all-consuming musical entity. The conduit through which Prince started splitting his atoms was The Time, a solid, seven-piece funk outfit whose self-titled debut album, produced by Prince, was released on this day in 1981.

Prince has had plenty of run-ins with protegees and other artists who’ve used his talents for hit-making gold. But the first and arguably best was The Time. While they may have sounded like Prince’s demos on record, the group made their work their own, with a trademark swagger, idiosyncratic style and rock-solid live performances that resonated far beyond the group’s appearance in Purple Rain.

Adjust your watches (yeeeeeessss!) and meet us at the jump in 16 for a brief history of The Time, and a discussion of a musical product that’s long eluded them: a greatest hits package.

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Written by Mike Duquette

July 29, 2011 at 13:25

Tartare and Cameo Parkway Heat Up: Morris Day, Ric Ocasek, Dee Dee Sharp, Dino, Desi & Billy On Tap

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On September 9, The Second Disc sadly reported on the axe falling on more of the beleaguered Rhino Records staff, and the company’s plans to delve further into the on-demand CD realm. One such initiative is the Tartare imprint being offered by WMG/Rhino in conjunction with Collectors’ Choice Music. Another 20 Tartare titles are on the way from Collectors’ Choice, and this group again spans decades, from the 1950s through the 1990s. Track listings are not available (indeed, not every title has even been listed on the label’s website, only in the print catalogue so far; it is likely that all titles will be up on the Web site any day now) but the lineup is typically eclectic, including CD(-R) debuts for two Dino, Desi & Billy albums, and titles from Morris Day, Air Supply, Mick Jones of Foreigner and the Cars’ Ric Ocasek returning to print.

In more Collectors’ Choice news, three more titles have been added to the burgeoning Cameo Parkway collection. The Dovells’ For Your Hully Gully Party (1962) and You Can’t Sit Down (1963) will be joined on one CD; the disc offers no less than four variations on the Hully Gully, all performed by Len “1-2-3” Barry’s great vocal group. You’ll also be able to do the New Continental and the Madison by disc’s end! Recipient of a recent Edsel three-fer, Dee Dee Sharp has It’s Mashed Potato Time (1962) and Do the Bird (1962) comprising another two-fer. Finally, John Zacherle’s Monster Mash and Scary Tales will be released on one disc. These are just in time for Halloween and make a much better treat than candy for all fans of the Cool Ghoul. Being of Cameo Parkway origin, the Zacherle disc has a number of songs spoofing the Philadelphia label’s famous dance crazes, so get ready to do “The Pistol Stomp” and “The Weird Watusi,” have “Gravy with Some Cyanide” and of course, “Let’s Twist Again (Mummy Time is Here).” Who could resist?!? All three titles are due on September 21.

You can find the full list of Tartare’s 20 newest additions along with track listings for the Cameo Parkway titles after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

September 13, 2010 at 11:29

Reissue Theory: The Time Part II

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Our continuing look at The Time’s back catalogue culminates with some of the biggest hits in the band’s career – and the weird career turns that seemed to prevent them from ever enjoying them as a band.

By 1982, The Time were a well-received seven-piece electro-funk outfit that could play rings around other live bands. Despite their live quality, none of their studio efforts were their own, with Prince meticulously playing all the instruments and guiding lead vocalist Morris Day through all his lines.

That disparity between The Time’s albums and their live performances was growing as Prince gained more exposure outside the black music scene. The Time were a much-anticipated feature of Prince’s Triple Threat Tour in 1983, but backstage they felt they weren’t getting the credit they deserved (not only did they do their own set, but played backup for fellow support act/protegees Vanity 6 from behind a curtain).

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Written by Mike Duquette

June 18, 2010 at 11:30

Posted in Features, Prince, Reissues, The Time

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Reissue Theory: The Time, Part I

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After last week’s Prince binge on The Second Disc, it was inevitable that we’d double back to some of The Purple One’s best side projects. One of those great ensembles is The Time, arguably the funkiest band to come out of Minneapolis in the 1980s and a criminally underrated side-project to this day.

The Time was basically Prince’s rearranged version of a similarly named local funk outfit, Flyte Tyme. That band was led by vocalist Alexander O’Neal and featured among its ranks keyboardists Monte Moir and James Harris III, bassist Terry Lewis and drummer Garry “Jellybean” Johnson. Prince intended to use these five with a new guitarist, Jesse Johnson (no relation), but O’Neal asked for too much money and was replaced by a longtime friend and collaborator of Prince’s named Morris Day. Day had drummed in one of Prince’s earliest bands, Grand Central, and was leading another local band named Enterprise. While in that band, he wrote a tune for Prince called “Partyup” that was recorded for Dirty Mind in 1980.

With Day, Jesse, Jellybean, Monte Moir and the inseparable duo of Jimmy Jam (as Harris called himself) and Terry Lewis, the musical ensemble was complete – but one more member was added to the mix. Lewis’ half-brother, a concert promoter named Jerome Benton, was to become a major fixture of The Time’s live sets, hyping the crowd and developing a mock-foil persona for Morris Day’s outsized personality. At an early show, Day famously boasted of his looks and requested that someone bring him a mirror; Benton responded by tearing a bathroom mirror off the wall and bringing it to the stage.

And that music…well, that’s an odd situation. Keep on after the jump. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

June 17, 2010 at 09:00

Posted in Features, Prince, Reissues, The Time

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