Wednesday, March 13, 2013

From Purple Rain to the Blues: Part 2 of our interview with the Time's Jellybean Johnson

Here is part 2 of our interview with Jellybean Johnson, drummer for The Time. In it, he talks about, among other things, how real tension between Prince and The Time made Purple Rain a hit; playing with Ronnie Baker Brooks and Bernard Allison and why, when it comes to the blues, his instrument is the guitar and not the drums.

BBP: The movie Purple Rain. You were in that, right?

Johnson: Yeah.

BBP: There was a rivalry (in the movie) between the Time and Prince’s people, the Revolution.

Johnson: And trust me, he used that—that had been going on for a couple of years—he used that to his advantage in that movie.  And this is why he actually kicked Terry and Jimmy out of the fucking Time! Right before Purple Rain! Go back and watch Purple Rain. Jimmy and Terry—and people to this day think they are (in the movie). They’re not in Purple Rain. They’re not! He kicked them out! And it was supposed to be Morris’ band. He (Prince) fired them a few days before, and that’s why they went on to be famous producers.

BBP: So he did them a favor more or less, right?

Johnson:  He did them a favor, more or less.  But still it’s just—it’s just—all this shit is just so childish when you look back on it 35 years later. You’re like, “what the fuck was he doing?” Because you know what, man?  He could have had all of us.  We could have all been working for him; we could have all been making hits for him and everything and he would have made even more money.  But his ego won’t let that happen.  His ego cannot take that. He had all of us: every guy in the Time, with the exception of Jerome—and Jerome had his own record deal—every guy in the Time had a top 10 hit.  Every one! Monte, Jesse, Jimmy and Terry sold over 100 million records. Morris, I—all of us—had Top Ten, Top Five records.  Prince could have had all of us.  Didn’t want to pay us; didn’t want to do it.

BBP: So you think it was a money issue, or was it an ego issue, or both?

Johnson: I think it’s ego and money. I think it was ego and money. Because he didn’t want us to become bigger than him. When I first toured, we first went on a major tour, we made $150 a week, dude.

BBP: (laughs) Really?

Johnson: Prince made millions.  Those millions he took to make Purple Rain, he made that first tour, when he got the bonuses and shit, our bonus was $150. After three fucking months on the road! That’s all we made was $150 a week! That’s all we made! Morris made more: he paid Morris more because Morris was his alter-ego, as you said.  The rest of us? That’s all we got! That includes Terry and Jimmy too.

BBP: But you know what’s interesting though, that movie would not have worked if it had not been for that tension, you know?

Johnson: Yeah. You’re right.  He used that, like I said, he used that to his advantage.  Because the automatic tension was there, because it had been there.  He used it to his advantage. And I give him credit for that. I’m still famous today for Purple Rain. I still get a little bullshit check every two or three months for Purple Rain…but Purple Rain’s going to always be part of his life too, even though he tries to poo-poo and play all of this new shit like “Screwdriver” and all that.  People come to concerts, they want to hear “Purple Rain” and that old shit.   This recent shit, they don’t be wanting to hear his ass with that. But it takes him time to figure shit out.  But then he’ll sit down at a piano and brag about how many hits he’s got, and kick his man offstage and just play the shit by himself. That’s the kind of shit he does.

BBP: Wow. What’s the deal with these women? I mean he gets these women and he promotes them and then you never see them again. What’s up with that?

Johnson:  (laughs) Women always get treated better than men in that organization.  That’s why he has an all-girl band right now.  This is why his drummer, John Blackwell, is gone. He’s a professor at Berkeley now. And Prince has had a cow about that because John left. John has a family like the rest of us. John needs money too. John cannot come here and just sit and don’t play and shit, or sit here and rehearse and don’t get a retainer. For a major league artist. That’s bullshit! He’s got this new group, Third Eye Girl or whatever shit, where he can play his rock and roll and rock band and all that shit, and I’m sure they’re treated like queens. He came in, he had auditioned some drummers but he ended up getting Ronald Bruner—I think he plays with Chaka Khan or whatever—he got him, but he’s talking about he’s having auditions there, but he wasn’t. He got Bruner and that’s who his drummer is now. So he’s got about two or three different versions of his band. That’s what he’s doing now.

BBP: So why do you think the women get treated better?

Johnson: This goes all the way back to Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, and how we used to get treated because of them.  We played for Vanity 6 and we were in their band, we didn’t get but an extra $100 for doing that shit…and when we came to major cities like New York, L.A., he booted our asses off there.  He kept them, made us play for them and wouldn’t let The Time play. Do you know what it’s like to have a major star—Quincy Jones, Sting—coming to see us, and we don’t play?  You know what? You should buy the Original 7ven. There’s a DVD in the album Original 7ven. You should buy that, man and watch that.

BBP: Yeah, I heard about that DVD.

Johnson:  It would explain a lot of this bullshit I’m telling you right now.

BBP: And I heard that the last album—the album you guys did in the early 90’s…

Johnson: Pandemonium

BBP: Yeah! That one! That was the first album you really had a lot of creative control over as a group.

Johnson: Yeah. Yeah, and he was actually cool about that. He gave us two or three songs. He stayed out of our way. That when he was (with) Kim Basinger, so he brought her to the studio and shit, was hanging out with that, and he was nice that whole time. And I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what happened to him about that. In a couple of years he just became a different person. He was good to us in ’04 when he did Musicology, because the Morris Day and The Time version did 14 of those gigs. We did 14 of those shows out in different cities and stuff. But after that, he’s just been nothing but problems for us.  So I don’t know. I don’t get it. Me and him don’t talk. He knows I hate him; I’m sure he don’t like me. And we’ll just leave it like that. No really, I don’t have time for it. But it’s why I play the blues, brother. It’s why I play the blues. Cause Lord knows I got ‘em.

BBP: So what’s happening with fDeluxe and the Original 7ven?

Johnson: fDeluxe is still looking for gigs.(bassist and vocalist) Paul (Peterson) and (keyboardist and vocalist) Susannah (Melvoin) are in L.A. right now working on stuff. And our manager is Australian, he’s Neil Richards from Australia, he’s trying to find us a gig and stuff. The Original 7ven, I doubt if you’ll ever see it again. I hate to sit here and admit that: I doubt if you’ll ever see it again in light of Terry and Jimmy’s bullshit and Jesse’s bullshit. I don’t know. And the Morris Day and the Time version, we’re still onto it bro,’ we’re still doing spot dates. I was pissed because the one date we got this February is cancelled but March we got a couple and then in April we got a bunch. So, we’re still going to keep that version rolling and stuff and just play around here and try to keep the lights on, you know? We gotta do something. We got to eat.

BBP: Who’s in Morris Day and the Time now?  It’s not the original members.

Johnson:  The only original members in Morris Day and the Time are me, Morris and Monte. Jerome left in like ’05 or ’06 or something like that and got with his brother. You know, Terry Lewis is his brother. And he decided he didn’t want to be in it anymore so he was back in the Original 7ven. But now him and Morris fell out in the Morris Day and the Time version because of money. He wanted more money and he was making more money than any of us except Morris and that wasn’t enough for him. So Morris got him a guy he could pay $300 a show and was happy with it. So that’s been the case for the last five or six years.

BBP: What’s that guy’s name?

Johnson: His name is Sylvester. We call him Sly.

BBP: Oh. Because of Sly Stone. I got you.

Johnson: Yeah. Yeah. We call him Sly.

BBP: So let me ask you a few questions about the blues. Because I talked to Bernard Allison and—well actually I saw you—I saw you at the Chicago Blues Festival with Ronnie (Baker Brooks). It had to be either 2007 or 2008, because those were the last two years I went there.

Johnson: A long time yeah. It was a long time ago.

BBP: Yeah, and he said “Jellybean Johnson.” And I said “That’s the guy who used to play for The Time, and he used to play drums! Whoa, what’s going on here?” But Bernard Allison was telling me that a bunch of you guys get together and just jam and play the blues. (Bernard Allison interview below)

Johnson: Yeah we do. Yeah we do. We do. I played on Bernard’s records, I did Ronnie’s first three records and it’s like the world’s best-kept secret around here and shit. But you know it’s always—I give Ronnie credit because Ronnie really exposed me to the whole blues thing. When I did his first record in like ’97 or ’98, and I was traveling around with him and stuff, going out and playing with him and his dad, because you know Ronnie was in his dad’s band for 13 years. So I would drive to Chicago sometimes and go to shows with them and play with them and it was always “ain’t he the drummer from the Time? What’s he doing with a guitar?” (laughs) So that’s the thing man. It was cool, man. You know me and Ronnie’s been friends now for a long, long time.

BBP: But was it kind of hard getting into the blues groove after doing R&B and funk for all that time?

Johnson: You know why, you know why it wasn’t hard for me? Because I was born in Chicago! I’m from Chicago and my mom exposed me to all that shit at a young age. So I always had that Chicago soul and blues side. You know my mom loved Otis Rush, she loved all of the Tyrone Davises and Otis Clays, Z.Z. Hills, all that whole Chicago type thing. So I was exposed to that as a youngster. And so when I started teaching myself how to play guitar at 15, those are the records I gravitated towards, in addition to like Albert King and Freddie King and Hendrix and Clapton and all that shit. So the blues has always been in my blood. That was the thing about Ronnie; Ronnie was shocked that I was well-versed in it. But I had been listening to it. Even though I would play the drums, in my spare time, when I picked up guitar, I leaned towards that kind of shit. I leaned toward playing the blues and trying to bend strings, and vibratos and that shit, you know.

BBP: Yeah. Does it come out when you play the drums though?

Johnson: No! No. And that’s the thing: I suck as a blues drummer. I always give Ronnie shit about that because, you know, I never played drums on any of his records. And that’s the thing: he begged me and begged me and stuff, because I just  don’t think I have a feel for it. I have that R&B pop, that R&B funk pop and blues; you have to be well-versed in this, you’ve got to have that Chicago shuffle and stuff. You know I’ve got blues drummer friends that are just killin.’ Buddy Guy’s drummer for many years, his name was Jerry—I forgot Jerry’s last name—but he’s from Chicago (editor’s note: Jellybean could have meant Jerry Porter, who has played in Guy’s band as well as with Ronnie Baker Brooks and Ronnie's brother, Wayne). You hear him play the drums and you just feel it; you feel that “pop” he has, that Chicago shuffle, that Chicago thing about him.

BBP: But people are putting things in the blues now. From that perspective it may be…

Johnson: I always tried to stay pure with the shit, so that’s the thing. I always like to approach the blues playing the guitar man, because I know too many badass drummers that can play that shit down better than me. So I always lean on them and just throw my guitar shit over it.

BBP: So is playing with Bernard, is that like a different thing than playing with Ronnie? Do they have different approaches?

Johnson: No, they have different approaches but, Ronnie and Bernard, they’re young, they’re younger, so they’re absorbing all of that young shit around them too. So you’ll get some little hip-hop, and some funk shit in their shit too, which is good for me when I play with them. Eric Gales, the same thing. Eric has that heavy rock, Hendrix side to him too. So you really have to be on your shit, man, to play with them, because they’re heavy. But I like it because they challenge me. They challenge me. “Okay, you’re a funk guy, but…hang with me on this!” you know, so I like that. That helps me become a better musician.  So it’s cool and stuff. And I was lucky enough to get to see (Bernard’s) dad when he was around. His dad was a motherfucker too, man. Luther Allison was something else. He was scary, man. Yes he was.

BBP: Listen, I’m not going to keep you on the phone much longer. There are a couple of other things I want to throw at you.  Do you remember your first band?

Johnson: My first band was called “Wars of Armageddon,” man.

BBP: Yeah, I saw that name. I was like “Whoa!” Where did that come from?

Johnson: That was so crazy, man. It was me, a childhood friend of mine named Dave Island—he’s a badass Spanish guitar player, sax player we grew up with—Prince tried for years to get him in his band and couldn’t do it—and there was a bass player named Greg Ash, or something like that. And that was it: Wars of Armageddon. And we got the name from, on Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain album there’s a long instrumental called “Wars of Armageddon.”

BBP: Oh, that’s where that comes from. That’s where you got the name from.

Johnson: That’s where we got the name from.

BBP: Did that band eventually become Flyte Tyme?

Johnson: Yeah, that band eventually became Flyte Tyme. Terry Lewis joined up with us and stuff; we changed the name to Flyte Tyme and the rest is history, man. Flyte Tyme was a band way before it was a production company.

BBP: Yeah, they got the name from a Donald Byrd song, right?

Johnson: Yeah, we named it after a Donald Byrd song. Cynthia Johnson was our lead singer, from (Lipps Inc.’s) “Funkytown.”

BBP: Yeah!

Johnson: She was our lead singer.  Yeah, that was our first lead singer. Sue Ann Carwell (onetime back-up singer to Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey and others and known more recently for Blues in My Sunshine, her collaboration with guitarist Jesse Johnson) was our singer for a while. Alexander O’Neal was our singer for a while. We had a bunch of heavy, famous singers in it before they started doing production.

BBP: Sort of like the movie The Magnificent Seven, a lot of stars before they were stars.

Johnson: Exactly. Exactly.

BBP: Yeah, that’s amazing. What’s “Soul Vaccination?”  You were in a band called that too, right? Or was that the same band?

Johnson: What was that?

BBP: “Soul Vaccination.”

Johnson: No. I learned the beat from that, but I was never in a band called that. I used to play the drums to that—David Garibaldi—funky shit, but I never was in a band like that.

BBP: Okay, got my information wrong…

Johnson: I used to play “Soul Vaccination” with The Combo: Dr. Mambo’s Combo. They’re called the Combo now. I used to play that song with them years ago. I still jam with them two nights a week as it is here…they’re called just “the Combo” now because they kicked Dr. Mambo out years ago, but that’s what they were called years ago, Dr. Mambo’s Combo. Everybody’s jammed with them: Prince, John Mayer, Anthony Hamilton, Slash…you name it, everybody has been on the Combo stage at some point.

BBP: Is this a club in Minneapolis?

Johnson: It’s a club. Yeah. Bunker’s.

BBP: And they’re the house band?

Johnson: Yeah, they’re the house band on Sunday and Monday.

BBP: Okay. And anyone who comes to town usually shows up and goes there?

Johnson: Yep…yes they do.

BBP: One more thing…maybe a couple. What’s the Minneapolis scene like now, I mean in terms of the music scene? Is it the same thing going on, or is it changed, or what?

Johnson: You know what? And I tell people this all of the time: we have one of the best music scenes in the country. Because literally here, seven nights a week, if you take your time, you can find something good to go see live. And a lot of cities—and I’ve been to damn near every city—cannot say that. They can’t do it. You can find a different band here every night of the week playing some cool-ass music if you take your time.

BBP: So what’s the focus: the sound that you guys created, or are there other sounds coming in?

Johnson: Yeah, you’re hearing rock, you’re hearing R&B, you’re hearing funk, you can even hear some country. We’ve got the best jazz clubs. Whatever it is you want to see, you can find it here most nights of the week. You can find it!

BBP: Okay. How about blues?

Johnson: Blues, we’re a little lacking in that, but now I’ve been hanging out at a club there called Shaw’s. I’m going there tonight. And they play the blues there damn near seven nights a week. It’s pretty good; we’ve got Famous Dave’s of course.  That is some blues but they change it up and do other bands too.

BBP: Okay. Because the way it was described to me is that Minneapolis kind of has a hipster community. That’s the word that was used.

Johnson: Yeah. Yeah.

BBP: That’s interesting.  How did you get the name Jellybean? I know your real name is Garry, spelled with two “r’s,” right?

Johnson:  Yeah. That was given to me by a trumpet player we had in our band years ago, his name was Robert Martin . When we were like, 15, 16 years old (at this point, the connection started to go bad, but I heard enough to figure out that Jellybean and some of his friends were playing at a local club. He takes the story from there) We were lucky enough to be in high school playing that night. We had no business doing it, but the club owners let us do it and shit. So anyway, we’re in there one night and we had like a 12 or 13 piece band, and we were kind of goofing around, wasn’t sounding that great or anything, and the trumpet player (says) “Ah man, we sound like a bunch of jellybeans in there.” Anyway, he came to the next gig the next day and he had me a t-shirt with “Jellybean” on it and the band just lost it. And so I’ve been “Jellybean” ever since! And then when I joined Prince’s organization, I don’t know if you remember but there used to be a Jellybean Benitez that was (with) Madonna and was her boyfriend and shit, and he actually had the nerve to call Prince’s organization and try to get me to change my name! And Prince told him “kiss our ass, he’s not changing his name…we know the difference between the two, bro’!






  1. To many, Jellybean may appear bitter, and he may be. I think that he's just giving his take on things, without the rose colored glasses. The underlying tension between the band kind of surprised me. I think that like New Edition, The Tempts, and countless other bands, they would love each other and hate each other, at the same time. When other band members have been interviewed, the anger has been directed solely at Prince. I get the feeling that Jesse's probably second on everybody's shit list.

  2. I've read many negative comments from other musicians who have worked with Prince..

    From what it seems, they can't stand him..

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.