Stony Brook, NY - May 3, 2016 - Morris Day was a recent guest on Tom Needham's radio show The Sounds of Film before his Long Island performance with the Time at the NYCB Theatre. Originally scheduled before Prince's passing, the interview provided Morris an opportunity to reflect back on his long-time relationship with Prince and the band that they created together, The Time.
Throughout the years, Morris Day and the Time have been one of America's premiere funk bands releasing the classic albums Ice Cream Castles, What Time Is It?, The Time and Pandemonium. Morris Day and the Time, though, are probably most remembered for their performance in Prince's Purple Rain, which is back in theaters again.
Tom Needham: I am very sorry to hear about the loss of your long-time friend, Prince. I understand that you went to high school together.
Morris Day: Yeah, I appreciate that. There are really no words to describe the loss. It is difficult. I will be dealing with this for a really long time.
Tom: You started working working Prince originally in a group called Grand Central.
Morris: That was a turning point in my life. At 14, I saw a band playing at the high school after hours. It was Grand Central with Andre Cymone and Prince. I had never heard musicians playing so well. They were playing Santana and the guitar solos were great. I got to know Andre and Prince pretty well. We would go over my house and they heard me play drums. Andre's jaw dropped, and said, "I didn't know that you could play like that." He, then, invited me to bring my drums and practice with them. I played with them, and I was in. That changed my life because they were serious musicians and did their own recordings. For me, It just took things to another whole level.
Tom: What kind of drummer were you?
Morris: I was a funk drummer. I liked Tower of Power. I listened to a lot of fusion music and liked drummers like Billy Cobham. I also listened to Parliament Funkadelic and early Kool and the Gang. Our sound, growing up in Minnesota became a very diverse sound. It was a combination of the pop music that you heard on the radio and the funk music that you had to search out in the record stores. A lot of funk bands had horns. We didn't have horns. So, we used synth lines to replace the horns and that ended up being our signature sound and Prince's band's sound too.
Tom: How did you end up being part of the Time?
Morris: It was just a path that I was on and all I had to do was follow it. You know, Prince said that he would help me put the band together. We got right on it. The next thing I know, we cut the record in about two weeks. Then, it was on the desk at Warner Brothers, and they were offering us a deal. It was all on from there.
Tom: From the beginning, you had this incredible persona as the lead singer. How did you make the transition from drummer to lead vocalist?
Morris: I still don't know. I was a shy kid, and the last thing I wanted to do was get out from behind my drums and be in front of a band. You know, we would do a lot of silly stuff, talking and laughing. Prince said, "You need to get that laugh on the record." We started doing the stuff that we we did behind the scenes. This whole persona emerged and just sort of came out of nowhere.
Tom: You mentioned that you were shy. Was this persona, then, just a creation?
Morris: It was a little of both. It was created. It was also, though, a lot of the antics that we would do when the tape wasn't running. So, we started to record a lot of these antics.
Tom: The Time quickly established itself as an incredible live group. It is also well known that here was a lot of competition between Prince and the Time when you were on the same tours. This conflict was captured in the movie Purple Rain. What was it like in those days when both groups were playing together?
Morris: Well, we had a better band than Prince. He could have had any band that he wanted, but he chose the band that he did for his own reasons. You know, I am like Papa Johns, better ingredients, better pizza baby! We could outplay them, except for Prince. But, we had Jesse Johnson who was an amazing guitarist. Plus, we rehearsed many, many hours. Prince saw to that because we were under his production company. We played better, but Prince is Prince. He is a one-of-a-kind performer. He is like Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan. It was competitive. Sometimes it would get heated, but that was what it was all about. It was about competition. We always tried to outdo one another, and it showed.
Tom: When you look back at the original members of the Time, it is just remarkable how many members went on to do other things in the music industry. Did you have a sense in the beginning that so many guys in the band would go on to to be important people in music business?
Morris: I didn't see that. I know good musicians, and I knew that they were all great musicians. Terry and Jimmy were already doing outside production work on songs like Funk Town. I was like these are incredible productions. I knew that I had top-notch guys, but I had no idea that they would become as incredible as they ended up being, or any of us for that matter. It is kind of like with Purple Rain. They said that we were going to do a movie. It was like, OK, we are going to do a movie. They started putting us in dance classes and acting classes. I was getting kicked out the acting classes becuase they said that I clowned around too much. But, that is what worked so well for me in the movie. I had no idea that this was going to be a blockbuster movie. I thought that we were just doing our thing.
Tom: You are considered an actor now. Do you remember, though, what it was like when you first got that call to be in the movie?
Morris: Well, it was Prince who asked because, back then, we hung out every day. You know, we would cut music, go out and party a little bit, and, then, record some more music. He was just like, we are going to make a movie. He said that he was writing it. I said,"OK." It got real. Warner Brothers started putting a team together. They brought in a director, and he started going over the script. That is when I knew it was real. It was just of one of those things.
Tom: One of the things that you are most well-known for in the film, besides your musical performances, are your comedic moments, especially with Jerome. How did the two of you develop these routines?
Morris: Yeah, well what happened was we brought it from behind the scenes to the forefront on tape. But, we were out of control. We just started getting crazy with it. When we started having hit records, we started getting cocky. It just grew and grew. Now, people were digging it. So, we decided to really cut it up. So, it was one of those kinds of things.
Tom: Can you believe that this film is out in theaters again?
Morris: No. There are a lot of things going on that I never expected. My buddy, I never thought that he would pass, I thought that he would outlive me by a hundred years. You know, he was healthy and ate right. He did everything right. I guess, when its your time, its your time. You know, all of our records are back on the charts. I never expected that. It is crazy what is going on right now.
Tom: I can't imagine how Purple Rain changed your life. All you are hearing now is how Prince changed millions of people's lives, but this must have hit you big time. You were getting incredible reviews. Your music was a hit. How did that movie change you personally.
Morris: Well, that is when my feet left the ground a little bit. Morris Day became bigger than life then. Life will always deal you a reality check. So, back then it was crazy. I was living in the fast lane. The partying got out of control. I went from being a somewhat famous singer to a movie star/singer. It was crazy.
Tom: All of a sudden, Hollywood started calling you. Did you ever expect Hollywood's reaction to your role in Purple Rain?
Morris: Bottom line, though, through that whole process, you learn. In the beginning everybody was calling and offering parts. Then, it dropped off. Through all that, I learned that I enjoy being a musician. That's what I do now.
Tom: With all of the attention that Prince is receiving right now, do you think that there will more of a demand to see acts like the Time, Sheila E. and the Revolution?
Morris: Well, I think so because Prince was such a worldwide icon. The Time and Shellie are the last thing that fans have to hold on to right now.
Tom: Lastly, how do you think that the Morris Day and the Time will be remembered in history?
Morris: Well, I really feel that it is not over yet. We are starting a new chapter. You know, we will strike again. I just want to be remembered as someone who could make you smile. You come to one of our shows and you will have a good time. People spend their hard-earned money, and they want to party and feel like their part of something. That's what we do.