Morris Day, the lead singer and irrepressible showman of The Time, can tour with the latest version of his band — featuring original keyboardist Monte Moir and drummer Jellybean Johnson — and call it by the name it deserves.
And at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Oklahoma State Fair's Chesapeake Energy Stage, when Day asks the musical question, “What Time Is It?” and performs party-igniting funk hits such as “777-9311,” “The Bird” and “Jungle Love,” he promises that it will be The Time, through and through.
“I feel like one of the last of the real entertainers, you know what I mean? I'm going to bring people the opportunity to see one of the last of the real deal,” he said with one of the huge laughs that made him famous in the mid-1980s, when Day delivered a memorable comic performance in “Purple Rain,” the musical starring his former friend and musical partner, Prince.
But Morris Day and The Time can only bill themselves as such in a concert setting, the result of a legal maneuver by the “Purple One.” The past year constitutes a complicated chapter in Day's career. In late-2011, Day reunited with keyboardist “Jimmy Jam” Harris, bassist Terry Lewis, guitarist Jesse Johnson, background vocalist and “valet” Jerome Benton, along with mainstays Moir and Johnson, to record their first album together since 1990. The new album, “Condensate,” featured the band's classic Minneapolis funk sound and a first-rate single, “#Trendin.”
The only catch was that Prince owns the name “The Time” for the purposes of recording. So Day, Lewis, Harris, Benton, Moir and the two unrelated Johnsons called themselves The Original 7ven for the record. They were still The Time in spirit, just not in name.
The reunion was a long time in coming. Day went solo in 1984 and released a pair of solo albums in the 1980s, “Color of Success” and “Daydreaming.” Meanwhile, Harris and Lewis became a hugely successful production team, helming Janet Jackson's “Control” and “Rhythm Nation 1814” albums, among others. Jesse Johnson also went solo and brought Sly Stone out of retirement in 1986 for a single, “Crazay.”
After The Time reunited briefly for the 1990 album “Pandemonium,” Day said the original members would get together every few years and work on new material, but a full-scale return never materialized. Then, in 2008, when Harris was chairman of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, other members of the Grammy organization asked Harris to bring all the original members of The Time back for a performance of “Jungle Love” with a special guest.
“They didn't know he was in the band, and they were like, ‘That's crazy — we've got to get you on the show,'” Day said. “Next thing we know, we're doing the Grammys with Rihanna.”
Day said it took a few years, but the band finally convened for “Condensate” and found those classic styles to be just as vital as they were in the 1980s. But Prince would not let them use “The Time.” It created a marketing hurdle: how to sell Time fans a Time album without mentioning the name?
Given that difficulty, “Condensate” did not find a commercial foothold, and within a few months, Day said the band members who had rejoined started to drift away from the project. First, Jesse Johnson announced via Facebook that he was leaving in late 2011, and then the Original 7ven could not even use that name anymore with only six of them left. So Day is back in his pre-Original 7ven mode with Moir and Jellybean Johnson.
“We got out of the gates to a really heavy start, but I get the sense that everybody's drifting back into their worlds. I think we've allowed the iron to really cool off,” he said, laughing. “I'm not feeling the momentum that I was initially.”
Day said he is proud of the Original 7ven album, despite the difficulties with making the public aware of the project.
“At first, I was a little p---ed at Prince for not letting us use the name, but now I'm glad he didn't let us use it,” he said. “It made us search a little harder and it made the project a little more creative. The outcome of it is that we have some music we can all be proud of. And that is for sure.”
But with things back to the way they were, Day said he prefers playing with the current configuration of Morris Day and the Time. There are fewer egos with which to contend, he said.
“I do a lot less when I'm with the original members, because everybody's got a role that they play,” Day said. “When we do the Morris Day and the Time touring thing, there's a lot more weight on my shoulders. Which one would you experience more of me? It would be Morris Day and the Time as opposed to the Original 7ven.”