Prince’s Vault Of Unreleased Recordings Is Detailed By Jimmy Jam & Close Associates (Video)
It has been less than one week since Prince Rogers Nelson died (April 21). As information releases about Prince’s cause of death and last days, fans and historians are trying to understand the life—often private—of the 57-year old pop icon. One of the biggest questions lingering is what will happen to the reported legions of unreleased recordings Prince had stored in a mythic vault.
The vault at Prince’s Paisley Park studios has been a key part of the mystique surrounding Prince, and his privacy. The studio would be the source for releases—some bootleg—including The Black Album, Crystal Ball, Cookie Jar, and a number of compilations. For instance, in December of 1987, The Black Album would be promotionally serviced with a reported 500,000 copies pressed. Just before release, Prince insisted the albums be recalled, including the promos. Those remaining would be coveted collector’s items, spawning a black market for unreleased Prince material. In 1994, Warner Bros. would eventually release the album.
Someone who was as constant in Prince’s life as any friend and musical collaborator is Jimmy Jam. James Harris, III grew up with Prince, having met in junior high school. Meeting in 1973, the pair (and later, trio with Jimmy’s musical partner Terry Lewis) would work together in the 1980s on music by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis’ band, The Time. Speaking with Access Hollywood Live, Jimmy Jam explained how he and Prince had recently discussed liberating some of the vaulted 1980s (and beyond) recordings housed at his Paisley Park studio compound and residence.
“Trust me, the vaults are amazing!,” said Jimmy Jam, who cites the number of songs as “probably thousands.” He told viewers that in recent months, he and his friend of more than 40 years discussed how to go about curating and releasing the guarded sessions at Paisley Park, also the name of Prince’s Warner Bros.-distributed label from 1985 to 1994. “We actually talked about it. We had a conversation about that. [Terry Lewis and I] told Prince [that] we wanted to produce [the vault anthologies]. That was one of the things on our bucket list. He laughed, and he said, ‘Okay, what would you do?’ I said, ‘The first thing we do is we go down to the vault, and we get all those records’—’cause there’s [Morris Day & The Time] records, there’s Shelia E. records, there’s great records in there. ‘Let’s get those records and start working with those.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ So yeah, I think he [wanted to release it], and it’s great music.”
As for Jimmy Jam, The Time would release four albums at Warner between 1981 and 1990. Although rejoining the band for 1990’s Pandemonium as well as Prince’s Graffiti Bridge, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis were infamously fired by Prince in 1983. There are conflicting reports in the years since as to why the Grammy Award-winning, hit-making musicians and producers were dismissed. Some say that it stems from missing a flight to join The Time and Prince on The 1999/Triple Threat Tour. Prince would tell Rolling Stone, in 1990, that he supported Morris Day’s wishes in terminating the contracts of the producers. Speaking this week to Access Hollywood, Jimmy Jam says otherwise.
“I definitely was [fired],” he declares with a laugh. “Prince told [Terry Lewis and me] that he didn’t want us to produce and write for any other acts. And we did. And he found out about it, and subsequently fired us.” “We knew there was a picture of us in Billboard magazine working with these people, a group called the S.O.S. Band. We were trying to hide every Billboard magazine we could find. Every time the manager would go, ‘Hey Prince, here’s the new Billboard,’ we would snatch it. We’re thinking, oh, he’ll never see it. Of course, he finally did.”
Further in the 10-minute conversation, Jimmy Jam reflects on the firing at a deeper level. “We were fine with each other, actually. It was kind of the best thing that ever happened to us. When he fired us, the record that Terry and I were working on became our first #1 record—a [S.O.S. Band] song called ‘Just Be Good To Me.’” “In a way, he fired us. But in a sense, he almost set us free.”
In the years following the firing, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis have five times won “Producer Of The Year” at the Grammy Awards. The pair produced albums, including nine #1 hits for Janet Jackson. They have also produced Usher’s “U Remind Me,” Boyz II Men’s “On Bended Knee,” and Mariah Carey, Joe & 98 Degrees’ “Thank God I Found You.” The tandem’s discography includes acclaimed work with Chaka Khan, New Edition, Cherelle, Michael Jackson, and Alexander O’Neal. They also would work with Hip-Hop legend Big Daddy Kane.
While the conditions (and the alleged rumors) of Jimmy Jam’s firing suggest an egoist side to Prince, the accomplished pianist-producer sees it differently. “He expected excellence from everybody, maybe in the pursuit of perfection—although I never thought about it like that. I always thought of it like…he had the discipline of James Brown. The way James Brown used to operate his bands, where like, you had to be ready at any moment—switch a song, change the key of a song, you had to be ready. That was the thing. [Prince] worked, worked, worked. But the great thing was, his work ethic was beyond everybody else’s I always say, it’s like Michael Jordan. The most talented guy walks into the gym, and already has the talent anyway. But then he’s gonna outwork you on top of it. That’s the way Prince was.” The conversation notes how on Prince’s 1978 debut, For You, the Twin Cities sensation played all 27 instruments, and was responsible for all vocals.
Remembering Prince as an adolescent, Jimmy Jam states, “As a kid, he was pretty quiet actually. He did play basketball, and he was actually a very good basketball player.” That report resonates with pop culture–especially thanks to a memorable Charlie Murphy-based sketch on Chappelle’s Show–that Prince was an avid hooper. “He was like Steph Curry; he had handles.” Later in the interview, Jam recalls Prince consistently making trick basketball shots while recording early 1980s material in Los Angeles, California.
When Access Hollywood asked Jimmy Jam more about Prince’s famed studio, he commented “We used to go [to Paisley Park]. He would do these late shows—I’m talkin’ late. You had to be [be up]. Two in the morning, maybe three in the morning, he would actually get started. But it was a great hang. He always wanted to have people around. He was what I would call a gatherer. He always gathered great groups of people together to listen to music. I thought that was very cool, and very special—particularly being in Minneapolis, because people would travel [to him].” Sadly, it was in this home that Prince died last Thursday. He was discovered in an elevator.
With the label launched in 1985, Prince finished construction on his compound three years later. “[He would play] his music, but also music that he appreciated. He was a big Sly & The Family Stone fan, a big James Brown fan. But growing up in Minneapolis, which was 3% Black probably around the time we grew up—it was also Fleetwood Mac and that kinda stuff [that made an impact on him]. He had those kind of influences, and that’s where you hear the amalgamation of all of those in his style.” Asking about Prince’s overall mood, Jimmy Jam spoke of their early 1980s times together, when they were likely the most connected. “He seemed very happy during that period of time. I can tell you that.”
At the 6:00 mark, Jimmy Jam was asked about Prince’s hips—an issue believed to be ailing him at the time of his death. Unprovoked, Jimmy Jam spoke out against some rumors and speculation surrounding his friend’s cause of death. “In my knowledge of him, he’s never been a drug taker of any sort. He’s always lived a very clean lifestyle, a very healthy lifestyle.”