The world best knows Morris Day as Prince’s musical and sexual rival in the movie Purple Rain. In real life, Day played drums in Prince’s high school bands. One of their bands got very popular, with Prince as the star attraction. The story goes, Prince copped a record deal behind Day and the band’s back, and ditched them all — only to return to Day some years later, to cast him as the leader of The Time. Day had never sung in any band until Prince decided he would. Prince and Day recorded all The Time’s music, from “Jungle Love” to “The Bird” on their own, just the two of them.
In the story of Prince, there exists no other more consistent character than Morris Day.
So, I lied to myself that I wouldn’t ask much about Prince when I interviewed Day, just before he swung through New Orleans to play the famous St. Aug “Hampfest” benefit concert with three original members of The Time. I told myself I’d ask him instead about him leading full-band choreographed dance moves on stage, and about his famous “Fetch me a mirror!” bit with manservant Jerome, and about The Time’s 2008 cameo with Rhianna at the Grammys, which inspired the band’s 2011 album, Condensate (which, I told Morris Day, is a great album title).
Condensate featured all of The Time’s original members, but calling themselves the Original 7even. So, I had to ask, “Are you not allowed to use the name, The Time?”
“For recording purposes, no,” he said with a hint of bitterness. “We can only use it for the live performance.”
“You mean Prince won’t let you use the name you came up with?” I bluntly proposed. At the time, Prince was still alive.
“That’s pretty much it,” he admitted. “At first it was irritating, but we can’t let things interrupt our life too much. I ranted and raved about it, got past it, now I’m on to the next thing.”
I asked Morris Day all my non-Prince questions, but the conversation always organically returned to The Artist. After Day told me how much money he’d passed up from other artists who’d wanted him to write and produce for them, because Prince owned him and wouldn’t let him work alone, I finally asked, “You’ve know him since y’all were 13; was Prince always sort of…weird?”
“Absolutely,” Day replied. “It’s not an act… At first, whenever we’d play together, he never said anything to me, not for quite a while. He’d just be standing around looking at me all crazy and shit.”
NOTE: Recently, I bought Prince’s “autobiography” The Beautiful Ones and Morris Day’s memoir On Time in the same week, read them both simultaneously, and in the end loved Day’s book quite a bit more. Morris won that one contest, at least.
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