LOS ANGELES — Morris Day, the front man for the funk band The Time that helped usher in the pounding Minneapolis funk sound, appeared as the special guest Dec. 9 at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, where he reminisced about his fascinating and turbulent association with the enigmatic Prince.
Day has a new book, “On Time: A Princely Life in Funk.”
Before he appeared on stage, the Time’s greatest hits flowed through the sound system putting the crowd in a party mood. When Day finally appeared, one enthusiastic audience member yelled out “What Time is It?” — Day’s famous catch phrase.
Written by celebrated author David Ritz, “On Time” is a memoir of Day’s journey to the top of the music charts The Time. The Time was actually conceived by Prince, who wrote and produced many of the Time’s biggest hits.
According to Day, he and Prince were ensnared in a love/hate relationship that lasted for decades as both Prince and the Revolution and The Time climbed the music charts. Wearing a stylish yellow and black checkered blazer and flaunting his trademark shades (at night), Day, 61, who resides in Las Vegas, still embodied the “cool” he was known for as he reminisced about his relationship with the Purple One.
Despite their many conflicts and disagreements over the years, Day thought of Prince as his spiritual brother. As a teen, Prince endured a volatile home life, moving from place to place. Both turned to music for solace.
“Prince was incredibly shrewd,” said David Goldstein, who served as the moderator. “He wanted to reach as wide an audience as possible (with his music).”
Day said that after Prince’s death from a drug overdose in 2016, he was bombarded by news and print media outlets that appealed to him to share his thoughts about the singer.
“I wasn’t ready,” Day said simply, shaking his head. No one was closer to Prince or knew him longer than Morris Day.
“I knew that after Prince passed, people were going to be coming out of the woodwork claiming to be close to Prince.” The multi-platinum recording artist was joined during the talk by author David Ritz, who has written autobiographies about Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles.
Ritz said he flew to Minneapolis to convince Day to write a book.
“Day said, ‘I like you, but I don’t think I have the patience to sit still to write a book,’” Ritz recalled. “You and Prince can have conversations and argue back and forth with each other in the book from what you can recall,” Ritz told him and that’s how the book started.
“Prince always had the ability to make you think that you were standing on thin ice with him,” Day said.
“You never knew where he stood or what he was thinking,” Goldstein said.
“But as time went on, we became the best of friends,” Day said. “But it was always a journey with Prince.”
Day left Minneapolis but soon returned, hoping to join Prince’s band as the drummer.
“I have a drummer,” Prince bruskly told Day. “But you can be the videographer.”
“For all of his talent, there were some unflattering aspects of him,” Goldstein said. “What was it in you that allowed you to work with him?”
“It was just business for me,” Day said. “I said to myself, ‘Do you want to continue to slave away at Montgomery Wards, or do you want to fly around the world with Prince?’ I took the job as the videographer.
“Prince was always ambitious,” Day recalled. “It was never ‘If we make it, but ‘When we make it.’ Prince was a musical genius and it showed.”
After they began climbing the charts with hits like “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Kiss” and “When Doves Cry,” Day videotaped Prince and the Revolution opening for acts such as Rick James and the Rolling Stones.
Prince tapped Day to become the lead singer in the Time, and they went on to collaborate on four albums which spawned such Time hits as “Jungle Love,” “Jerk Out,” “Cool,” “The Bird” and “Gigolos Get Lonely Too.”
“Prince wanted The Time to be his funky alter-ego,” said Day. Day said that early in their careers, they were signed to Prince’s production company with Warner Bros. He recalled one of their first gigs.
“We were booked to play The Starlight. We’re driving around expecting to see a huge stadium. But The Starlight was a little hole-in-the-wall joint. We complained to Prince about being underpaid and his band nearly ruined our performance by throwing eggs at us while we jammed on stage. Eggs were flying everywhere.
“Prince said, ‘Don’t throw any eggs while my band is playing.’ But naturally, we bought some eggs, which we threw at Prince and his band, and Prince was absolutely livid. The food fight continued at the hotel where we were staying.
“After the food fight was over, Prince stuck me with a cleaning bill of $5,000.”
Day said that Prince could be unreasonable.
“I was offered $75,000 to produce a song with Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King, but Prince said ‘No,’” Day recalled. At one point, Prince became a Jehovah’s Witness and gave Day an ultimatum to join the Jehovah’s Witnesses or say goodbye to their working relationship.
In 1984, Prince announced that the band was going to shoot a movie titled “Purple Rain.”
“He said we all had to take acting and dancing lessons,” Day said, adding that Prince wanted him to play his musical rival in the movie.
“I was terrible in school, so I didn’t like classes,” Day recalled. “I was the jokester in the acting class. Finally the acting teacher turned to me and said, ‘Don’t come here anymore.’”
Despite being kicked out of class, Day emerged as one of the breakout stars of “Purple Rain.” His on stage charisma was undeniable. Day’s persona as the eternal playboy sporting glamorous smoking jackets who danced in shiny two-toned alligator shoes was magic.
A highlight of his show is when his sidekick Jerome Benton fetches him a mirror so that Day can properly preen himself, which always elicits a chuckle from the audience.
“I’ve never seen ‘Purple Rain’ all the way through,” Day admitted. “I didn’t like the sound of my voice.” With the Time reaching success, the foibles and temptations of fame sent Day into a downward spiral. “You were incredibly transparent about your womanizing and drug use,” Goldstein pointed out. “But you found sobriety and you got your life back on track.”
“That’s my life,” said Day, shrugging. “I just couldn’t talk about the highlights, I had to reveal the low lights, too.”
Day recalls that Prince was totally obsessed with music. “He would say, ‘Morris, come over. We’re going to jam tonight.’ But that was every night,” Day said. At the time, Day had just purchased a quiet home in the suburbs.
“Sometimes I just wanted to chill,” he said.
Prince, who won three Grammys, went on to win an Oscar for Best Original Sound Score for “Purple Rain.” The soundtrack sold 25 million copies worldwide and the soundtrack spent 24 weeks on the Billboard charts.
Prince sold more than 130 million records worldwide and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“There were times when I wanted to put my hands around Prince’s neck and choke him,” Day said. “But Prince was one of the people that I both loved and hated in my life.”
By Shirley Hawkins