What Time Is It?
Joni Mitchell songs blare out of the PA between the sets of Prince's road show, at his request. Vanity 6, three women in lacy camisoles, open the concert. "I love lingerie," explains Vanity, the leader of the group. "I used to sneak into my mother's closet and try to wear her lingerie to school." She picked her nickname because "a girl's best friend is her pride," she says. Like her cohorts, Brenda and Susan, Vanity gave a demo tape of her songs to Prince a year ago. "He said there were a couple other girls whose minds seemed to run alongside mine," she says. Prince then arranged to bring Vanity, a twenty-two-year-old former model from Toronto, to Minneapolis to meet the other two, flying Brenda in from Boston. Soon, the three were writing songs like "Drive Me Wild" and "Nasty Girls," in which Vanity coos, "I can't control it/I need seven inches or more."
It all seems a figment of Prince's imagination, a living fantasy. "Prince and I happen to think alike," says Vanity.
On their record, Vanity 6 is backed by the Time; onstage, they're followed by the Time (who, in turn, are followed by Prince). At one point in the Time's set, frontman Morris Day, a terrific dancer, calls out his valet. The valet – who often follows Morris' own dance steps like a shadow – brings out a table, sets it with a white cloth and a vase of flowers, and uncorks a bottle of champagne. Morris, meanwhile, in his trademark two-tone Stacy Adams shoes, waltzes with a girl chosen from the audience. This sort of classy deportment was the starting point for the Time, as organized by Morris. "The image was cool. That's the key word," he says. "That's what we built the Time around. Cool is an attitude, a self-respect thing."
Morris didn't exactly put the group together – all but guitarist Jesse Johnson had been playing around Minneapolis in a band called Flyte Tyme (known familiarly as the Tyme even then). But it is Morris who has led the band to the point where it now often steals the show from the scantily clad Vanity 6 and even from Prince. Morris, the former drummer, has stayed closer to traditional R&B but, by injecting his good humor, has developed one of the best live acts in the country.
Prince, says Morris, helped the band get its Warner Bros. contract in 1981. Asked why the Time shares the same teenage-sex themes as Prince, Morris says, "Sex is present in everybody's life. I don't think anybody owns the rights to that." Asked if Prince influenced their sound, Morris says what Vanity says: "We believe in the same things." Asked about Jamie Starr, an icy tension descends.
Although Morris Day and one Jamie Starr are credited as producers on the Time's first record, there is reason to believe that the record was, in fact, produced by Prince. One source very close to the situation says that not only is all the material written by Prince (mysteriously, there are no writing credits on the LP), but that the instruments are played by Prince and the voice is Prince's doubled with Morris Day's. This insider claims that the record – a more commercial, more straightforward R&B album – is a project Prince offered Warner Bros. because his own bolder stuff wasn't selling impressively. So, goes this theory, Prince set the Time in motion – and created a pseudonym, Jamie Starr, for his new project.
Prince did tell a reporter in an early interview with the Minnesota Daily, when he was just seventeen, that someday he would make jazz recordings under an alias. (In that same interview, Prince claimed not to be averse to choreography, but he drew the line at spins – "I get nauseated.") So the idea of working with a fictitious name had occurred to him at the beginning of his career.
And although Morris says that he and the band wrote the songs on their first LP, The Time, a call to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), with whom the songs are registered, casts some doubt. The composer of the hits "Get It Up" and "Cool" is Prince Rogers Nelson (with Dez Dickerson on "Cool"), says an ASCAP spokesman. Prince's manager says that the fact that Prince's name is registered for the Time's record is "a filing mistake."
"Let me clear up a few rumors while I have the chance," Prince told the Los Angeles Times. "One, my real name is Prince. Two, I'm not gay. And three, I'm not Jamie Starr."
"Jamie Starr is an engineer, the coproducer of our record. Of course he's real," says Morris Day, whose band now outplays whoever it was on the first Time record.
But if there is a Jamie Starr, why can't he be reached? Manager Steve Fargnoli says it's because he's "in and out of Minneapolis," because he's "a reclusive maniac" (like Prince) and because "it could be months before I see him." Can he be reached by phone? "No."
Well, you wouldn't need to call him over to Prince's home studio if he's already there. "Prince is Jamie Starr," says former Warner Bros. artist and fellow Minneapolitan Sue Ann (Carwell), who has been a friend of Prince's for years – ever since he wrote and produced her first demo tape. Others who are close to Prince also say that he is Jamie Starr, but they refuse to be quoted in print. But, says one, "everybody knows who's the main man behind everything."
"We could be this Generation's Yardbirds," Prince's guitarist Dez Dickerson boasted to a reporter about the way everybody was splintering off Prince's musical family tree and making solo records.
Dickerson himself wrote "He's So Dull" for Vanity 6 and has done some solo recording. André Cymone, since leaving Prince's band a year and a half ago, has signed a CBS contract and released an LP, Livin' in the New Wave, on which he plays all the instruments and produces himself. Alexander has released a twelve-inch dance record, "Do You Dare." Sue Ann, who had a hit in "Rock Me" a few years ago, has finished a new album, Inside Out. And the Time's bassist, Terry Lewis, and keyboardist, Jimmy Jam, recently wrote and produced a couple of songs for the all-girl group Klymaxx.
"Minneapolis is a mini-Motown", says Alexander, summing it up. "We'll have a hell of a lot to do with the musical direction of the Eighties."
But Minneapolis offers a kind of calm within the music industry, and they all stay on there, honing their acts. And while they're working, they're left alone. There's no chasing limousines there. There aren't any limousines carrying celebrities to the nightspots.
So nobody made a big deal of it when Prince walked into First Avenue, a club in downtown Minneapolis last summer, a rock club where images of Grand Master Flash, the Human League, the Clash and others flash in montage on the walls. What's new? somebody asked Prince. Sheepishly, he held up a test pressing of 1999 that he had tucked under his arm. Later on, he asked the DJ to throw his new song, "Delirious," on the turntable. And then, with his hottest record filling up the enormous room, Prince took Vanity out onto the middle of the dance floor to give his own record the ultimate test. They wiggled around, they strutted, they dipped. And Prince looked happy. It had a good beat. It was easy to dance to.
This story is from the April 28th, 1983 issue of Rolling Stone.
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