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Addresses: Production company-- Flyte Tyme Productions, 4100 West 76th St., Edina, MN 55435.
When Elle music writer Steven Daly said that Janet Jackson's 1986 album Control "changed the face of pop radio," he was perhaps saying less about Jackson than about the production team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Daly explained, "Their unholy alliance with the youngest daughter of a dysfunctional show-biz family would turn the beat around, setting black music back on its proper course to chart domination." In ten years, Jam and Lewis, now based at their Flyte Tyme Productions in Minneapolis, have written and/or produced over 40 singles and albums that have sold in excess of 500,000 to one million units, as well as an expanse of top hits on the R&B, dance, and pop music charts. Rolling Stone' s Michael Goldberg aptly described them as " auteur producers whose body of work has a musical and thematic unity that transcends the work of the individual artists they produce."
Jam and Lewis both grew up in Minneapolis, though Lewis was not born there. Born in Omaha, Nebraska, on November 24, 1956, Lewis moved to the city with his family in the early 1960s. Jam, born James Harris III, on June 6, 1959, met Lewis while the two were high school students. They did not meet in class, however, but while attending an Upward Bound program for urban youth on the University of Minnesota campus. According to their Flyte Tyme publicity literature, the precise locus of the meeting was "over a piano." The initial encounter, nonetheless, did not blossom into a career option until some years later; in the meantime, Lewis was pursuing a high school athletic career that won him a football scholarship to Notre Dame University, and Jam was earning his nickname spinning records for dancers at Minneapolis clubs.
Lewis was forced to forgo college when a knee injury cut short his athletic potential during his senior year of high school, which compelled him to seriously consider a career in music. Lewis had formed and played bass in a band called Flyte Tyme that, in the mid-1970s, shared the funk spotlight with another homegrown Minneapolis superstar, Prince. The Lewis-Jam musical connection blossomed in the late 1970s when Lewis invited his friend to play keyboards for his band; they would begin regularly writing songs together early in 1981. Around this time, Prince began exercising his entrepreneurial reach by essentially buying Flyte Tyme and replacing vocalist Alexander O'Neal with his friend and protege Morris Day. Firmly in control, Prince dubbed the band The Time and began shaping them into a professional outfit.
Although Jam and Lewis, the primary songwriters for the band at that time, were dissatisfied with their lack of independence under Prince's stewardship, they realized the benefits of the arrangement. Goldberg allowed that "they became professionals while playing in the Time," and he quoted Jam as having recalled, "Prince was going to call the shots. We weren't going to get paid a lot of money, but we were going to learn. We were not going to make a bunch of mistakes Prince had made." Jam further mused that, in the long run, "You came away from that experience definitely having the work ethic. You believe in yourself."
Jam and Lewis vented their creative frustrations by writing songs for other musicians and occasionally producing the tracks. By the time they incorporated their musical and production skills in 1982 with the creation of Flyte Tyme Productions, they had begun traveling to various cities around the country, renting time in recording studios. It was just such a travel engagement that ended their relationship with Prince. Between Time gigs in 1983, Jam and Lewis flew to Atlanta to produce "Just Be Good to Me," a song they had written for the S.O.S. Band. A freak blizzard in Georgia forced them to miss a Time concert in San Antonio, Texas. Prince, widely known for his no-nonsense managerial style, told them to either devote their energy to the band or leave; they left.
Over the next few years, Jam and Lewis developed their talents and built their business as both songwriters and producers. Following their break from The Time in 1983--and the timely success of "Just Be Good to Me" for the S.O.S. Band--Jam and Lewis turned out a string of triumphs, including a hit with Cherrelle's "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On." Jam told Rolling Stone' s Goldberg how Prince's ultimatum had changed their lives, revealing, "That was the first time that we got serious about producing.... Up to that time it was just fun. 'Hey, let's write some songs. Ha-ha, this is fun.' All of a sudden, it's like ... 'this is how I'm going to make my living now.'" By 1984, they had bought their own studio, also named Flyte Tyme Productions, and had set up full-time operations in Minneapolis.
1986 proved to be the turning point for Flyte Tyme, largely, but not entirely, due to the success of Janet Jackson's debut album, Control. Their work with Jackson exemplified the team's production ethic, demonstrating how they manage to realize the potential of musicians whose careers are at a crossroads. Jackson lived in the shadow of her superstar brother, Michael, and had received little attention despite years of work in television and music. Jam and Lewis approached the singer with a concept, designing songs specifically for her image and crafting an album to fill an apparent void in the music scene of the moment.
Jam disclosed to Elle' s Daly, "With Control we tried to make a very street-edged R&B record with a lot of attitude.... We just set out to make as black an album as we could." Goldberg noted that after Jam and Lewis brought Jackson to Minneapolis to record, they "were doing their kind of research, gathering the raw material from which they would fashion a batch of semibiographical hit songs ... that revealed a shockingly emancipated Janet Jackson and subsequently transformed her into the major new superstar of 1986." Of their approach to the songwriting, Jam said, "All we ever try to do is bring out the personality. Janet was like a stick of dynamite. We lit the fuse." The ensuing explosion produced a multiplatinum album and five Top Ten pop hits, among them the memorable "Control," "Nasty," "What Have You Done for Me Lately," and "When I Think of You."
From the landmark of Control, Jam and Lewis have focused on expanding their production facilities. Their potential grew markedly as their influence shifted from a black music market to the pop arena, which allowed them to introduce more and more black musicians to greater success and marketability. The Top Ten status of a 1986 single, "Tender Love," with the Force M.D.'s had marked Flyte Tyme's initial transition from the R&B charts to the pop charts, closely anticipating the tremendous crossover success of Control. 1986 also saw the production of Top Ten hits with "Human," by the Human League, and a cover version of Cherrelle's "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On" by Robert Palmer. The resounding coup of 1986 demanded industry attention for Jam and Lewis, including the 1986 Grammy for producers of the year. By 1989 the duo were able to reflect their change in status with a change in venue, trading the original Minneapolis studio for a multimillion-dollar, cutting-edge complex outside of the city.
Post-Jackson, Jam and Lewis found themselves free to pick and choose the artists with whom they would work; they received calls from the likes of megastars Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston. But they continued, despite their movement into a mainstream market that allowed them freedom from the limits imposed on "black" producers in a segregated industry, to champion African-American musicians who weren't quite realizing their musical and business potential. Lewis told Daly, "We've been offered people who've sold millions of records ... but if we don't feel we can bring something to the party, then we don't take it.... It's not that we don't love these people and their work--that's exactly why we won't touch it."
Jam and Lewis brought precisely this philosophy to the record label, Perspective Records, that they created in a joint venture with A&M Records in 1991. Their first recording was an indisputable success, not simply because of positive reviews and sales, but also because Jam and Lewis--characteristically--were able to create mainstream popularity for an unlikely client: a 40-member gospel choir called Sounds of Blackness. Their debut album, The Evolution of Gospel, garnered the Grammy for best gospel album by a choir or chorus and landed three singles on the R&B charts. Perspective's second release, Mint Condition's Meant to Be Mint, put this young band in the Number One R&B spot with the single "Breakin' My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)." Perspective continued to market new bands, including Lo-Key?, and turned the soundtrack for the Daman Wayans film Mo' Money into a platinum record. In 1993 A&M extended its deal with Perspective through a significant infusion of cash and manpower, and it was announced that Perspective would be charged with promotion and marketing of A&M's R&B roster--quite the vote of confidence for Jam and Lewis.
Over the years the dynamic duo--almost as well known for their signature dark suits, fedoras, and shades as for their remarkable skills--have maintained their partnership with Jackson, possibly the one superstar in their roster. Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 built on the success of Control, making its mark in 1989 with five Number One assaults on the R&B chart and six Top Five landings on the pop chart. Ms. Jackson's 1993 offering, janet., debuted at Number One on the pop charts and remained there for six weeks; by this time, the lead single from the album, the gently grooving "That's the Way Love Goes," had been prominent on both the pop and R&B charts for almost a month. The record, in fact, seemed unstoppable, spawning two more hits, "If" and "Again," as Jackson's world tour headed off into 1994. Similarly, the momentum of Jam and Lewis's Flyte Tyme showed no signs of letting up.
by Ondine E. Le Blanc
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis's Career
- Selective Works
- As producers The Time, The Time Warner Bros., 1981.
- The Time, What Time Is It? Warner Bros., 1982.
- Klymaxx, Girls Will Be Girls Solar, 1982.
- The S.O.S. Band, On the Rise (includes "Just Be Good to Me"), Tabu/Epic, 1983.
- Klymaxx, Meeting in the Ladies' Room Constellation/MCA, 1984.
- The S.O.S. Band, Just the Way You Like It Tabu/Epic, 1984.
- Change, Change of Heart RFC/Atlantic, 1984.
- Thelma Houston, Qualifying Heat MCA, 1984.
- Cherrelle, Fragile (includes "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On"), Tabu/Epic, 1984.
- Cherrelle, High Priority Tabu/Epic, 1985.
- Alexander O'Neal, Alexander O'Neal Tabu/Epic, 1985.
- Force M.D.'s, "Tender Love" (12" single), Warner Bros., 1985.
- The Human League, Crash (includes "Human"), A&M, 1986.
- Robert Palmer, Riptide (includes "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On"), Island, 1986.
- Janet Jackson, Control (includes "Nasty," "Control," "What Have You Done for Me Lately," and "When I Think of You"), A&M, 1986.
- The S.O.S. Band, Sands of Time Tabu/Epic, 1986.
- O'Neal, Hearsay Tabu/Epic, 1987.
- Herb Alpert, Keep Your Eyes on Me A&M, 1987.
- Cherrelle, Affair Tabu/Epic, 1988.
- New Edition, Heart Break MCA, 1988.
- O'Neal, All Mixed Up Tabu/Epic, 1989.
- Jackson, Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 A&M, 1989.
- O'Neal, All True Man Tabu/Epic, 1991.
- Karyn White, Ritual of Love Warner Bros., 1991.
- Sounds of Blackness, The Evolution of Gospel Perspective/A&M, 1991.
- Mint Condition, Meant to Be Mint (includes "Breakin' My Heart [Pretty Brown Eyes]"), Perspective/A&M, 1991.
- Mo' Money (soundtrack), Perspective/A&M, 1992.
- Jackson, janet. (includes "That's the Way Love Goes," "If," and "Again"), Virgin, 1993.
February 8, 2006: Jam and Lewis shared the Grammy Award for best gospel song, for "Be Blessed," with Yolanda Adams and James Q. Wright. Source: Grammy.com, http://grammy.com/GRAMMY_Awards/Annual_Show/48_nominees.aspx, February 9, 2006.
February 8, 2006: Lewis shared the Grammy Award for best gospel song, for "Be Blessed," with Yolanda Adams, James Harris III, and James Q. Wright. Source: Grammy.com, http://grammy.com/GRAMMY_Awards/Annual_Show/48_nominees.aspx, February 9, 2006.
- Billboard, October 23, 1993.
- Ebony, July 1987.
- Elle, March 1993.
- High Fidelity, September 1986.
- Jet, May 24, 1993.
- Musician, September 1992.
- People, June 29, 1992.
- Rolling Stone, April 23, 1987.
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