Morris Day talks Prince, fatherhood and funk on new season of ‘Unsung’
The Minneapolis funk star kicks off 'Unsung' on Sunday, March 21 at 9 p.m. on TV One
Morris Day was once a young, talented musician who had hopes of becoming a drummer. Then, he met Prince.
That meeting would change the course of both men’s lives and allow for the Minneapolis sound to become a global phenomenon. While Prince was writing and producing his own music he conceived of a band that would allow for him to express his funkiest inclinations. That band was The Time, whose 1981 self-titled debut with Day as the frontman, was entirely written, arranged, and produced by Prince.
Day’s tenure with the band was fraught with issues and he and Prince clashed over control and money. Day became a solo artist, releasing four modestly successful albums and after his scene-stealing moments in Purple Rain became an actor and a solid part of pop culture in the 80s and 90s. Despite a career slump, Day emerged triumphant, working with Snoop and continuing to perform as Morris Day and the Time.
Before Prince’s passing in 2016, Prince and Morris had reconciled their differences and when Prince invited Morris and The Time to perform at Paisley Park, the two men bonded. That would be the last time Day would see him. His memoir “On Time: A Princely Life In Funk” was released in 2019.
Day gets the props he deserves on TV One this Sunday, which covers his life before, during, and after his time with Prince and his journey from musician to father to funk/pop icon on the first Unsung of the award-winning show’s fourteenth season. It airs on Sunday, March 21 at 9 p.m. We caught up with Day to talk to him about his life and career.
theGrio: When did you first realize you could make a living as a musician?
Morris Day: Yeah, you know, I didn’t really think about having a career until, I got in the band Grand Central with Prince and André [Cymone], them and the other members, you know, they were so serious-minded. It really changed my outlook on music, you know, because they never talked about if I make it in music, they were always like when I make it. We rehearsed every day. And it just that was sort of a life-changing experience for me, you know, that that that really, I think, shaped my vision on what I wanted to do.
It seemed like everybody in Minneapolis was in a band back then. Why do you think? The weather, nothing to do?
I don’t know, but there were bands on every block, it seemed like, so the competition was stiff. I think the music kind of the winters in Minneapolis kind of forced you to stay inside and figure something out. So instead of being out in the street, we chose to just rehearse all the time and just kind of, you know, go deep into the music. I hated Minneapolis when I first moved there because of the cold and all that. But, you know, looking back, it’s definitely served its purpose.
You were a talented drummer and already working with Prince. Do you think he came up with The Time with you in mind?
He absolutely did not have me in mind. (Laughs). We went through a handful of possible lead singers and it just wasn’t working out. He knew us being in band that I could sing and that I would come up and do a song every now and then. So he said, ‘well, why don’t you do it?’ And I wasn’t too fond of that idea. But it worked out because, you know, Jellybean (Johnson of The Time) and I were both left-handed drummers and we’d be playing together in this rock band, since we were kids. So, you know, it worked out, because everyone got to be in the band. And I said, OK, it’s going to work out for everybody, so I’ll give it a shot.
Was it hard coming from behind a drum set where nobody sees you to the front where everybody sees you?
After I got a taste of being out front, you know, I you know, I took the reins and made it my own.
You started to like it?
A little too much.
The Unsung is about your life but it’s also a little bit of an Unsung about The Time. What was it like taking something Prince envisioned in his mind and making it come into a reality? I know he controlled a lot but you guys (original members keyboardist Monte Moir, drummer Johnson, keyboardist James ‘Jimmy Jam’ Harris, bassist Terry Lewis, guitarist Jesse Johnson, Jerome Benton and Day) really made it your own.
You know, it was a very controlled environment and he kind of controlled the success of the band. I think it got a little out of hand for him. And then he started taking extra measures to make sure it didn’t go too far. And I don’t quite understand that. But things happen for a reason. And, you know, here we are now.
When we get into the Unsung, we learn a lot more about you as a person and one of the things that you talk about is kind of the struggle navigating fame and then what happens when the fame eases up a little bit. Can you talk about that?
It was a roller coaster ride for sure. I guess my mindset is, you know, I’ve got to take the good with the bad. I’ve had ups and downs and, it’s just really about staying the course and it’ll come back around if you believe in it. I did lose faith for a while, but I just think I needed to take a break. And, you know, I took a break and it was all good.
I love to see the brotherhood that looks like it still exists between the members of The Time. Will you guys put out any more music as The Time with Jam and Lewis? You guys did the Original7ven Condensate project together in 2011. (The Prince Estate owns The Time name, but Morris has played as Morris Day and The Time and now, on his upcoming new project, is billed as Morris Day). Everybody seems real cool still. Are you?
Yeah, we are, so that that remains to be seen. I’m not I’m not against it. We’ll see.
At one point, you did have some difficulty with drugs, and that’s detailed in the episode. What do you think allowed you to survive it?
I don’t know, because there’s plenty of times where I felt like I shouldn’t be here, so, you know, the best I can explain that for you is God had a plan, you know?
In the episode, we see you and your youngest son, Elijah, playing music. (One of Day’s older sons, Derran Day, is also a musician.) Did it feel like here you started your career with a young man playing a guitar and now here you are with your son and he’s playing the guitar and you make music together. Did it feel like a full circle moment for you?
Yeah, yeah, definitely. I’m proud of that. I don’t force it on my kid, but it is nice to see, you know, that they’re paying attention and have interest in doing what I do and doing it their own way.
Watch the trailer for the Morris Day episode of Unsung below:
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