The band was assembled under a clause in Prince’s contract with Warner Bros. that allowed him to recruit and produce other artists for the label. Inspired by the 1980 film The Idolmaker, about the life of music promoter and producer Bob Marucci (the svengali figure behind such 50s/early 60s teen idols as Fabian and Frankie Avalon), Prince decided to put together a poppy funk group that would serve as a pet project and an outlet for further hits and material in the vein of his own early albums while he himself went on to explore other genres and styles in his own career.
By 1981, he had built The Time out of an existing Minneapolis funk unit, “Flyte Tyme” (from the Donald Byrd song), which featured Jellybean Johnson on drums, Jimmy Jam and Monte Moir on keyboards, and Terry Lewis on bass. To this base were added Jesse Johnson on guitar and a lead singer and childhood friend named Morris Day, drawn from another local band called “Enterprise”. Prince had used an Enterprise song, “Partyup”, on his Dirty Mind album, and his selection of Day was essentially a reward; he had originally tapped Alexander O’Neal - yet another player in the Minneapolis Uptown funk scene - for the vocalist slot, but O’Neal wanted too much money.
The band went on to release four albums during the course of their main career, each a solid slice of jammy, rock-infused 80s funk, generally light and humorous in tone, the first two of which were composed and arranged entirely by Prince and performed by the Time. Although they scored numerous hits (including “The Bird”, Jesse Johnson’s very catchy “Jungle Love”, “777-9311”, “Get It Up”, “Gigolos Get Lonely Too”, and “Cool”, mostly on the R&B charts) during the early 1980s, they never approached superstardom, or developed a reputation for innovation or artistic brilliance in the manner of Prince. Though Day made a charismatic and alluring frontman, many have called his songwriting (in later albums) weak and self-indulgent, citing it as a reason that The Time never went on to even greater success.
In 1983, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who had begun writing songs and branching out into production work of their own (working with SOLAR to produce Klymaxx and with Tabu Records to produce the S.O.S. Band), were stranded in Atlanta by a blizzard and failed to make it to a Time concert in San Antonio, for which they were fined and then fired. Whether their firing was due to the incident or to their increasing independence has never been clear. Monte Moir took the opportunity to leave as well, and would also work with Jam and Lewis. The three were replaced with Mark Cardenez and Paul Peterson on keyboards and Jerry Hubbard on bass. This new line up were featured in Prince’s Purple Rain film. The Time rode the wave of popularity created by the movie and hit singles “Jungle Love” and “The Bird” and were household names in 1984. Unfortunately, the band was not to reap the benefits.
It was Day who left next after arguments with Prince, choosing to pursue a solo career in 1985 after a successful acting turn in Purple Rain. Soon thereafter, with Jesse Johnson also opting to go solo, the band disintegrated but several members (Benton, Johnson and Peterson) were reformed into a new short-lived project called The Family. Meanwhile, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis went on to become one of the most successful songwriting and production teams of the 80s and 90s.
In 1990, Benton and the original six members of the band reunited for the Graffiti Bridge movie and soundtrack, as well as a new album called Pandemonium. This spawned their highest selling single, “Jerk Out” and the album featured more input from the band than any other Time album. The reunion was short-lived, however - infighting within the band caused them to disband once again. Morris and Jerome have since remained a team, with both trying out some small acting roles over the next few years.
Several members of The Time reunited in 1996, added a few new recruits and have remained together since. This version of the band can be seen in the Kevin Smith film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and tours frequently to this day. The band is usually billed as “Morris Day and The Time”.
A fifth Time album is rumored to have been completed in the late 90s, recorded with the new lineup but production and coordination with Prince has prevented its release. The title Old Dogs, New Tricks was the working title. A 2004 album attributed to Morris Day called It’s About Time contains a few new tracks written and performed by Day and a number of live performances by The Time.