Back in Time: Morris Day talks 'Bird' inspiration, mirror moves, lost Trump song, and food fights with Prince

Lyndsey Parker
Editor-in-Chief, Music

Prince’s posthumous memoir, The Beautiful Ones, just came out, but there’s another new autobiography of purple prose, from another Minneapolis funk legend, well worth checking out. Morris Day’s On Time: A Princely Life in Funk chronicles his decades-spanning relationship and rivalry with Prince — often via imagined, italicized afterlife conversations with the late Prince’s himself.

“What really made the timing good for me was the fact that once Prince passed away, everybody, every television show, every talk show, wanted me to talk,” the Time singer explains. “And I just couldn't bring myself to do [interviews at the time].” Now, Day says, it has been therapeutic, and for the most part enjoyable, to finally get his life story on paper. “There's only one tough part of the book, and that's the one where the last time I saw [Prince]. With that one, every time I tell it, I have to take a little pause for the cause. But other than that, I did my grieving and I got past it in my own way. So I was good. I was having a good time.”

While On Time has some heavy moments, it also features the sort of comedy and camp that one would expect from the larger-than-life showman. Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume sat down with Day to go over about some of the book’s more amusing anecdotes. Suffice to day, a good time ensued.

The final word about “The Bird”

Morris Day & The Time scored a top 40 hit and created a new dance craze with their 1984 single “The Bird” — and while the song was credited to co-writers Day, Prince, and the Time’s guitarist Jesse Johnson, and it was initially recorded with almost all of the instruments played by Prince, the arm-flapping dance was all Day’s idea. And Day took inspiration from an unusual source, after watching cartoons on the Time’s tour bus.

“I don't know if you used to watch The Flintstones, but they had an episode where everybody was doing ‘the pterodactyl,’” Day chuckles. “So it was just on from there; we started doing that onstage.”

However, at first Prince tried to stop the song from taking flight. “We were on tour with Prince and that was the time where we started to kick his ass a little bit [outperform him] onstage, and he wasn't liking that! So we started doing the Bird [dance] and he said, ‘You can't do that, Morris’ — he said it because he also did a [vocal] thing that was like this bird screech, whatever noise it was, and ours was too close to his. But of course, if he told us ‘don't do it,’ we were going to do it more! So we got in this big altercation about that. We kept doing it. It led to almost a fight — but not hand fight.”

Eventually, though, Prince came around. “Next thing we know, he brings over a groove to me and he wants me to listen to it. Guess what? It's the song ‘The Bird,’” Day grins. “And I'm like, ‘Oh, so you didn't like it that much, huh?’”

…And now Jerome!

Along with the “Bird” dance, an integral part of the Time’s stage show was the mirror routine between Day and the half-brother of original Time bassist Terry Lewis, Jerome Benton, who had initially worked with the band as a bodyguard and valet. Day reveals that, much like “The Bird,” the now-iconic and often-imitated act was unplanned.

“We had recorded ‘Cool’ and had added it to the show; it was on the radio, roasting on the charts. And we were at rehearsal and I get to the part, ‘Somebody bring me a mirror,’” Day recalls. “And all of a sudden, Jerome appears. He snatched a mirror off the wall somewhere, and he appears in front of my face holding up a mirror. And it was just one of them moments, one of them ‘a-ha!’ moments.

“Everybody just stopped and we were just looking at each other and it was like ‘Oh, we going to keep this. You in the band now.’”

Morris Day and Jerome Benton in 2019. (Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

This is what it sounds like when eggs fly

As Day mentioned, Prince and the Time, both performers at the top of their game, shared a “healthy but unhealthy” rivalry when they toured together in the ‘80s. “It was healthy, but it was unbalanced, because we were signed to Prince's production company. He's definitely the control freak,” says Day. “When we started to kick that ass sometimes, all of a sudden we started getting pulled off of shows: We couldn't do L.A., we couldn't do New York, we couldn't do Chicago. We couldn't do the major markets, because [Prince] was afraid. Now, sometimes he would kick our ass, because Prince was a great performer. But there was them nights where we would just rally the troops and go into war and we would win. So he just didn't want to take that chance anymore. So, he started pulling us off major markets and stuff like that.”

However, this rivalry sometimes led to some fun hijinks on the road. “It started out as, I guess, fun for [Prince], because it was one-sided,” chuckles Day, recalling one infamous food-fight night.

“We're doing our show, opening for him. And we're ripping it up, the crowd's going nuts. And then all of a sudden, you start seeing little white things flying by. I'm like, ‘What's going on?’ So we start seeing these eggs splatter all over the place — hitting the guys, hitting our amps and instruments and stuff. And we're trying to figure out what's going on, so we look around and we can see Prince and couple of his guys running and ducking and throwing eggs at us while we're onstage. I have no idea what caused it, but that started some s***.

“So we get offstage and he's laughing, but he's threatening us: ‘You better not throw eggs when I'm onstage’! Just like telling us not to do the Bird, guess what? Here come the eggs when he gets onstage. So we're throwing eggs and blasting him. We had a couple dozen eggs and ripped them at him. So afterward he comes off and he's pissed and the bands almost get in a fight — this time almost a physical fight. Everybody's pissed now because this got started. And it ended up with he and I and Big Chick, his bodyguard at the time, in a room, and we I argued for the better part of an hour after the arena emptied out.

“And then I ended up getting a $5,000 bill for damages. I don't even know – clean-up, whatever the arena charged for the eggs. And we tore some stuff up in the dressing room, ripped some coat hanger racks off the wall and stuff like that. They handcuffed Jesse Johnson to a coat hanger in the damn dressing room and he ripped that off the wall. So we had to pay for all these damages.”

Prince courts controversy, can’t get no satisfaction

Long before the Time got off the ground and Prince became a headlining concert act, Day — who first met Prince in 1974, when he joined Prince’s Minneapolis band Grand Central as the drummer — served as Prince’s videographer. And he was there to capture on camera the infamous evening when Prince was booed offstage while opening for the Rolling Stones in Los Angeles in 1981. It was a rare moment in Prince’s career when he saw the future superstar lose his confidence.

“So, I'm videoing the show and he comes out. Stones concert: You got bikers, you got hippies with long hair and beards, and they're ready to party, man,” Day recalls. “And here comes Prince with a trench coat on and some hot pants or something up under it, and some leg warmers. And these dudes are like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ They start throwing beer bottles and booing and all that. So he was humiliated, obviously. Came offstage, we went pretty much straight to the airport, back to Minneapolis. And that was that. He was completely humiliated.

He was thinking he was turning a new leaf and becoming a rock ‘n’ roller, and I think he was just doing this half-naked thing and it just wasn't going over.

“But look, it worked [eventually], because then he came with Controversy [just five days later]. So he was just into being controversial. And it worked.”

Baby, Day’s a star

Considering the longstanding competitiveness between Prince and Day, it’s interesting that Prince allowed Day to practically upstage him in his 1984 movie musical Purple Rain. Day stole the show as Purple Rain’s comic foil, but it turns out one humorless acting coach hired by Prince almost foiled Day’s chances.

Day recalls that during the cast’s group acting classes in preparation for the film, “I kept cutting up. Every time they gave me a skit to do, I would make everybody laugh or do something silly. And this acting teacher, he didn't do a good job. He kicked me out of class. He said, ‘You need to spend your time at the beach or something, because you're just disrupting this class.’ So I got kicked out. But I guess I got the last laugh, because that same cutting up that I did in there, that I got kicked out for, is what worked for me.”

It was Purple Rain’s young director, Albert Magnoli, who noticed Day’s comedic skills and realized his silver-screen potential. “Albert, he sat down and we did the whole script. He's like, ‘What would you say here?’ And so then I rewrote all of my lines, and I got to do things the way I wanted to do them. He was smart for doing that.”

So, what was the best line that Day came up with? "How's the family?" he answers with a sly laugh. “So many people were mad at me about that line!” However, Day didn’t mind Prince casting him as a sassy villain. “I thought it was perfect. It was fun. I didn't want to be the good guy. I always want to be a bad guy in movies. I wanted to carry a machine gun or something, shoot up some stuff. I didn't get to go as deep as I wanted, but I got a nice taste.”

Day may have been the unexpected breakout star of Purple Rain, but the two songs that the Time memorably performed in the movie – “Jungle Love” and “The Bird” – didn’t make it onto the all-Revolution soundtrack. Day says with a shrug, “That's my question. That never got answered. But I have a feeling why. I think that would've really catapulted us sales-wise and visibility-wise even more. It was what it was.”

Morris Day and Prince in 'Purple Rain.' (Photo: Warner Bros.)

Prince and the Time’s Trump card

Speaking of villains, way back in 1990, the Time released "Donald Trump (Black Version)," which had been intended for an unreleased 1989 album called Corporate World. “Oh, I was hoping I could get out of here without you asking that!” Days laughs when asked about the little-heard tune. The lyrics were entirely Prince’s idea — ironic, considering that the Prince estate recently blasted Trump for playing “Purple Rain” during a campaign event — but the song was released at a time when Trump was the ultimate cartoon posterboy/sugardaddy representing excess and the glamorous life, and it was meant to be satirical and over-the-top.

“That was back in Donald Trump's bad-boy days when he was a playboy and rolling in dough and flying the private jets and all that stuff,” Day explains. “So we were like, ‘Why not come up with a song and use some of those elements?’ And Prince really came up with the name and all that stuff.” Day doesn’t know if Trump ever heard the song (“Oh, I'm sure he did,” he shrugs), but when asked if he’d ever resurrect it with some timely new lyrics, he dismissively laughs, “Oh, yeah — get political, huh?”

Going back in the Day

Speaking of unreleased Time material, Day says, “We got Time stuff all over the place. … There's plenty of songs in [Prince’s] vault, so we really have enough to go ahead and die and have some records keep coming out. … I'm sure I'll be able to go in there with the shopping cart [someday] and pull down some Time songs and bring them out.”

However, as for whether he thinks Prince, who was famously protective of his own recordings, would be OK with all the posthumous Prince releases that have flooded the market in the past three years, Day says: “Oh no, absolutely not. He definitely wouldn't allow anyone to exploit his music. That's what is really intriguing to me that he didn't have more in place to protect himself and his estate. That just really caught me off guard. I just thought as much as he did to protect himself while he was here, I would've thought there was more in place for when he wasn't here anymore.”

Interestingly, Day hasn’t listened to Originals, a new posthumous collection of demos of songs that Prince wrote or co-wrote for his proteges — which contains Prince’s recording of “Jungle Love” by the Time. “I ain't heard it,” Day says, “but I was there with him when we cut it!”


Snoopin’ aroundj

Looking to the future, Day’s newest song is “Lil Mo Funk,” a collaboration with his longtime admirer and friend Snoop Dogg, with whom he also released “One Night Stand” in 2017. “Snoop and I talked on the phone long before we got to know each other. I remember one night we were all in the studio of the Time, the original members, and for some reason we called Snoop e called in. We were all sitting around speakerphone and he was just rapping with us and he was like, ‘Yeah man, I'm the eighth member of the Time." I was like, ‘OK, I got to respect that.

“So then I was working on some music and called Snoop to do a verse on it. And he wanted me to come over to his studio. He was like, ‘I would really like to do the music for you. I'd like you to come over to my spot. The song's OK, but I think I can come up with some better stuff, me and my crew.’”

When Day showed up at Snoop’s recording studio, he was floored by what he saw, and it was a full-circle career moment. “I went and toured the studio and he said, ‘I want to show you something.’ We're going down the hallway, he's got a huge picture of all of his favorite musicians on there.” The mural featured paintings of Charlie Wilson, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Michael Jackson, Prince… and Morris Day.

“And I thought to myself, ‘This is really cool.’”

The above interview is taken from Morris Day’s appearance on the SiriusXM show “Volume West.” Audio of this conversation is available on demand via the SiriusXM app.

Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:

· The Revolution recalls making Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’: ‘He was frantically telling us we were making history’

· Flashback: 'Purple Rain' director Albert Magnoli reflects on iconic film

· The Revolution reunites at First Avenue: This is what it sounds like when Prince fans cry

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