When Prince died in April 2016, “Purple Rain” co-star Morris Day declined to talk to the news media. “I didn’t want to be one of the first responders, if you know what I mean, talking about it on all those TV outlets,” Day said recently. “Because it just didn’t feel right.”
But a year later, when celebrated music biographer David Ritz approached Day about collaborating on a memoir, the Minneapolis-launched actor and lead singer of the Time listened.
A breezy, hard-to-put-down book, it features Prince’s voice throughout simply because Day can’t get the Purple One out of his head.
“Prince is the first word in this book,” Day writes, explaining that the Minneapolis icon was his biggest influence. “Though he’s gone, he’s still here. I still hear his voice in my head. I can’t write this book without his voice. … Prince wants to be heard.”
He comes through loud and clear — on almost every page, often in pointed one-liners — in a running conversation with Day.
Why shouldn’t he be prominent in “On Time”? There would be no Morris Day without Prince, who invited the freckle-faced drummer he’d met in a Minneapolis middle-school lunchroom to be the lead singer of a funk band called the Time.
In an hourlong phone call from his home in Orange County, Calif. — where he lives with his second wife and 12-year-old son (his sixth child) — Day, 62, talked about his competition with Prince, the unreleased album they made, his forthcoming line of shoes and the 1990 Time song about Donald Trump.
Q: David Ritz has teamed up with lots of stars on their books — Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Janet Jackson, B.B. King, Aretha Franklin. Was it his idea, or yours, to have Prince speak to you throughout?
A: It was David’s idea. He said, “I want to turn this into an alter ego situation. I want to resurrect Prince, if you will, in your mind.” I said, “That’s an awesome approach.” Because the last thing I wanted to be involved with was just another book telling my story. That’s not enough.
Q: Are those things Prince really said to you, or did you make them up?
A: Most of them are pretty doggone accurate.
Q: What’s the difference between your stage persona, which you call MD in the book, and the real-life Morris Day?
A: MD is an extrovert. I’m pretty much an introvert in my personal time.
Q: Explain how Prince created you as his alter ego when he formed the Time in 1981.
A: When we hung out, we acted real crazy. Laughing. Having a good time. He caught on to that. He said, “Man, we gotta put that laugh on the record. Put that personality into the music.” It mushroomed from there.
Q: In the book, you admit that you smoked a lot of weed and did cocaine while you were in the Prince camp. He never tolerated those things. Did he know about your habits?
A: I don’t think he knew. I think he started to hear toward the end of the run, and that’s when I decided to jump ship [about 1985].
There’s the story in the book where I’m at his house and I’m lying, telling him my brother is in jail and I wanted money to bail him out. It’s the middle of winter and I don’t have any socks on. No coat. And the driveway hasn’t been plowed, and I’m trudging through the snow to get there. Sitting in his living room. I’m thinking that must have been a pretty ridiculous looking scenario. I know for a fact that if he knew why I wanted the money [to buy drugs], he wouldn’t have given me the money.
Q: You’ve said you wrote the book to lose your resentments toward Prince.
A: It was a complicated relationship. It was very one-sided. Once I left the camp, I never knew how to call Prince. Every now and then, at 11 o’clock at night or some strange hour, my phone rings and it’s like, “Morris, it’s Prince.” Back in the day, it was a mutual friendship. I’d go by his house, he’d go by my house. No big deal. But it turned into something else, the way the whole thing ended.
I had resentments, but it was a love/hate relationship. For me to put it all out there on the table in the book, it was good to be able to bring closure.
Q: Did you and Prince ever have closure when he was alive?
A: He had us [Morris Day and the Time] come to Paisley Park and play a show for him. That was approximately two months before he passed.
At the end, he comes out of the dark, clapping his hands. He told me “I love you” and gave me a hug. We had never talked like that ever before. In my heart, I knew something was different. I didn’t know what it was. He was talking about all the things he wanted to do with us. For me, I’m kind of a softy, we can have tough times, and we can fight, but I’m always open to fix it. In my mind, we fixed it right then. That was the last time I saw him.
Q: Prince was usually surrounded by yes men and yes women. Why were you able to tell him what you really thought?
A: When I got in Grand Central [Prince’s band in the early ’70s], he didn’t say two words to me for about two months. He liked the way I played [drums]; otherwise I wouldn’t be in the band. He was seriously trying to figure me out. Once he saw the person I was, we became good friends.
I was never in the habit of biting my tongue with him. Musically, I’d tell him if I liked something or I didn’t. He was the same way with me. If we had to fight about something, we’d fight and get over it.
Q: What happened to “Corporate World,” the album you made with Prince in the late 1980s that never came out?
A: We had finished the record, and all of a sudden the movie “Graffiti Bridge” becomes an option and we did that. Then Jimmy [Jam] and Terry [Lewis] decided they wanted to be involved [which resulted in the 1990 Time album “Pandemonium”].
They tell me “Corporate World” is sitting in the vault. The [Prince] estate is guarding it like it’s gold. Heh-heh-heh.
Q: On “Pandemonium,” Prince wrote a song for you called “Donald Trump (Black Version).” Do you ever consider singing it?
A: No. I’m done with that one. That’s in the history books. I was trying to forget about that one.
That was long before we knew he was going to be president. Yeah, we went there.
Q: What’s the future of the Original 7ven, the original members of the Time with whom you reunited in 2010-11 for an album and tour?
A: We’re one and done. I think it automatically had a time stamp on it. Yeah, it was fun. We came up with a clever name. [Prince refused to let them use “the Time,” which he owned.]
But it didn’t go right for me. It could have been much better. I chalk that up as an experience. The cool thing about it, if we want to, we could revisit it.
Q: That experience might point out that you need just one bandleader, like Prince.
A: Right. Just one, not every single one. There were too many chiefs and maybe one Indian — and that was me. I was the only one who wasn’t fighting to be in control.
Q: That’s one of the points you make about Prince: He always wanted to be in control.
A: There was no sharing the spotlight with him.
Mind you, he didn’t mind hiding behind Jamie Starr [his pseudonym as a producer of the Time]. It showed he would step aside from his ego sometime. It also held up the mystery. He was the king of mystery.
Q: What do you think Prince would think of your book?
A: I think he would dig the book — after he got done from fighting me to keep it from coming out. Ha, ha, ha. I’m surprised I haven’t been battling with the estate.
Q: You realize Prince’s own memoir, “The Beautiful Ones,” will be published a mere three weeks after yours. Is that coincidence? Karma? Fate?
A: Maybe his spirit lives on. And here we are again, competing.
Q: What’s next for Morris Day?
A: We got music in the can for a Morris Day record. We have interest from labels. In this day and age, you have plenty of options.
And I have a song on the Jam and Lewis project [an all-star compilation due next year], as it stands right now.
We got a shoe line coming out. I’ve been wearing Stacy Adams, and Stacy Adams would never give me any acknowledgment — and I put them on the map in a lot of hoods. So how does “Morris Days” sound? “I got on some Morris Days.” They’re going to be very pimpish. You know how we do. We’re in the early stages of designing right now.
As for Morris Day and the Time, we average 60, 70 shows a year. Unlike that Prince thing, I’ve never been a workaholic. Now I work but I chill — and I try to enjoy life in between.