If anyone is wondering about being too old to try something new, look no further than iconic music producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
“As we got older in life, we realized that there is [fewer] the first few times you actually experience things, âJam said. âFor us, all the first times are very exciting. “
Despite nearly four decades in the business, five Grammys, and widespread reverence in the recording industry, the producer-songwriter duo known as Jam & Lewis recently achieved one major goal: they released their debut album.
âMusic has always been a part of our lives, but we took time to do important things, which were basically raising our children,â said Jam, two-time president of the Recording Academy. “Now we are selfish again.”
“Jam & Lewis, Volume One”, which landed 49th on Billboard’s Independent Albums chart, is a 10-song project featuring a large number of R&B singers. Some are former collaborators, such as Mariah Carey, Usher, Mary J. Blige and Boyz II Men. Others are new partnerships such as Toni Braxton, Babyface and The Roots.
âThere’s something we call the ‘suspension factor’, and I don’t like working with people if I can’t stay with them,â Lewis said. “We hang on, we try to find out what the vision is, and then we start to try to create that vision.”
The blocking factor has helped birth records like âSomewhat Lovedâ with Carey, who reached the Top 10 in Billboard’s R&B Adult Chart in late August; the midtempo track features Carey emotionally lamenting the lost love. âHe Don’t Know Nothin ‘Bout It,â which peaked at # 4 on the same chart, mirrors Babyface’s slow jams as he tries to persuade a woman that she deserves better. There’s also a typical Toni Braxton sound on âHappily Unhappy,â a beautiful heartbreak song that’s so timeless it could have been released two decades ago, but still feels perfect today.
Dubbing their sound “New Nostalgia,” the album doesn’t push the boundaries or delve into the tricky rhythms, heavy Auto-Tune and sung vibe of much of today’s R&B. They chose to stick with the traditional soul sounds that made these 2017 Songwriter Hall of Fame inductees such a big hit.
âIt wasn’t like we had a bunch of songs and it was like, ‘Let’s do these songs.’ It was likeâ¦ let’s make the perfect song for each artist, âJam said. “We want fans to fall in love again – or remember why they fell in love – with these artists. But we also want artists to fall in love with themselves again.”
Jam, 64, born James Harris III, and Lewis, 62, grew up in Minneapolis with its lively 1970s local music scene. Jam attended college with Prince, and a reunion after high school led them to start playing. play with Morris Day and the Time, with Prince doing most of the writing and production. (Day is also on the album.)
After disagreeing on projects outside of The Time, Prince fired them, sparking Jam and Lewis’s career as a producer. “There isn’t a day that we don’t think about [him] and we don’t think while we’re making music, “I think Prince would like that.” I think he would approve of that. He would love what we are doing here, ” ‘said Jam, smiling.
The duo have helped create hits for the SOS Band, Chaka Khan, George Michael, New Edition and more, including classics like the exhilarating “Optimistic” from Sounds of Blackness; “More Drama” by Mary J. Blige; “Rythm Nation” by Janet Jackson; âScreamâ, a collaboration with his legendary brother Michael; and âOpen My Heartâ by gospel icon Yolanda Adams.
They are the origin of more than 50 Billboard No. 1 songs on the pop, R&B and dance charts, all while donning their iconic all-black costumes. (âAll the decisions you have to make throughout a day, if you can make a decision, that just leaves a hole for other thinking,â Lewis said.)
Jam & Lewis say they strayed from their original album plans after helping propel Janet’s mundane early music career to superstar rank by managing most of her hit 1986 album “Control” , placing them as producers in demand.
Now they have come full circle to finish what they started. But there is one glaring omission on “Vol. 1”: Miss Jackson.
âIt’s got a lot of people, a lot of music, a lot of great artistsâ¦ we’re going to try to cover them all if we can make it happen,â Jam said. “But Janet would be absolutely wonderful. And there is a placeholder [on] ‘Volume Two’ for her. “
BACK TO THE FUTURE
While the nostalgic new sound features artists who may be at the end of their careers, Jam & Lewis still have their ears turned to the future.
“We’ve kind of collaborated with HER on the song ‘Damage’,” Lewis said of the hit song, based on Herb Alpert’s “Making Love in the Rain”, which they wrote and produced. . “It would be great to do something totally from scratch with ELLE”
The Music Brothers say they didn’t care if critics might think now is the time to release an album. One of the remaining items on their bucket list includes live instrument play as they perform for fans.
It’s been 35 years since “Control” launched his career as a producer, but unwittingly delayed some of his personal ambitions. So, are there any regrets?
âFor me, it’s God’s timing,â Jam said. âEverything is going as it is supposed to be.