Morris Day makes up for lost time

(Above: Morris Day and Jerome riff on Abbott and Costello in this scene from the 1984 film “Purple Rain.”)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

The original members of the ‘80s funk band the Time, including Morris Day, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, and Jesse Johnson, will have an album of new material out within the next year if Day has his way.

“The original members get together when we can,” Day said. “It’s getting to the point where we can put something new out within the next year.”

After dropping three classic albums in the early ‘80s, the band briefly reunited in 1990. A group appearance at the 2008 Grammys kicked off the latest reconvening, Day said.

“What happened was we’ve been getting together and doing tracks for fun,” Day said. “It so happens Jimmy Jam is chairman of NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences), the company that does the Grammys. They found out he was an original member of the Time and thought we needed to come out together. So we did that, which lead to a string (of shows) in Vegas at the Flamingo, then we decided to keep on going.”

Just don’t expect Jam, Lewis, Johnson or any new cuts on Morris Day and the Time’s current tour.

“We’re holding up on that (playing new cuts). We’re going to launch it in a way that makes sense at the time,” Day said. “I do know we sound even better than the old records. You’ll be surprised how good everybody looks and sounds. There are still a few original members. We still have Jellybean (Johnson) on drums and Monte (Moir) on keyboards. “

In 1980, Prince culled the best musicians from local Minneapolis bands Flyte Time, the Family and Grand Central to be in his pet side project, the Time. Although the Time’s 1981 debut album featured Prince on most of the instruments, the other musicians gradually had more input.

“On the first record, Prince played a lot of the instruments, but I played drums,” Day said. “Every time he was in the studio, I was down there with him working just as much. We cut the tracks together. With each album, the musicians played larger roles. You can see it from all the spin-off careers. Everyone became very efficient in the studio.”

Jam and Lewis made their name as producers working with Janet Jackson. The pair brought in Jellybean Johnson to help produce Jackson’s 1989 hit “Black Cat.” Jesse Johnson also worked with Jackson and has written music for several movies, including “The Breakfast Club,” in addition to recording as a solo artist.

“I knew we had something special right away from the first song the band had to learn,” Day said. “When we played our first big show at the 20 Grand in

Day performs onstage in Ft. Worth, Texas in August, 2009.

Detroit, I started out with my back to the crowd and I could hear the people going nuts. Then after the show I saw the response from the musicians and people into music and knew we had something special.”

The Time found their biggest success after appearing in “Purple Rain,” which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

“When we made ‘Purple Rain’ we weren’t thinking the movie would be a blockbuster, we were just having fun,” Day said. “I’ve only seen once in its entirety and that was at the premier. That said, I think it’s held up well because I always end up running into people who can quote my lines like they wrote the script.”

Unfortunately, the band was no longer intact to enjoy the results.

“What happened was Jimmy and Terry missed a show in Atlanta. They were somewhere producing for S.O.S. Band, missed their flight and because of bad weather couldn’t get out,” Day said. “Because we were signed to Prince’s production company, he fired them. The band never felt the same to me after that. I wasn’t feeling it any more so I decided to start a solo career.”

Day continued to work with Prince, though, appearing in the film “Graffiti Bridge.” Eventually Day realized he liked music more than movies.

“Acting is not an easy gig. It takes a special talent that not just anyone can do it,” Day said. “It takes a lot of memory and concentration, things that don’t come easy to me. I like to work an hour, hour and a half, and be able to go into the studio at my leisure.  The musician has more control over life than an actor.”

After a lengthy absence, Day returned to the big screen for the “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” in 2001.

“That’s an interesting scenario, because apparently (director) Kevin (Smith) wrote the script with us in mind before he contacted us,” Day said. “It was a good experience. I had teenage kids at the time, and they just thought of me as the guy who dropped them off at school. But after ‘Jay and Silent Bob’ so many kids were coming up to me. It set young eyes hip to what I do.”

(Note: This article was written in advance of a scheduled concert by Morris Day and the Time on Nov. 6, 2009, at the Midland Theater in Kansas City, Mo. Unfortunately, Day cancelled the concert hours after the piece was submitted. It is published on The Daily Record for the first time.)

Life is a Cabaret

By Joel Francis
The ExaminerA 5-year-old boy stands on top of the soda counter at the corner store belting out a version of “Born Free.” The customers pause from their shopping to look up and smile appreciatively. A burst of applause greets the boy when he is finished.

The store owner gives the boy a treat and he hops down off the counter.

“I knew all the words and he’d give me candy,” Vernon Quinzy said. “Ever since then I knew I wanted to sing and act.”

This was the start of Quinzy’s show business career. Thirty-four years later he has returned to his hometown of Independence to regroup, spend time with his family and refocus.

“I’d gotten out of the acting end of things,” Quinzy said. “That, combined with my sister and her two boys.”

Since returning to the area, Quinzy appeared in “Little House on the Prairie” at the Coterie Theater and is currently starring in “Kansas City Cabaret” at the Quality Hill Playhouse, 303 W. 10th St., Kansas City.

“I think the theater work has stretched me,” Quinzy said. “It has allowed me to grow as a performer. In KC Cabaret, every song is about an artist or composer who spent time in the area, so I get to both act and sing.”

If Quinzy has enjoyed “Kansas City Cabaret,” the cast has enjoyed him more.

“He’s about the sweetest human being you’d ever want to meet,” said Cabaret co-star Teri Wilder. “I love his voice Ð he could sing to me anytime.”

Director J. Kent Barnhart agreed.

“He’s the easiest guy to work with. He’s very hard working and very kind,” Barnhart said. “It’s always interesting to see new people in this place because it is so small, but he’s taken very well to working with a smaller cast and theater.”

Ask Quinzy about his accomplishments and he’ll talk about them in a shy way where he isn’t really talking about them. But the truth is that he palled around with Prince in the ’80s, and Luther Vandross called him last week to make sure Quinzy could attend his concert.

“Do you remember the Morris Day and the Time video ‘The Oak Tree?’ ” Quinzy asked. “I’m the person cutting down the oak tree at the very first of the video. I also did videos with Vanity, Appelonia, the whole group of Prince artists.”

So how was working with the purple one?

“He’s really shy,” Quinzy said. “He’d give you directions, but never look at you directly Ð he’d look at your shoes. It seems like he saves it all, I guess for the performance, but one-on-one he’s completely different.”

After graduating from Fort Osage High School in 1980, Quinzy attended the University of Missouri-Kansas City and transferred after two years to the American Academy of the Arts in New York. He spent the better part of the 1980s modeling, singing and acting and maintaining apartments in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

“I would usually spend a few months in each place,” Quinzy said. “I would mainly do acting in L.A., in Chicago I would do print work (modeling) and some jingles and then in New York for singing. This is when I was the busiest.”

Quinzy’s acting work got him spots in Luther Vandross, Prince and other music videos and a role as a hospital intern in “Days of Our Lives.” It seemed he would break into stardom with Morgan Fairchild’s evening soap “Paper Dolls,” but the show was canned after one season.

“I really enjoyed getting the role on ‘Paper Dolls’ and how it happened,” Quinzy said. “I was brought on as someone with five lines, but the casting director at MGM was very interested in me. Had the show gone on the role would have been expanded.”

In New York Quinzy would sing commercial jingles for advertisements.

“I have a short attention span so it all worked great for me, but it brought me to a point where I decided I needed a focus,” Quinzy said.

Work at the jingle houses were slowing down and Quinzy missed his family. So he decided to go back to his roots.

“He’s very close to my boys,” said Joyce Fowler, Quinzy’s sister. “They love going to see any kind of musical or show he’s in.”

As a single mom, Fowler said she can see Quinzy’s impact.

“He’s made a difference in their lives as far as personality,” Fowler said. “He’s been a positive male role model for them.”

Quinzy may have relocated, but the work hasn’t slowed. He is still very much in demand, just won’t show it.

“He gets lots of offers to go places, but they all want him to go someplace for a year,” Fowler said. “But he doesn’t want to relocate.”

Church has played a major role in keeping Quinzy grounded, he said. He is an experienced Sunday School teacher, most recently teaching the junior class at Village Heights Community of Christ.

“It gives me a foundation and balance in my life,” Quinzy said. “I think without the church it would be easier to get caught up in the heady side of the business.”

And the children thought it was great their teacher was popular.

“When I was teaching Sunday School in Los Angeles I was doing modeling and they’d see me doing underwear ads and they’d cut them out and put it up on the church bulletin board,” Quinzy said.

Ask Barbara Wiley about Quinzy and her voice will light up. She watched him grow from a teen-age actor in church and school plays and recruited him to teach when he returned to his home congregation.

“The kids love him,” said Wiley, a member of the pastorate team at Village Heights. “He makes class interesting for them. He’s a dream of a church school teacher because he cares about the kids and he’s interested in them and they know it.”

Quinzy has enjoyed his time back home, but may be leaving soon. He has been offered a job to host a PBS series on 18th and Vine, the old Kansas City jazz district. The job will take him to Los Angeles.

“They have allowed us to do the pilot and it just kind of fell into place,” Quinzy said. “I’m sure I’m not going to be here for a lot longer.”

But for now, Quinzy is content.

“I’m working and I’m happy and I enjoy all the people I’m working with,” Quinzy said. “I’m living my dream because I’m working , but I’m sure work will take be back to New York and L.A.”