While Prince, Morris Day, Jimmy Jam, and Terry Lewis are lauded for their contributions to the Minneapolis Sound, Garry “Jellybean” Johnson has remained a silent pioneer to the region’s illustrious musical legacy.
As one of the original members of The Time, Johnson was the fabric to the sound that dominated the ’80s, playing drums on classics like “777-9311,” “The Walk,” “Get it Up” and “Jungle Love.”
Initially garnering respect for his drumming prowess, Johnson was equally as respected for his guitar and production wizardry where his sound can be heard throughout hits by Alexander O’Neal (“Innocent” and “Criticize”), New Edition (“Crucial”) and most notably, Janet Jackson (“Black Cat”).
This culmination of accolades has resulted in Johnson’s debut album “Get Experienced,” a nine-song odyssey that crosses genres and expands on the richness of the Minneapolis Sound.
With collaborations ranging from Chance Howard, Tony M., Ashley Tamar Davis, and Time bandmate Monte Moir, Johnson leaves no stone unturned and lets loose on tracks, that at times, sound and feel like unbridled jam sessions. The seeds for this project were first planted years ago during the height of Minneapolis Sound.
“Being in a band like The Time was both a blessing and a curse because we had so many big, strong personalities, along with many solo artists in the group. At the time, I was content with being the band’s drummer,” said Johnson.
“After playing guitar on Alexander O’Neal’s song ‘Innocent,’ Terry Lewis suggested that I could do a Quincy Jones type of record where I could have people sing on the album. I still put the idea on the back burner even after working with Flyte Tyme Productions and producing hits for Janet Jackson, New Edition, and Mint Condition.
“Reuniting with The Time around 94, 95 and playing shows with them is something I’ve done until now. But with this pandemic and everything being shut down, where there are no gigs to play, it made me think that now was the time to release this project. Honestly, this whole thing feels like a new journey.”
This journey begins on the album’s first cut, “Put Some Jelly On It,” which features vocals by Ronnie Baker Brooks and a horn arrangement by noted musician and producer Tom Tom Washington, who worked extensively with Earth Wind and Fire.
Highly energetic and undeniably funky, this high-octane opener not only sets the tone for the album but also represents the vision of the entire project according to Johnson.
“’Put Some Jelly On It’ is the song I feel represents my overall vision for the album,” explained Johnson.
“Because I’m known and associated with funk and rock, many don’t realize that I have a blues side to me as well. Growing up on the Westside of Chicago, my mother turned me onto blues at an early age, so I’ve always had a love for it.
“Ronnie Baker Brooks and I have developed a good friendship over the years and he and his dad would have me around blues royalty like B.B. King and Bobby Blue Bland, and now all of a sudden, I have this other genre I can pull out of my back pocket.
“To top it off, we have Tom Tom Washington on the record, who did all of the horn arrangements for Earth Wind and Fire back in the day. This record reminds me of my childhood in a way, so it’s a perfect way to start the album,” Johnson said.
Other standout songs on the album include “Energy,” “Imagination,” featuring former Prince collaborator Ashley Tamar Davis, as well as “She Can Get It,” which features Time keyboardist, Monte Moir, L.A.W., and ’90s Prince collaborator Tony M.
For many songs on the album, Johnson was tasked with piloting the artistic and production responsibilities, which thrusted him into familiar, yet unfamiliar territory. He credits his tenure at Flyte Tyme Productions as an essential part of his development and maturation as a producer.
“When you’re a producer, you have to wear many hats, which is something I picked up being around Prince, Jimmy, Terry, and also Jesse [Johnson]. My first production was on a song called ‘Why Should I Cry?’ by Nona Hendryx, who was part of the LaBelle’s.
“Working with her was intimidating at first because she’s a legend. Ultimately, we were able to come together along with my writing partner at the time Lisa Keith—who is a fantastic singer and artist herself—and make a top-five record. This gave me the confidence to produce other artists down the line and eventually my own album.”
When asked about his legacy within the Minneapolis Sound, Johnson is appreciative of this time but also recognizes his present contributions are equally as rich.
“At the end of the day, I’d like to think I’ve done my part in contributing to the Minneapolis Sound. I tell people all the time that nobody has a music scene like us. I’m Uncle Bean to a lot of the shorties that were young when I was coming up, and I take pride in that.
“Many times you’ll find me on stages with them, on songs with them, in the streets with them, or producing records for them. They’re quick to show me love and I’m quick to give it back, which is all I can ask for.”
Jellybean Johnson’s debut album “Get Experienced” is available for purchase and streaming. For more information visit his official website: www.jellybean-johnson.com.
Marquis Taylor is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.