When the legendary Jimmy Jam was 16 years old in the late 70s, he was part of a group called Mind & Matter, an 11-piece Minneapolis-based disco-soul outfit with unstoppable grooves that practiced deep in a basement located on 1514 Oliver Avenue. This was long before Jimmy Jam had the high-tech studio equipment he’d later use as half of production duo Jam & Lewis to produce some of the greatest R&B in history. Over three and a half decades later, Numero Records have unearthed nine Mind & Matter demos, tracked in 1977, and compiled them into a 9-track offering aptly titled 1514 Oliver Avenue (Basement), featuring some of the earliest material ever to come from Jimmy Jam. Stream the album in its entirety for the first time below, and read our interview with Jam on the band's history – and why classmate Prince never joined.
DD: What was your reaction upon hearing 1514 Oliver Avenue?
Jimmy Jam: I was pleasantly surprised by how good it sounded, and I was amazed by how good the singers were because they just were local guys that had sung around when we put this together. In my mind I was writing all of these Stylistics/Blue Magic type-of-songs and we needed people to sing them. I was like, 'These guys can sing, alright great!' There wasn’t like an audition process, but then to hear their voices on the song, I realized as a writer how lucky I was to have these guys singing these songs. Their voices are absolutely incredible. In a way it’s fun to reunite and catch up and know that most of the guys are doing really well from back in that day. They were all very instrumental in what I moved on to do. In my teenage years, they were the guys I was with honing my songwriting and that kind of stuff.
DD: At 16 years old, where were you getting that mature fodder from in your songwriting?
Jimmy Jam: I was a big fan of (legendary Philadelphia soul producers) Gamble And Huff and Thom Bell – I was just trying to emulate what they were doing. That was probably the biggest overall influence. When I listen to it though, a lot of the chord changes, musical things – some of it I recognize right away. I could tell you exactly why I went to that certain chord because it was something that somebody did in a song that I thought was really cool. Lyrically though – because ever since I got with Terry (Lewis), he is such a good lyricist that I rarely do a lot of lyrics anymore on the songs we write – it’s interesting to hear the lyrics because I must’ve had a different brain working then where I could actually come up with lyrics quickly. I listen to it, and it’s almost like I’m listening to another person.
Do I wish that I'd brought Prince into the fold? He was way too talented!
What did the basement of 1514 Oliver Avenue look like?
Jimmy Jam: Well, in Minnesota it looked like a classic basement. Concrete floors, nothing glamorous about it. There are usually beams right in places where you wish they weren’t, so when you set your equipment up you can’t quite see anyone. You’d lose track of where the other keyboard player is because he’s hiding behind a beam. It’s small, crammed, damp – with only one or two (electrical) outlets, so literally you would have the junction of extension chords piled up with six or seven amps blowing power and that kind of stuff. It was the perfect environment, almost like an incubator, for creativity.
DD: In retrospect, listening to these songs as the iconic Jimmy Jam, which of them would you think was a hit?
Jimmy Jam: Wow, well we thought they were all hits back in the day, but the one I enjoy the most now is “I Don’t Know Why I Love You Like I Do.” If you listen to the song, there’s the traditional spoken word intro and then this blast of harmony. By that point of the song – five seconds into the chorus – if you don’t get it at that point, then you’re not gonna like the song, because that tells you everything you need to know. I remember first hearing it, and I thought to myself, “Oh hell yeah.”
DD: You were going to school with Prince back then. Do you wish that you brought him into the fold?
Jimmy Jam: No, Prince was way too talented. Prince had his own thing. At the time we were doing Mind & Matter, Terry had a band called Flyte Time, Prince had a band called Grand Central. We were all great friends, but I remember Prince doing his demos with a guy named Chris Moon who had a 16-track studio, and Prince was doing these demos where he was playing every instrument himself. And singing. Just amazing. These were not the days of Twitter and all of that, so this was all word of mouth. We were proud of him, but he was on a whole other level, just a whole different thing from what we were doing.
1514 Oliver Avenue (Basement) is out on October 28 on Numero
Follow Kathy Iandoli on Twitter here @kath3000