It all started here in Minnesota for music moguls Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis

They sealed the deal with a handshake. No contract, no lawyers. A 50-50 split on finances and credits, regardless of who contributed what. This is one of the secrets of the partnership between Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Equal partners.

It’s Jam and Lewis. Like Lennon and McCartney. Goffin and King. Bacharach and David. Except Jam and Lewis aren’t just songwriters, they’re also producers. Unlike the aforementioned songwriting pairs, they never broke up or argued during their 40-year Hall of Fame careers.

“We never had an argument because an argument was one person wins, one person loses,” Jam says. “I never want to see my partner lose anything. So we have disagreements, but a disagreement is something you resolve.”

Having covered Jam and Lewis for more than four decades, I have some notions about what drives them – besides their no-contract deal.

They are partners who share the work. In the recording studio, Lewis generally handles the lyrics and vocals.

“I call him the vocal master,” says Jam, who specializes in melodies and recording tracks. Sometimes it’s the other way around. Sometimes they are in the same room, sometimes not. “We do what we have to do,” says Jam. “Sometimes I take out the trash, sometimes he takes out the trash.”

They know their strengths and when to go on their own pretty well.

In 2001, for example, they were asked to contribute to rising star Pink’s second album. Jam recalled, “We said, ‘You don’t need us to add anything. Your album is really good. They urged his label to release it as is, and ‘Missundaztood’ became a huge hit.

Jam and Lewis get to know the artists before creating songs for them. For example, when Janet Jackson reluctantly came to Minneapolis for their first collaboration in 1985, she told Jam and Lewis about the breakdown of her brief marriage and how controlling her manager/father had been.

“‘I need you to help me express how I feel, to help me express my feelings,'” she once told Rolling Stone of her Minneapolis cohorts.

Jam and Lewis listen to the artists they work with and the wide range of music on the market. They can dissect the competition with the X’s and O’s precision of a veteran football coach. But they never share their secret recipe for their own musical chili sauce.

As music makers, they are in touch with both their feminine and masculine sides, as evidenced by their ballads and bangers. As businessmen they are accomplished, having established a record label, Perspective, and opened a handful of different incarnations of Flyte Tyme Studios, from Edina to Agoura Hills, California. As bosses, they’re surprisingly loyal, working with some of the same people. , whether creative or administrative, for years.

When it comes to creating songs and making records, “They’re in that rarefied class,” said guitarist/songwriter/producer Nile Rodgers, who, like Jam and Lewis, was nominated at Rock & Roll Hall of Fame “for musical excellence” by an executive committee, not voted.

Veteran Twin Cities musician/producer Paul Peterson, who joined Time but never worked with Jam and Lewis, admires their recordings.

“Besides their signature groove, their musicality is what kills me – their arrangements, the way they build a track, their vocal arrangements built around these simple melodies with beautiful poetry,” Peterson said.

Jam and Lewis may have a signature groove, but they always create a sound for every artist, which is why they’ve been able to work with a remarkable array of performers, from Beyoncé to Sting.

Same look, different personalities

Jam, 63, and Lewis, who turns 66 in November, are comfortable in any space. In 2007, four years after the duo moved to Los Angeles, Jam became the first black president of the Recording Academy, the organization that presents the Grammys. He is a music industry activist, appearing before Congress, serving on the Grammys television committee and hosting a talk show on Sirius XM. And he’s a bit of a celebrity, playing golf with Bill Clinton, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.

Jam and Lewis may sport matching looks, but they have divergent personalities. Jam is talkative, speaking in long paragraphs, recalling key moments with photographic detail. He is diplomatic while Lewis is blunt, making his points in concise sentences that can be pithy or insightful like preachers.

Lewis, who grew up in north Minneapolis, is the father of six children, including two children with his current wife, Indira Singh. Jam, a southerner, and Lisa Padilla, his wife of 28 years, have three children. None of Lewis’ children followed him into the music world, but Jam’s youngest son, Max, studied music at the California Institute of the Arts, aka CalArts.

Born in Omaha, Lewis moved to Minneapolis in his youth. At North High, he was a state champion sprinter and football star who turned to music as a bassist after injuring his knee on the grill. James Harris III is the son of nonagenarian Minneapolis pianist Cornbread Harris and a deceased mother involved in early childhood education. After attending Washburn High, the former drummer switched to keyboards, playing in teen band Mind & Matter and working as a club DJ in the disco era.

The rest of the story has been told many times. Jam and Lewis were members of Flyte Tyme, which Prince turned into the hit R&B group The Time in 1981. But two years later he fired Jam and Lewis for missing a gig because snow stranded them in Atlanta , where they had produced a record for the SOS Band on a day off.

Jam and Lewis never looked back.

Did every record they worked on become a hit? No, but they were paid. And there are songs they’re too embarrassed to even talk about. They aren’t disappointed that they didn’t buy the Timberwolves after they made a serious offer for the team in 1994. They didn’t want to own the NBA, they just wanted to keep the team in their hometown.

Jam and Lewis are different from other local musical heroes. Prince was isolated and insular, having fun in Paisley Park with his hand-picked royal court. Bob Dylan has always been mysterious and aloof, staying away from the cheering crowd except when he’s on stage. For the guys behind the scenes, Jam and Lewis have been out there, sitting on the field at Wolves games, appearing on TV specials and hosting a series of concerts in their hometown during Super Bowl week in 2018.

Minneapolis matters to Jam and Lewis, and they represent Minneapolis to the world and, on November 5, and forever, to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.


The Timeline: A 50-Year Friendship

1973 See you at the Outward Bound summer program.

nineteen eighty one Appears on the album by the Time, written and produced by Prince.

1983 Write and produce “Just Be Good to Me” by SOS Band.

1983 Fired by Prince for missing a Time concert, they move to Los Angeles to become songwriters/producers but return home months later.

1983 Producing the first #1 R&B song, “Encore” by Cheryl Lynn.

1985 Open Flyte Tyme Studio on Nicollet Ave S., work with Janet Jackson.

1986 Produce the first No. 1 Hot 100 song, “When I Think of You” by Janet Jackson.

1987 Win the Grammy for Producer of the Year.

1989 Open Flyte Tyme Studios in Edina.

1990 Find time for the “Pandemonium” CD and the Prince film “Graffiti Bridge”.

1991 Launch Perspective Records, signing local bands like Sounds of Blackness and Mint Condition.

1993 Receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song for “Again” in “Poetic Justice.”

2003 Move to Los Angeles.

2007 Jam becomes president of the Recording Academy.

2011 Find Time under the name of Original 7ven for an album, “Condensate”, and a tour.

2017 Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

2020 Receive an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Musical Direction in “Let’s Go Crazy: A Grammy Salute to Prince.”

2021 Release their first album as “artists” with Babyface, Mary J. Blige and others.

2022 Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.


decades of success

Click on the song titles below to watch classic videos.


Janet Jackson, “When I Think of You” 1986

The Human League, “Human” 1986

George Michael, “Monkey” 1988

Janet Jackson, “I miss you very much” 1989

Janet Jackson, “Getaway” 1990

Janet Jackson, “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” 1990

Karyn White, “Romantic” 1991

Janet Jackson, “That’s the Way Love Goes” 1993

Janet Jackson, “Again” 1993

Boyz II Men, “On Bent Knees” 1994

Boyz II Men, “4 seasons of loneliness” 1997

Janet Jackson, “Together Again” 1997

Mariah Carey (with Joe and 98 Degrees), “Thank God I Found You” 1999

Janet Jackson, “Doesn’t Really Matter” 2000

Janet Jackson, “All for You” 2001

Usher, “You Remind Me” 2001

* Song of the Year released as a single


Cheryl Lynn, “Again” 1983

Janet Jackson, “What Have You Done For Me Lately” 1986

Janet Jackson, “Wicked” 1986

Janet Jackson, “Control” 1986

Janet Jackson, “Let’s Wait awhile” 1987

Herb Alpert, “Diamonds” 1987

Janet Jackson, “The Pleasure Principle” 1987

Alexander O’Neal, “False” 1987

Morris Day, “Fishnet” 1988

Cherrelle, “All the things I miss at home” 1988

Janet Jackson, “I miss you very much” 1989

Janet Jackson, Rhythm Nation 1989

New edition, “Can you stand the rain” 1988

Janet Jackson, “Getaway” 1990

Johnny Gill, “Rub The Right Way” 1990

Time, “Jerk Out” 1990

Ralph Tresvant, “Sensitivity” 1990

Johnny Gill, “Wrap My Body Tight” 1991

Karyn White, “Romantic” 1991

Janet Jackson with Luther Vandross, “The best things in life are free” 1992

Janet Jackson, “That’s the Way Love Goes” 1993

Janet Jackson, “Anytime, Anywhere” 1994

Janet Jackson, “I Feel Lonely” 1998

Janet Jackson, “All for You” 2001

* Song of the Year released as a single


1987 Producer of the Year, Non-Classical

1994 Best R&B Song, “That’s the Way Love Goes” (Janet Jackson)

2002 Best Dance Recording, “All for You” (Janet Jackson)

2006 Best Gospel Song, “Be Blessed” (Yolanda Adams)

2008 Best R&B Album, “Funk This” (Chaka Khan)

* Year of Grammy Award

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