American drummer, guitarist, songwriter, producer and musician Jellybean Johnson is part of the fabric of the Minnesota music scene. Jellybean was a high school friend of Prince and became a key player in the band The Time, working with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The band was featured prominently in Prince’s Grammy and Academy Award winning film ‘Purple Rain’. Jellybean was recruited to play drums for The Family, before joining Jam & Lewis’ Flyte Tyme where he produced hits for Janet Jackson, New Edition, Alexander O’Neal and Mint Condition. Later this month, Jellybean will be joining a cast of many great artists who have played or recorded with Prince in the world premiere event Nothing Compares 2 Prince, playing the Sydney Opera House on April 27th and Melbourne’s Hamer Hall on April 29th. Ahead of the tour, Jellybean took some time to answer a few questions for us
Jellybean, you play guitar and drums equally well. Which did you learn first and which do get the most kicks out of playing?
I started playing drums at age 11 or 12 and my mom bought me a set I couldn’t tear up at age 13. My cousin left his guitar at my house when I was about 15 and I started fooling around with it and played it till he took it back. I love both equally. The drums are physical and violent for me while the guitar is spiritual and emotional.
What’s your role in the upcoming Nothing Compares 2 Prince gigs?
I’m playing guitar mostly with a little drums. I’m proud to be sharing the drums with Queen Cora. Tori Ruffin is playing lead guitar. I’m just providing comic relief!
You had a chequered relationship with Prince due to his controlling ways. Does the music and time wipe a lot of that frustration away?
Yes it does. Prince rode me but he rode all of us. One thing about me, if I didn’t like what he did I let him know it. On the flipside, his music has made me a living for my whole life.
Did you have any reservations about being part of this Australian tour?
The only reservation I had was being in The Time, it makes it hard to do other things but I decided it was good for me personally as Jellybean Johnson to do these shows.
How does it feel to be hooking up with the Prince alumni? I imagine there are some people you’ve never met or played with before?
This is a whole new crowd for me and it’s been a wonderful experience. They show me a lot of respect and I love working with them, they have so much energy.
How are rehearsals sounding for the tour? Are you enjoying the vibe?
I’m definitely enjoying the vibe but it’s a lot for me to remember. Remember … I’m old people!
Tell me about the gear you’ll be bringing out for this tour?
I’ll be playing both Telecaster and Strat. Mainly Tele because Prince played the Tele. I am bringing lots of pedals. The hardest thing for me is having no amps on stage, it will be challenging! I’m old-school … I like those monitors!
Do you have any gear endorsements?
I have a Zildjian cymbals endorsement. I should have others!
Have you gone back and listened to Prince’s music to hear the sounds and tones used back in the day in preparation for this tour?
Yes I had to.
When you think back about the movie Purple Rain, what are your strongest memories?
I remember having to be on set at 4 or 5am in a snowstorm, and having to sit around all day on set!
Where were you and how did you find out about Prince’s passing?
I really don’t want to revisit that day. For some reason I had my phone on early that morning. Then I got a call saying that something had happened at Paisley. We were told it wasn’t Prince early on. But we soon learned that that was wrong. We still don’t know to this day why we were given misinformation. It’s a huge loss. It was a hard day, a hard time, a hard year.
What is it about musicians from Minnesota that makes so many of you multi-instrumentalists?
When you live here in the cold, you stay in the winter time and you learn how to play. I had a professor in college that encouraged me to learn how to play multiple instruments. I’m glad he did.
Apart from this Prince tour, what projects have you been working on recently and into the future?
I’m finally working on my own music. I’m hoping to have a CD out later this year. We have a few songs done already. I have Michael Bland on drums.Tracey Blake, Chance Howard, and my blues brother Ronnie Baker Brooks involved with the project. I have a go fund me page set up to help with cost. I appreciate any and all help. Please check it out it’s called the Jellybean Johnson Experience. Thank you to those of you who already supported me and continue to support me. I’ve also been hosting shows here locally as the Jellybean Johnson Experience. I try to get some new young bands up on stage and invite in some headliners and I also perform.
You’ve done a lot of production work, you worked on a hit with Janet Jackson. Have you been doing any production work with other artists lately?
I really haven’t done much producing lately for others. I’m just working on me now! Coming soon! The Jellybean Johnson Experience.
NOTHING COMPARES 2 PRINCE – tickets on sale now.
SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE: 27TH APRIL, 2018
MELBOURNE HAMER HALL 29TH APRIL, 2018