The Secret History of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’ Iconic Production Catalog

James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III and Terry Lewis are widely regarded as one of the greatest producing tandems in the history of music. While growing up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the trajectory of their lives changed when they first crossed paths at the University of Minnesota through the Upward Bound program in the early 1970s. Over the next few years, they remained friends and played in rival bands against Prince and Morris Day. By the early 1980s, Lewis finally convinced Harris to join his band Flyte Tyme. Soon thereafter, Day and Lewis mutually agreed to form The Time due to a deal Day had struck with Prince over the usage of a track Day wrote for his Dirty Mind album.

During this period, Harris and Lewis decided to spread their wings as producers and go to Los Angeles after The Time’s spot as the opening act on Prince’s Controversy tour was over. They began creating demos with a four-track recorder, utilizing Harris’s keyboard and Lewis’s bass. Through the assistance of producer Leon Sylvers and then-A&R Dina Andrews, their demos eventually landed in the hands of Dick Griffey at Solar Records. After missing one of their concerts while working with the S.O.S. Band in Atlanta, Georgia, they were terminated from the band by Prince.

Following their removal from the band, they fortified their union as a songwriting and production team. Since then, their seamless strokes of genius have produced seminal hits for pop, R&B, and gospel music royalty for the past three decades. During their partnership, Harris and Lewis have earned more than one hundred gold, platinum, multi-platinum, and diamond albums, and produced forty-one Billboard Top 10 songs, including twenty-six number one R&B and sixteen number one Hot 100 hit records. Recently, we spoke with Jimmy Jam from the iconic production tandem about the stories behind the making of 10 songs from their extensive catalog.

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