8 Things I Learned from Interviewing Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, and DJ Pierre for Roland

I wrote a retrospective piece for Roland about the Roland and BOSS Lifetime Achievement Awards that just recently went live online. This was obviously an exciting opportunity in its own right. Further sweetening the deal was the fact that I interviewed legendary multi-genre producer/songwriter extraordinaries Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis as well as DJ Pierre - who invented/pioneered the acid house genre as a founding member of Phuture.

It was an incredible experience. I talked to Jam and Lewis together via Zoom and spoke to Pierre via Zoom while he hung out in his studio. All three artists were so generous with their time and spoke to their general creative process while giving extensive insight about their use of Roland gear over the years.

I’d never heard of or read some of the stories they shared with me and was blown away by their detailed breakdowns of famous projects. As is always the case with long-form articles, it was difficult to fit all the interesting bits into the story and I ultimately left a good deal of material on the cutting room floor.

I was, however, able to include several interesting backstories about how Jam, Lewis, and Pierre used Roland gear to alter the course of recorded music. I’ve pulled out eight items from the article and listed them below.

I hope you also find the time to give the entire long-form article a look.

8 Things I Learned from Interviewing Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, and DJ Pierre for Roland

1) Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have credits on 100-plus albums with sales ranging from Gold to Diamond - a truly remarkable feat.

2) The Minneapolis natives used the 808 alongside the LinnDrum by “wild-syncing” it to the existing track of Janet Jackson’s “When I Think of You.”

3) The electric guitar riffs on Janet Jackson’s “If” are actually Jimmy Jam playing a JD-800 keyboard. “It expanded what you thought you could do with a keyboard,” he told me. “If you played it authentically, correctly, you would basically fool people.”

4) Rockwilder’s impressive use of the XP-60 Music Workstation during Janet Jackson’s All For You recording sessions inspired Jam and Lewis’ extensive use of the keyboard on the project.

5) Late Phuture member Spanky, who co-founded Phuture with Herb J and DJ Pierre, picked up a Roland TB-303 secondhand. This piece of equipment was central to several of Phuture’s famous productions from the late 1980s.

6) Pierre’s TB-303 knob twisting altered the frequency and resonance of 303 bass patterns while providing the “squelchy” sound acid house is no known for. Phuture’s 1987 single “Acid Tracks” introduced the world to this unique sound and birthed the acid genre.

7) Pierre used Roland’s famed JUNO-106 on many definitive tracks that he created under his Wild Pitch alias. The keyboard gave his music a darker, more menacing feel.

8) There was a famous TR-808 drum machine of unknown origins that was essential in Pierre’s musical growth. It was also a critical instrument in the Chicago house music scene of the 1980s. “We literally had one 808 that just traveled around the city,” Pierre told me. “It was like a community instrument.” 

I hope you’ve enjoyed these interesting tidbits from my piece. Click here to read the entire article over at the Roland website.

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