Jimmy Jam On the Curse And Blessing Of Not Being Able To Get A Gig

Before Jimmy Jam was writing hits with Janet Jackson, before he was playing with Prince, he was a Minnesota musician getting blocked from playing white clubs in the 1970s. He says it was a blessing. Think of this story next time you’re feeling boxed out.

Jimmy Jam and his friends’ first few bands weren’t bookable in the eyes of the local clubs. If they wanted to put on a show, they’d have to find alternate venues to play at. Their strategy was to rent a hall and offer the owners to keep the bar in exchange for letting them keep the door (aka the hall would get a rental fee + drink sales and tips, and the bands would get the cover charge people paid to get in).

Once they booked a spot, they’d work like hell to fill the venue, promoting and talking the show up all over town.

On the nights of their concerts, the “official” clubs would find themselves empty and wondering what happened. It wouldn’t take long for them to find out where everybody was – seeing the bands they refused to book.

To Jimmy Jam, getting boxed out meant learning to be entrepreneurial. They had to make their own deals. They were never entitled. Over time, they got good at it.

When you earn the business, you learn the business. And knowing the business as good or better than whoever is across the table from you gives you leverage.

The curse was they were boxed out. The blessing was they learned how to earn their way in.

Jimmy Jam’s entire career has been centered around loving what you do, striving to be the best at it, and writing your own rule book to gain leverage over whatever anybody else is trying to impose upon you.

Check out his (classic!) two-part interview on the Questlove Supreme Podcast for this story and a whole lot more.