Some of the premium instruments were once in a storage space across the street — the Linn drum machine they used on the album “Control”; the SP1200 drum machine they employed on Jackson’s “Miss You Much,” “Escapade” and “Love Will Never Do Without You”; the OB-8 synthesizer that gives “Encore” its bass notes along with Lewis’s live playing (yes, that song has two bass parts). One 808 was so special — used on jams for the S.O.S. Band and New Edition, as well as “Volume One” — it was being kept in a Plexiglas case.
A young hip-hop producer once asked Jam if he had 808 sounds stored on a computer, and Jam just showed him the actual hardware. “He started calling all his boys,” Jam recalled. “‘Man, Jam, got an 808, man. No, not the sounds, man. The real machine!’ It was hilarious to me.”
Jam says they considered paring down. But a few things happened to change their minds. For one, they were working with the singer and songwriter Robyn, who also wanted to see a fabled 808 with her own eyes. “She was the one that actually sparked that idea” to move, Jam said. So now a visitor can walk around and “see the piano that ‘Tender Love’ was done on, or you see the drum machine that ‘Saturday Love’ was done on.”
They also found a note Michael Jackson left asking if they wouldn’t mind importing some sounds he liked on Janet’s “Nasty” to a project they were working on with him. “I wasn’t there so he had taped it to the keyboard,” Jam said. “So, literally, it was the note with a piece of tape still on it from Michael Jackson. And Terry and I kind of looked at each other and said, Well, we got to move all these boxes, we can’t just toss” them.
Two years ago, help was on the way. Jam mentioned that someone from the Smithsonian had recently come out to look into displaying some items for posterity. He reported that their equipment and accouterments have also drawn the interest of the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, and the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, where one of Jam’s fedoras already lives.
The tour that started with Lewis and ended with Jam concluded only because three hours had passed, and some of us were hungry. For food. But also for news. Robyn, Lewis said, would be on “Volume Two.” So might Jackson.
I asked when that might be.
Lewis’s eyebrows arched over his shades, then he grinned.
“After ‘Volume One.’”