There can be no mention of Ta Mara and the Seen without discussing the man behind their sound. Jesse Johnson was a one of the original members of The Time. As the band’s guitarist, he actually never really played on band’s first two albums. Instead he contributed his guitar talents to one of Prince’s side projects Vanity 6.
After being part of The Time’s stage show, and having limited input on the recording of any material Johnson and a two other members of The Time parted (amicably) and formed the Jessee Johnson Review.
The band’s self titled first album came out the gate strong with the tight and funky “Can You Help Me”, “Be Your Man” and remorseful ballad “I Want My Girl”. The success of Prince’s Purple Rain meant that there was an enormous appetite for Prince related music. While funky, Johnson’s music was not as adventurous as that of Prince or even Andre Cymone, but retained the simple working class funk of The Time.
If Andre Cymone’s music was an extension of Prince while Johnson was clearly an extension of his old band. Just like The Family would be that same year, Johnson took the sound of The Time in yet another direction. It’s easy to imagine The Jesse Johnson Review as The Time without the silly antics of Morris Day. In the place of buffoonery, there was a solid work ethic inherited from years of association with Prince. The button down funk of Jesse Johnson proved to be not as popular as that of The Time, mostly because the band looked like everyone else with the big poof hair and tiger paints. Johnson himself resembled a young version of Little Richard in a pirate costume.
While funky in the spirit of Little Richard and Sly Stone could be heard in the music, Johnson lacked the bigger than life image of Morris Day or Prince. This may have been why Johnson remained in the shadow of those two, despite having as much talent as Morris Day (who never was a musician).
It could be argued that other spin-off acts like Apollonia 6 or Vanity had less talent but because they had so defined an image, they were successful. Jesse Johnson lacked a distinctive image and at times sound.
The R&B market was clearly dominated by the explosion of all things purple, making it especially difficult to stand out. The competition included new releases that year fro Shelia E, The Family and the after shock of Purple Rain (no to mention Johnson’s side project with Ta Mara and the Seen). Despite the funky crowd, Jesse Johnson’s Review cracked the top 50 album chart, reached #8 on the R&B album charts.
Johnson’s next album Shockadelica would be more adventurous (but less successful). The trend would continue until his work no longer charted as the face of a R&B world that favored child rappers and media created dance and sing talent show bots.