January 21, 2017 – Walter “Junie” Morrison was born sometime in 1954 in Dayton, Ohio. The exact date has not been found as if intentionally hidden by his later alter ego J.S. Theracon, showing up on an infrequent basis during his life, mostly when contractual obligations got in the way of making music.
Morrison sang and played piano as a child in church, soon learning a range of other instruments such as guitar , bass, drums and brasses, making gospel a foundation for his music. He soon became a student school choir director and orchestra conductor at Roosevelt High School in Dayton. In 1970, in his mid-teens, after graduating from high school, he joined the funk band the Ohio Players.
He became their lead singer, trumpeter and keyboardist, and soon their musical director and producer, involved in some of their major hits and the albums Pain, Pleasure, and Ecstasy. He was largely responsible for writing and arranging the band’s 1973 hit single, “Funky Worm“. The band members nicknamed him Junie, he told the Red Bull Music Academy, because they were older. “It took quite a while before they let me forget my age and lack of experience in the ‘ways of the world,’ ” he said.
“Funky Worm,” with Morrison on multiple instruments, became the Ohio Players’ first No. 1 R&B hit, while also reaching No. 15 on the Billboard pop singles chart.
He left the band in 1974 to release three solo albums on Westbound Records, on which he played all the instruments, credited as Junie – When We Do, Freeze, and Suzie Supergroupie. Except for orchestral arrangements, he usually sang, played and produced every part, as another Midwestern prodigy, Prince, would do a few years later on his debut album.
On his solo albums, Morrison sang flirtations, dance invitations, philosophy and social commentary in tunes that drew on funk, ballads, jazz, blues, rock, reggae and Latin styles. He was also an early experimenter with technology like synthesizers, vocoders and drum machines. And he had a humorous streak: Quacking duck sounds turn up across his discography.
He joined George Clinton’s funk empire in 1978 and worked into the early 1980s with Funkadelic, Parliament and the P-Funk All-Stars as well as on Clinton’s debut solo album, “Computer Games.” As musical director he brought a unique sound to P-Funk and played a key role during the time of their greatest popularity. In particular, his original compositions formed the basis for the legendary platinum-selling Funkadelic album ‘One Nation Under a Groove‘, the single “(Not Just) Knee Deep” (a #1 hit on the U.S. R&B charts in 1979), as well as the gold-selling Parliament albums Motor Booty Affair, and Gloryhallastoopid. Morrison also played on and produced some P-Funk material under the pseudonym J.S. Theracon, again to avoid contractual difficulties, a pseudonym he revived for a 2014 single.
After his first years with Parliament-Funkadelic, he recorded three solo albums in the eighties including 1980’s Bread Alone, 1981’s Junie 5, and 1984’s Evacuate Your Seats. He then relocated to London, England in the late 1980s and founded the Akashic record label. He had his own studio there and produced mostly club hits, in collaborations with Soul II Soul, Sounds of Blackness and God’s Property. Morrison also produced other artists, including James Ingram, throughout the 1990s and continued to contribute to P-Funk albums.
Inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, with fifteen other members of Parliament-Funkadelic, Morrison was described by Clinton as “the most phenomenal musician on the planet” and “the force behind the groove.”
Morrison rejoined Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars in the 1990s. In 1998 Junie Morrison shared a major gospel honor, the Dove Award for song of the year, for “Stomp,” by Kirk Franklin and the Family.
He also collaborated on John Tesh’s “Give Me Forever (I Do),” which became a wedding perennial with James Ingram’s vocal, and went on to produce much of Mr. Ingram’s 1999 album, “Forever More (Love Songs, Hits and Duets).”
In the 2000s he revitalized his solo career on his own new label, Juniefunk, and recorded as Junie Morrison for the 2004 album “When the City,” and under aliases, including Micronagual, Algorithm and BoyinSea.
Morrison as a song writer, producer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist mastered the uncanny ability to maneuver between music cultures. This afforded him the opportunity to produce releases that span a number of genres from funk to rock, country to pop music and techno. Throughout his career, Morrison has not only produced innumerable projects as a solo artist, and as a writer, performer, producer and music director with the groups mentioned above, but also as a writer and producer for an assortment of other famous recording artists. His understanding of individual instruments and their role in creating a great song is aided not only by his ability to play those instruments himself, but makes itself apparent through his meticulous attention to detail as an arranger.
His music pumped across dance floors from the 1970s into the hip-hop era and has been sampled by Kanye West, Jay Z, A Tribe Called Quest, Digital Underground, De La Soul, the Roots, Kris Kross and J Dilla, among many others. The high, wriggly Arp Soloist synthesizer line on the Ohio Players’ “Funky Worm,” either directly sampled or imitated, became an essential part of the Los Angeles hip-hop that Dr. Dre turned into a genre, G-funk, in productions for N.W.A, Snoop Dogg and others.
In 2016, determined to combat what he saw as an “all-time high” of negativity, he released ambient music both as Junie Morrison and as BoyinSea.
“Musicians, if they choose to, can drive a tonal wedge through the noisome pestilence; the stench that often accompanies our contemporary societal lifestyles,” he said. “I wanted to conceptualize an escape from the tensions and atmospheric pollution, even if it’s only a temporary psycho-acoustical one.”
Morrison died unexpectedly on January 21, 2017, at the age of 62, in London. His death was reported on Facebook by his daughter the following month, but the details remained private.
Shortly before his untimely passing Junie wrote this essay on his blog about an important music influence on him in his schooldays. Realizing that this tribute was written just a short while before his own demise, made me instantly realize how little distance there is between life and death.