THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF JUNIE-FROM OHIO PLAYER TO SOLO ARTIST, FUNKADELIC AND BEYOND.
The Life and Music Of Junie-From Ohio Player To Solo Artist, Funkadelic and Beyond.
In 1970, most sixteen years in Drayton, Ohio, were still at high school and were making plans for college or the world of work. Some were worrying about being drafted, and heading for Vietnam to fight in a war that America was struggling to win. Meanwhile, Walter “Junie” Morrison Jr. was living the musical dream. He had just joined The Ohio Players, who with Junie onboard, were about to become one of the most successful American funk bands of the early seventies.
Junie joined in time to play on The Ohio Players’ sophomore album Pain, which was released in February 1972. Pain proved to be The Ohio Players’ breakthrough album, and was certified gold. The success continued with Pleasure in December 1972, which featured the number one US R&B single Funky Worm. Nine months later,The Ohio Players released Ecstasy in September 1973, which was their swan-song for Westbound. They then parted company with Westbound, and with Walter “Junie” Morrison. This was a huge blow for the nineteen year old.
He hoped that The Ohio Players might have a change of heart, and that he would rejoin their ranks. When this seemed unlikely, Walter decided to embark on a career as a solo artist, and signed a recording deal with Westbound Records, Junie went on to release a trio of albums as Junie for Westbound Records, When We Do, Freeze and Suzie Supergroupie. They’re a reminder of Walter “Junie” Morrison, who was a truly talented songwriter, musician, producer and musical entrepreneur, who sadly, he passed away on January ’21st’ 2017, aged just sixty-two. His story begins in America’s funk capital, Drayton, Ohio in 1954.
The Early Years
Walter Morrison Jr was born in Drayton, Ohio in 1954, and at early age showed an aptitude for music. At school, Walter sang and played the piano, and soon, started to learn a variety of other musical instruments. Given his prodigious talent, it was no surprise that Walter eventually became the school choir director and orchestra conductor. This many thought was the start of Walter’s musical career.
While his teachers may have envisaged Walter heading to college or university to study music, they didn’t think that sixteen year old Walter would leave school and join a funk band. That was what happened when the man who would become known as Junie joined The Ohio Players in 1970.
Two years later, and Junie featured on The Ohio Players’ 1972 sophomore album Pain. It was a slick soulful, and sometimes, jazz-tinged and funky album, and was released to widespread critical acclaim. When Pain was released in February 1972, it reached 177 in the US Billboard 200 and twenty-one on the US R&B charts. This was enough to earn The Ohio Players’ their first gold disc.
Ten months later,The Ohio Players released Pleasure in December 1972. The album was still soulful and funky, and sometimes moved in the direction of jazz. However, The Ohio Players revived the vocal harmonies that had been part of their original sound. They added to the radio friendly sound of some of the songs on Pleasure. Other songs were the result of late-night jam sessions. These would play their part in the sound and success of Pleasure.
Just like Pain, critics were won over by Pleasure, and the album received plaudits and praise. It reached sixty-three on the US Billboard 200 and four on the US R&B charts. When Funky Worm was released as a single, it reached number fifteen on the US Billboard 100 and topped the US R&B charts. This gave The Ohio Players biggest hit single of their career. Junie who was still only eighteen, was part of one of the most successful funk groups of the early seventies.
When The Ohio Players came to record their fourth album Ecstasy, Junie was asked to arrange the album, and just like the two previous albums, cowrote and co-produced the album with the rest of the band. That was apart from Not So Sad and Lonely and Food Stamps Y’all. Walter continued to voice the character of Granny, which first featured on Pain and reappeared on Pleasure. His role in The Ohio Players’ organisation seemed to be growing in importance.
When Ecstasy was released in September 1973 the album was well received by critics, who poured praise on another carefully crafted album of soul and funk. It reached seventy on the US Billboard 200 and nineteen on the US R&B charts. Although Ecstasy didn’t quite match the success of Pleasure, the rise and rise of The Ohio Players continued.
One man wouldn’t be part of The Ohio Players when they left Westbound, and signed to Mercury was Walter “Junie” Morrison. The Ohio Players and Walter parted company, and he missed out on the most successful part of The Ohio Players career. Their next four albums went on to sell over 3.5 millions copies, with three being certified platinum and one gold.
When Junie left The Ohio Players in 1973, there was no bad feeling. He continued to work on projects with members of the band. Although some of these projects were low-key, the important thing for Junie, was that he was still working with the band and maybe, he would return to The Ohio Players ranks. As time passed by, this proved began to look increasingly unlikely. However, when Junie later signed to Mercury Records, members of The Ohio Players worked with him on his solo albums. That was still to come.
Junie was keen to begin the next chapter of his career, and headed into the studio to record his debut single. The result was two new songs, the single Tight Rope, which was soulful and funky with a clavinet adding a tougher edge. This was reminiscent of the type of music Stevie Wonder was recording circa 1973. On the B-Side was Walt’s Third Trip, which was an ambitious track that incorporated elements of disparate genres. Although it was jazz-tinged, funky and soulful, it’s best described as symphonic and sounds like the type of music the disco orchestras would produce later in the decade. Not for the first time, Junie was way ahead of the musical curve.
Later in 1973, Tight Rope was released as a single, with Walt’s Third Trip consigned to the B-Side. However, the single failed to trouble the charts, and Junie’s career at Westbound got off to an inauspicious start.
Rather than begin work on his debut album, Junie decided to hold off, just in case he was asked to rejoin The Ohio Players. This didn’t happen. Instead Junie was forced to watch from the sidelines The Ohio Players fifth album Skin Tight was released in April 1974, and reached number eleven in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B charts. Skin Tight went on to sell over a million copies and was certified platinum. For Junie, this must have been a frustrating time, knowing that he had played his part in the rise and rise of The Ohio Players.
Seven months later, The Ohio Players released Fire, which reached number one on the US Billboard 200 and the US R&B charts, and again, sold over a million copies. This resulted in a second platinum disc for The Ohio Players, who were well on their way to becoming one of the biggest funk bands in world. For Junie, it was a case of what might have been.
When We Do.
Realising that he was unlikely to be reunited with The Ohio Players, Junie began work on his debut solo album When We Do. He had written eight new songs, which with Skin Tight and Walt’s Third Trip would form the basis for his debut album, When We Do.
Junie who was a talented multi-instrumentalist, was able to lay down many of the instruments himself. However, when it came to add the strings, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra were contracted. They featured on several tracks, including Junie, The Place, Anna and Walt’s Third Trip. Gradually, When We Do started to take shape, as heartfelt ballads and uptempo tracks rubbed shoulders with each other on a truly eclectic album. Junie combined elements of disco funk, jazz, P-Funk, rock, samba and soul on When We Do, which marked a return to the eclectic and playful sound that featured on the trio of albums Junie recorded with The Ohio Players.
Critics on hearing When We Do, were reminded of a playful nature of the music that was a feature of the trio of albums that Junie was a member of The Ohio Players. Although they now had two million selling albums under their belt, critics noted that The Ohio Players had lost this playfulness. That wasn’t all they The Ohio Players had lost. Critics commented that their music was no longer as eclectic as it had been with Junie onboard. However, critics noted that Junie had incorporated this playfulness and eclecticism to When We Do, which was well received upon its release.
Buoyed by the praise and plaudits the genre-melting When We Do had garnered, the album was scheduled for release later in 1975. Upon its release, Junie’s much-anticpated debut album sold reasonably well. However, despite its undeniable quality, and eclectic and playful sound, When We Do, didn’t replicate the success of the three albums he recorded with The Ohio Players. However, the executives at Westbound thought When We Do was a good start to Junie’s career, and soon, he began recording his sophomore album, Freeze.
When it came to record Freeze, Junie dispensed with services of sidemen, strings and backing vocalists. He became a one-man band, writing, recording and producing the eight new tracks at Ardent Studios, in Memphis. Over the days and weeks, Junie recorded an album that combined cartoon funk, soul and funky jams with a tougher and occasionally, psychedelic sound. The result was another eclectic album, albeit one that showcased a very different sound on Freeze.
Critics on hearing Freeze, noticed a stylistic change on some of the songs on Freeze. While some of the songs were similar to those on When We Do, including the ballads World Of Woe, Junie had reinvented himself on several songs. To do this, Junie deployed effects during several songs, including a vocoder on Musical Son and Super J. Junie also revisited the character Granny on Granny’s Funky Rolls Royce. This was a character from his days with The Ohio Players. Freeze with its mixture of the familiar and Junie’s new sound, found favour with critics, who hailed the album inventive and innovative.
Freeze was a stepping stone for Junie, as he started to reinvent his music. However, the big question was how would record buyers react to Freeze? Before that, an edit of Granny’s Funky Rolls Royce was released as a single, with an edit of Super J on the B-Side. When Granny’s Funky Rolls Royce was released as single, it too, failed to find an audience. Worse was to come when Freeze was released in the second half of 1975, and it didn’t come close to troubling the charts. For Junie and executives at Westbound, this was a worrying development. Despite this, Junie was allowed to begin work on his third album, Suzie Super Groupie.
Suzie Super Groupie.
For Suzie Super Groupie, Junie returned to Detroit, and Pac Three Studio where he had recorded When We Do. That was where the nine songs on Suzie Super Groupie took shape. Just like previous albums, they had been penned and produced by Junie. However, this time, Junie was joined by band that included several members of the Crowd Pleasers. Their raison d’être was to help Junie rescue his ailing career.
He realised that if Suzie Super Groupie failed commercially, there was every chance he would be dropped by Westbound Records. For the twenty-two year old, this would be a disaster, and could spell the end of his career. However, with a talented and versatile band behind him, Junie was responsible for an album that was slick, smooth and soulful, but also headed in the direction of proto-boogie, funk and jazz. He waited with bated breath to hear what critics made of Suzie Super Groupie.
When critics heard Suzie Super Groupie, they preferred the album to Freeze. It was a much more eclectic album, that eschewed many of the effects and synths that featured on Freeze. They had been replaced by a talented band that who provided the perfect backdrop to Junie on his genre-melting album. Suzie Super Groupie was hailed as a return to form, and the album that had the potential to launch Junie’s career.
Suzie Super Groupie was released in 1976, and history repeated itself once again. Sales of Suzie Super Groupie were disappointing, and Junie knew that the end of his time at Westbound Records could well be near. That was despite the quality of Suzie Super Groupie.
Not long after the release of Suzie Super Groupie, Junie left Westbound Records. This was almost inevitable. Junie knew before the release of Suzie Super Groupie that the album had to sell well. If it didn’t Westbound Records wouldn’t renew his contract. After all, no record company that wanted to stay solvent, would continue to allow an artist continue to release albums that failed to sell. It didn’t matter that they were of the quality of When We Do, Freeze and Suzie Supergroupie and showcase a truly talented musician as he tried to make a commercial breakthrough.
When Junie left Westbound Records, the musical prodigy was still only twenty-two. Despite his relative youth, Junie had a wealth of musical experience. He had featured on three of The Ohio Players’ album and had released a trio of solo albums. Junie was an experienced, talented and versatile singer, songwriter, musician, arranger and producer. It wouldn’t be long before someone came calling, wanting to hire Junie.
That proved to be the case. In 1977, Junie was appointed musical director of Funkadelic, and made his debut on One Nation Under A Groove in 1978. The addition of Junie helped transform the fortunes of Funkadelic, when One Nation Under A Groove reached number sixteen on the US Billboard 200 and one on the US R&B charts. This gave Funkadelic and Junie their first platinum disc.
Uncle Jam Wants You was released a year later in September 1979, and reached number eighteen on the US Billboard 200 and two on the US R&B charts. Funkadelic received their first gold disc. However, after just two albums with Funkadelic, Junie and the band parted company.
The Solo Years Take Two.
Junie returned to his solo career in 1980, after writing playing his part in Funkadelic two million selling albums. Suddenly, Junie was hot property, with record companies fighting for his signature. Eventually, he signed to Columbia and released two albums. However, neither Bread Alone in 1980, nor Junie 5 in 1981 found an audience. Three years later, Junie returned with Evacuate Your Seats in 1984, but it was a familiar story when the album passed record buyers by. For Junie, this prompted a change of career.
A Change Of Career.
In the late eighties, Junie decided to relocate to London, where he founded the Akashic record label. Junie also worked as a songwriter, and wrote songs for Soul II Soul, Sounds Of Blackness and God’s Property. Later, Junie moved into production, and worked with a variety of artists, including James Ingram. By the mid-nineties, Junie was reunited with someone from his past.
This was none other than George Clinton, and the pair began the first of several collaborations. Then in 2004, Junie returned with what would be his final solo album When The City, which was released on his own label Juniefunk. Little did anyone realise that this was the last that would be heard of Junie.
By then, Junie’s music started to find an audience within the hip hop community. They realised that Junie’s music was ripe for sampling. On some of the songs on The Complete Westbound Recordings, Junie literally invites hip hop producers to sample his music. This was an invitation they accepted, and this has continued up until relatively recently. In 2016, songs from Kayne West’s album Life Of Pablo and Solange Knowles’ A Seat At The Table feature samples of Junie’s music. These two high-profile artists introduced Junie’s music to a new generation of record buyers.
Sadly, not long after this, Walter “Junie” Morrison passed away on January ’21st’ 2017, aged just sixty-two. Music had lost a truly talented singer, songwriter, musician, arranger and producer, who to some extent, is still one of music’s best kept secrets. Somewhat belatedly, this seems to be starting to change, since hip hop producers have started to sample Junie’s music. This has resulted in some hip hop fans going in search of Junie’s albums, and rediscovering the five solo albums that he released during his career. However, the highlights of Junie’s solo career are the trio of albums he released on Westbound Records, When We Do, Freeze and Suzie Supergroupie. They feature a musical prodigy at his innovative best, as Junie just like he did with The Ohio Players, creates music that is soulful and funky, and also eclectic and playful.
The Life and Music Of Junie-From Ohio Player To Solo Artist, Funkadelic and Beyond.