Junie Morrison, Funkadelic Hall Of Famer and Ohio Player

Suzie Supergroupie–Listen on YouTube

Walter “Junie” Morrison was one of those guys, like Prince, who could hear the music in his head and then pick up all the instruments, push all the buttons and turn all the knobs and come out with a one-man-band, fully-formed hit. He apprenticed with the Ohio Players, leading them to their first #1 R&B hit, “Funky Worm,” which he gets most of the credit for, as a writer, producer, arranger and keyboardist.

After a few years helping to send the Ohio Players on an upward trajectory, he moved to George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic. Clinton admired the young sideman, noting that Junie “could do it all, and if you weren’t careful, he would.” It was for his work with Parliament-Funkadelic that Junie earned his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame honor. Junie (1954-January 21, 2017) would move on to produce a number of solo albums.

“Funk is an excellent platform for moving or removing the ills that may be present in our lives.” –Junie Morrison

My last post was on David Axelrod, a producer/arranger whose heyday was in the 60s and 70s, and who would become a go-to source for hip-hop samples. So was Junie. Many artists dug into his catalog for sounds. “Funky Worm” alone was sampled by N.W.A., Ice Cube, Kris Kross, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince and De La Soul. Solange recorded a tribute to Junie on her Grammy Award-winning project A Seat At The Table.

I get much of my news on musicians from Google Alerts, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and other mainstream sources. But I do like to branch out for information from other sources. For Junie, I turned to Okayplayer, a site started by ?uestlove of The Roots in 1999. It bills itself as “the original progressive urban music site.”

“Funky Worm” on Spotify

“Junie,” a tribute to Morrison by Solange–on Spotify

Prince, Creative Genius Behind the “Minneapolis Sound”

Prince at Super Bowl XLI

Forget six degrees of separation. If you’ve lived in Minneapolis since the late 1970s, you’re likely connected to Prince by two, maybe three degrees. It seems everybody knows–or knows someone who knows- a photographer, musician,  club owner, music writer, costume designer, or ad agency exec who had a direct connection to Prince.

I arrived in Minneapolis in 1977, and it was around the time when you’d see articles in the local entertainment weekly, The Reader, about Prince Rogers Nelson, a local teenage prodigy, who had a mind-blowing talent to cross genres and play guitar with a skill compared to Hendrix. I’m not sure I saw it coming, but others (at least in retrospect) say they predicted his rise to the highest strata of artists–right up there with Elvis, Dylan and the Beatles. I knew his passing was a big deal, but I was not quite prepared for the non-stop coverage it has received in the past days–not just from the local media, but internationally. Typical Minnesota humility, I suppose, but even Super Bowl performances, Oscar wins and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame status couldn’t quite convince us that a global superstar was among us.

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction

And he was. It’s now common knowledge that he frequented the Electric Fetus record store and the Dakota jazz club. Local acts still can find their way onto the stage at First Avenue, made famous for its role in “Purple Rain.” I used to drive by Paisley Park in the innocuous white-bread suburb of Chanhassen on my way to my son’s baseball games. The building was white, but otherwise not noteworthy–hardly the architectural counterpart to Prince’s camera-magnet wardrobe.

Maybe I’m a homer, but there’s something about this state that seems to breed creative originals. In addition to Prince, there’s Dylan, of course, but also the Coen Brothers and Garrison Keillor, to name a few. These are people who rewrite the rules of their art, who originate whole genres, who refuse to fall into predictable paths. A Swedish creative director I know, who worked for a time in Minneapolis, speculated that people from Nordic climates have more time to ruminate, imagine, experiment, perfect. A long, dark winter is a  better environment for creative introspection than a sunny surf beach.

“Cream” on MTV Unplugged

I imagine Prince Rogers Nelson, who went to high school 20 blocks north of me, spent his time this way, listening intently to music and tinkering with the pianos and guitars that came his way. Breakthrough artists often come from unlikely places–Liverpool, Tupelo, Lubbock, Hibbing. Prince was one of the true originals. In the past few days, I’ve heard him called our generation’s Mozart, the one artist who will still be talked about 50, 100 years from now. For once, it doesn’t sound like hyperbole.

Cynthia Robinson, Trumpet Player and Co-Founder of Sly & the Family Stone

“Thank You (Faletinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” on Soul Train

Cynthia Robinson is the one and only woman trumpet player to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an honor she received as a member and co-founder of the ground-breaking funk/soul/psychedlic band Sly and the Family Stone.

“Dance to the Music”

“She was a KICK ASS trumpet player,” wrote Questlove in an Instagram tributeHer play-it-loud horn parts are a distinctive component to the Sly and the Family Stone sound. She took the same approach to vocals–that’s her shouting out the intro to “Dance to the Music.”

The Family Stone at Jazz San Javier 2014

After Sly and the Family Stone stopped performing, Robinson (January 12, 1946-November 23, 2015) continued to work with fellow band members in Graham Central Station and the Family Stone. She also appears on albums by George Clinton, Prince and Robert Cray.

I was fortunate to have seen Robinson in 1973, when Sly and the Family Stone performed at the WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, WV.