Junie – 1975 – When We Do
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Junie Morrison is the zelig of funk, working with both Ohio Players and Funkadelic as well as releasing a string of quirky solo albums. Described by George Clinton as “the most phenomenal musician on the planet” he co-wrote classic tracks such as Pain, Funky Worm, Not Just Knee Deep and One Nation Under A Groove. A multi instrumentalist he wrote, produced and played most of the parts on his albums. In fact it is striking how similar and what a slept on influence he is on that other one man band, Prince. Early Prince is a great hodge podge of Ohio Players and Cameo but the strange twists and turns of Junie’s music as well as the range of styles shows a connection. Like Prince Junie is unafraid to play rock, funk, almost prog jams and jazz fusion, sometimes within the same song.
I first heard Junie on a compilation but the random collection of tracks did not click with me. It was only when I heard the full albums that his music all made sense. Morrison unfortunately never enjoyed the solo success he had with Ohio Players and Funkadelic, when left to his own devices his music is just too odd, for example the Zappaesque Johnny Carson Samba (some of the album sounds like Zappa’s more funk influenced work with George Duke). However when taken as a whole the sweeping canvas he tackles is intoxicating. The melodies are soaked in gospel but sung like a jazz singer so it takes a while to dig them out of the string heavy arrangements.
Tight Rope (later sampled by J Dilla) is the most obviously catchy song that could have been a hit but the epic balladry of Married Him is also a stand out. Several instrumentals break up the album demonstrating Junie’s great keyboard work but also an unexpected love of fuzzed out guitar soloing which sounds very like Roger Troutman’s playing with Zapp (another unmentioned influence on Prince). Walt’s Third Trip instrumental freak out is both funky and jazzy with classical flourishes, going into a New Orleans hoe down half way through.
Prince’s genius was to synthesise the best bits of 70’s funk and soul like Junie, which was mainly unfamiliar to his later main stream rock fans, and translate it into tight rock songs. However to simply say he wrote “better” songs is a mistake, he simply wrote simpler songs and arranged his albums with more focus. Jazz and gospel have too strong a grip on Morrison’s writing to allow the straight forwardness needed for super stardom but it is still a great listen. This is such a rich album it is a bit of a tragedy this is not available on cd but you can get a taste of his work on Junie The Best of the Westbound Years on Itunes although I stress his work makes most sense on the full LPs.