One of the great musicians and producers of funk, Walter “Junie” Morrison, has died, at the age of 62. Morrison was a multi-skillled musician, writing, producing, singing and playing keyboards with the Ohio Players, with George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic, and as a solo artist.
His death was announced on Twitter by Dam-Funk, who had featured Morrison on his 2015 album Invite the Light. He said Morrison’s daughter Akasha had called him with the news.
The news was confirmed on Facebook by Ohio Players drummer James “Diamond” Williams, who wrote: “It is with great sadness that the Ohio Players have lost on this earth another one of the original members of the band Walter ‘Junie’ Morrison. When I got in the band in 1972 he was my roommate on the road and a brother-in-law, at one time being married to my wife’s sister. The voice of granny in the funky worm, an incredibly talented individual … RIP PLAYER 4 Life. We send our condolences to his family and his friends and fans.”
Musicians paid tribute on social media.
Though Morrison was at his most commercially successful in the 1970s, the influence of his music echoed down the decades in hip-hop, with his work with both the Ohio Players and P-Funk being widely sampled. His own track Suzie Thundertussy, from his 1978 album, Suzie Super Groupie, was sampled on Kanye West’s No More Parties in LA. Others who have used Morrison samples include J Dilla, the Coup, Madlib and Kriss Kross, whose international hit Jump was one of many hip-hop records to use the Ohio Players’ Funky Worm, which was also the basis of the G-funk sound in the 1990s. He was the inspiration for the song Junie on Solange’s album A Seat at the Table.
Morrison believed strongly in the power of intuition and instinct in music. When asked by the Fader if he had known Solange before she recorded Junie, he replied: “I instinctively knew Solange, only through the connection we all have as beings on this planet. Strangely enough, it was almost akin to what one would call fate, especially since her brother-in-law [Jay Z] started his career by sampling one of my early creations called Ecstasy.”
That reflected his belief that artists didn’t make music of their own, so much as find music that already existed somewhere in the ether. “People are filters,” he told New York Rocker in 1981. “Idealism is prior to creation. No matter what you say – ‘I did this’ or I’m gonna do that’ – the moment that you actually believe it’s you is when you have trouble. When you’re open to creative forces and The Vibe that is inherent in all men, and realise the immortality of mankind and those that have come before you – only then will you be able to achieve a view comparable to that which is considered to be wise … If you allow yourself to be aware of these things, or beware, then you’ll never run out of stuff. But when you say ‘This is me’ or ‘This is my goal,’ that’s when you’ve stopped.”
Morrison joined the Ohio Players – a long-running soul band from Dayton, Ohio – in the early 1970s, when they re-formed as a funk band. The group’s first big hit, Funky Worm (1973), was built around Morrison’s distinctive squealing synthesiser line, the sound of the funky worm itself.
He left the Players in 1974, recording three solo albums before joining George Clinton in Parliament-Funkadelic in early 1978 as music director, co-writing several of their biggest hits, including One Nation Under a Groove, and sometimes using the pseudonym JS Theracon, a name he also used for some solo recordings.
Clinton described working with Morrison in his 2014 memoir Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You? “Junie was a fascinating person to work with,” he wrote. “He could do it all, and if you weren’t careful, he would … He could do brilliant things while you weren’t looking … With Funkadelic, he put himself back in the group environment, and it started to pay dividends immediately.”
Morrison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 as a member of Parliament-Funkadelic.