They were among the kings of funky soul music in the 1970s, and Walter “Junie” Morrison was at the center of it. We are sad to report that the keyboardist and producer of the legendary Ohio Players has died at age 62.
Arguably the force behind some of the group’s early big hits, Morrison helped shape the sound of Ohio funk and the popular music in the 1970s and beyond. And when he left The Ohio Players in 1974, he hardly faded into the woodwork. He established for himself a solo career with four solo albums (most recently 2014’sWhen The City). Perhaps more notably, he became part of the expansive Parliament Funkadelic world in the late 70s, taking the role of music director. It was for his work in that latter group – including a leading role in creating the seminal album One Nation Under A Groove, that he entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.
To many, Morrison will forever be associated with the emergence of Ohio funk and of The Ohio Players. One of the funkiest groups in the funkiest decade, the Ohio Players became the template for a generation of Midwest jamming groups. Formed in Dayton, Ohio in 1959 as the Ohio Untouchables, the group initially included members Robert Ward (vocals/guitar), Marshall "Rock" Jones (bass), Clarence "Satch" Satchell (saxophone/guitar), Cornelius Johnson (drums), and Ralph "Pee Wee" Middlebrooks (trumpet/trombone). When Ward, the group leader, broke the act up in the early 60s, the remaining members reformed with additions Gary Webster (drums) and the auspicious young guitarist, Leroy "Sugarfoot" Bonner, and later added trumpeter Bruce Napier, trombonist Marvin Pierce, and Morrison.
The Ohio Players signed with the Detroit-based Westbound label in 1971 and began a string of three successful albums, each punctuated by a loose, funky sound and erotic album covers that brought added attention. They hit with the single "Pain," and became an R&B staple. However, upon their signing with Mercury Records, they reached new heights. This lineup created a series of memorable songs and albums over the remainder of the decade, including "Funky Worm," "Fire," "Who'd She Coo," and their biggest hit, "Love Rollercoaster." Some of these hits happened after Morrison’s departure, but his influence on the group’s then-emerging sound was clear.
Whether as part of The Ohio Players, Parliament/Funkadelic, or as a solo artist or producer, Junie Morrison proved to be a funk pioneer and one of the great musical forces of his time. He will be missed.