Walter “Junie” Morrison, who played keyboards in Funkadelic and the Ohio Players, died on Saturday. His daughter, Akasha, reported the news via the artist’s Facebook page. The details surrounding his death have not yet been made public. He was 62.
“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,” the group’s James “Diamond” Williams wrote on Facebook. “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.”
Morrison’s career had several peaks that would resonate decades beyond their places on the Billboard charts. With the Ohio Players, he arranged and co-wrote 1972’s “Funky Worm,” a song that featured Morrison pretending to be an old woman. It made it to Number 15 on the Hot 100. “Early in my career with Ohio Players, we played a lot of nightclubs and had a closer interaction with the audience,” he told Red Bull Music Academy in 2015. “As a result, we would do skits to bring ourselves even closer to the people in that setting. One of these so-called ‘skits’ involved the character I created of a young boy with a very ‘dirty mouth.’ That ‘boy’ character was using what later became the ‘Granny’ voice on ‘Funky Worm.’ From young to old in an instant!”
With Funkadelic, he co-wrote “One Nation Under a Groove,” the danceable title track of the group’s 1978 LP alongside George Clinton and guitarist Garry Shider. It was the ensemble’s biggest hit – reaching Number 28 on the Hot 100 and paved the way for future success with the group.
The multi-instrumentalist and arranger was born in 1954 in Dayton, Ohio and made his recorded debut on the Ohio Players’ Pain album in 1972. It was a moderate success, thanks in part to the bouncy, brassy title track, which peaked in the lower half of the Hot 100 but fared better on the R&B chart.
Its follow-up, the same year’s Pleasure, was a bigger hit and featured “Funky Worm,” which topped the R&B chart; Morrison’s performance on that song would later feature in N.W.A’s “Dopeman.” He stayed with the group for another LP, 1973’s Ecstasy, which did almost as well as its predecessor because of the building, elastic title track making it into the Top 40. He quit just before the group went on to achieve widespread success with hits like “Fire” and “Love Rollercoaster.”
After his Ohio Players stint, Morrison went solo for a few years and released three LPs between 1975 and 1976 – all credited to Junie – and went on to join Parliament and Funkadelic and became a pivotal member of both groups, assuming the role of musical director for the latter.
“Junie was a fascinating person to work with,” Clinton wrote in his 2014 memoir, Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard On You?, likening his musical do-it-yourself quality to Sly Stone and Prince. “He could do it all, and if you weren’t careful, he would. When he made a record, his preference was to put down the bass, then the guitar, then the keyboards, then the drums. That was fantastic for demos. 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.”
In addition to “One Nation Under a Groove,” he wrote nearly all of the songs on the album (not counting its bonus EP). Although he didn’t contribute songwriting to the album’s follow-up, 1979’s Uncle Jam Wants You, he played on the album, including its hit “(Not Just) Knee Deep,” which would later be sampled on De La Soul’s “Me Myself and I” and Dr. Dre’s “Fuck Wit Dre Day.”
Morrison continued to work with Clinton on myriad projects, including numerous Clinton solo albums like Computer Games, which included the hit “Atomic Dog.” He also resumed his own solo career, putting out Bread Alone in 1980 and Junie 5 in 1981, the latter of which found him playing nearly every instrument. He put out another LP, Evacuate Your Seats, in 1984 but wouldn’t do another solo full-length until 2004’s When the City.
In the intervening years, Morrison spent much of his time producing LPs for other artists, notably the single “I Care” for the group Soul II Soul. In 1997, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Funkadelic.
More recently, Morrison resumed work as a solo artist and put out the soulful digital singles “The Body Savage,” “Don’t Fall Fast” and “Suzie Thunderpussy” under his own name. He had been teasing a new full-length, though the album was never released.
Last year, he was the subject of Solange Knowles’ song “Junie.” “She communicated to me that she wanted to tell me the story of how much my track ‘Super Spirit’ made an impression on her and inspired her to name her creation, ‘Junie,'” he said in 2016 interview with Fader. “She wanted me to hear her creation and speak to me about it. My initial reaction to hearing the song itself was the same as I had while listening to the rest of A Seat at the Table – Wow! This young person has a whole funkload of talent.”
Morrison’s acolyte Questlove expressed a similar sentiment about Morrison in an Instagram post paying tribute to the artist and his influence, calling him “so inspirational.” “All the Ohio Players’ Westbound-era funk that birthed [D’Angelo’s] Voodoo and Black Messiah: Junie,” he wrote. “Those adlibs on Hov’s “Brooklyn’s Finest” and Tribe’s “Scenario” remix is Junie. All the Warner-era Funkadelic songwriting wizardry … even Parliament’s Motor Booty Affair and GloryHallaStoopid. … His ideas birthed and ushered in the G-Funk era (all that synthy ‘Funky Worm’ synth y’all associate with gangsta rap/Dre’s sound? That’s Junie Morrison). … This man was an uncelebrated, unsung, un-championed [man] whose ideas we just took and took and took. I regret so much not having a ‘proper’ conversation about his journey. His songwriting. His technology innovations. Man. This stings. R.I.P., Junie.”