The Electrifying Mojo  

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"Will the members of the Midnight Funk Association please rise. Please go to your porch light and turn it on for the next hour to show us your solidarity. If you’re in your car please honk your horn and flash your lights, wherever you are. If you’re in bed, get ready to dance on your back, in Technicolor. And get ready for the MFA. The word is… Hold on tight, don’t let go. Whenever you feel like you’re nearing the end of your rope, don’t slide off. Tie a knot. Keep hanging, keep remembering, that it ain’t nobody bad like you. This session of the International Midnight Funk Association is being called to order. Electrifying Mojo presiding. May the Funk be with you. Always…" — The Electrifying Mojo - The Midnight Funk Association

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Charles "The Electrifying Mojo" Johnson (b ? in Little Rock, Arkansas) was a Detroit disc jockey whose on-air journey of musical and social development shaped a generation of music-lovers in Detroit and throughout southeastern Michigan and Canada and was of importance to the development of Detroit Techno.

He is recognized for having introduced or "broken" many artists into the Detroit radio market, including Prince, the B-52's, and Kraftwerk, and was occasionally thanked on-air by the artists for his support of their work. Prince granted Mojo a telephone interview following a sold out birthday concert at Cobo Arena on June 7, 1985, during an era when Prince rarely if ever granted interviews. He was visited in the studio by the B52's and the J. Geils Band with the latter thanking him for playing "Flamethrower" from their album Freeze Frame.

Contents

History

Mojo's seminal radio show ran from 1977 through the mid-1980s, and while broadcast on stations marketed toward the African-American market, his programming was an inspired blend of the best soul, funk, new wave, and rock that defied standard radio industry formats and genres.

After serving in the Air Force, Johnson attended the University of Michigan in the mid 70s where he began broadcasting on the University radio station and then on Ann Arbor station WAAM (at the time a popular Top 40 station). In 1977 he began broadcasting on WGPR (107.5) in Detroit and soon gathered a diverse audience attracted to his "genre bending" format. Moving to WJLB around 1982, Mojo gained additional listeners at the more easily found 97.9 frequency and billboards throughout Detroit touted the "Landing of the Mothership" at 10pm every night.

In what would become a trend with Mojo due to his refusal to adhere to radio station formats, he moved to WHYT (96.3) in 1985 and then WTWR in Toledo, Ohio after a management turnover at WHYT in 1987. His show prospered there until 1990, when he accepted an offer to return to the Detroit airwaves at WMXD. At this time, Mojo began doing remote broadcasts, driving around Detroit, talking to people in the city, while his assistant Wendel kept the music going at the studio.

In October 1990, Mojo gave an exclusive interview to Finney High Today, a one page newspaper produced by the Journalism class at Finney High School. The lengthy interview took up nearly the entire issue, and went deep into subjects ranging from his origins on AM radio in Ann Arbor, Michigan to then current radio jockeys in Detroit. Mojo also addressed some of the reasons why he was bounced from station to station, ranging from his refusal to follow any station's genre or format, playing "white music" on "black stations" and vice-versa.

The mid-nineties found Mojo back at WGPR, again challenging ideas about the role of a broadcast DJ. His show, a weekend mid-day slot, consisted of a broad range of content, tied to a common thread of social and cultural awareness of the African-American community.

Musically, this included shows focused on single themes, such as symphonic music by black composers, a survey of the jazz and symphonic music of Duke Ellington, and one alternating the music of Billie Holiday with spoken excerpts from her autobiography. He, as before, frequently played recordings in their entirety.

In an unusual arrangement, Mojo was purchasing his air-time from WGPR and then finding his own sponsors for the show. His two primary sponsors at this time were a deli and an insurance agency. The spots for them produced by Mojo were loose and low-production, with plenty of booming reverb with Mojo's admonishment to "save on auto insurance!"

He also dedicated airtime to reading excerpts from his 500-plus page book, The Mental Machine (ISBN 0-9639811-1-0). A work of poetry and prose about community and societal ills. Both his on-air persona and his writing seemed to put a Christian spirituality more centerstage than his previous shows.

Sometimes Mojo would stop the music to talk, sometimes for a half an hour or more, about whatever was on his mind, sometimes also taking live phone calls on the air about any given subject. The WGPR station managers, citing the fact that WGPR is a music station, not a talk station, combined with Mojo's penchant for playing Rock, Rap, Jazz, Classical, Techno and any other music genre, fired Mojo even though he was paying for his airtime.

The late 90s brought Mojo to WCHB for a stretch in 1998 where he began broadcasting his show over the internet for a short time. He also was making guest appearances on the now defunct WDTR around 2004.

Influence

Mojo's habit was to play entire recordings without interruption and regular listeners became deeply familiar with each recording. Detroiters from this era still speak of the diversity of Mojo's shows, and it is a common opinion that if someone is from the Detroit area, it's Mojo's fault if they are a Prince fan. Mojo would often play hours of Prince's music, not only his hits, but deep album cuts and b-sides. When Prince was about to release a new album, Mojo would often play the album in its entirety, and this practice continued into the '90s.

The trio of artists widely cited as the founders of Detroit Techno, Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson, and Derrick May have all made mention of Mojo's influence on their musical development, as have second generation Techno artists like Richie Hawtin (Plastikman) and Carl Craig. Mojo was an early supporter of the Detroit Techno sound, playing tracks like Cybotron's (Juan Atkins) "Cosmic Cars," Derrick May's "Strings of Life" and "Good Life" by Kevin Saunderson's Inner City.

Along with giving extended airtime to the new local sounds in Detroit, Mojo continued to embrace electronic music from techno and electronic music pioneers around the world like Kraftwerk, Philip Glass, New Order and Afrika Bambaataa in his sets.

There were periods later on where Mojo's popularity and influence on others would prove to be damaging to his own career. Other Detroit radio personalities imitated concepts from his shows during his absence from the Detroit airwaves in the mid 90s. The "homage" was most obvious with WHYT disk jockey Lisa Lisa, who produced segments on her evening show such as the "Midnight Mix Association" and her version of "Lover's Lane." For a brief period she also included a "spaceship" introduction to the Midnight Mix Association.

Segments

His shows during the late seventies to mid eighties had several segments each night. Although they would vary throughout the years, a typical Mojo night was:

  • 10:00pm - The Landing of the Mothership. This was the intro to each show with spaceship sound effects and related dialog. Sometimes the music heard during the first hour was indicative of what you'd hear that night; sometimes it would be completely random.
  • 11:00pm - Awesome '84, '85. In the mid eighties, Mojo would play an hour of brand new music (hence the year in the title) and a lot of new songs were introduced.
  • 11:30pm - Lover's Lane. A half an hour of "slow jams" for lovers.
  • 12:00am - The Midnight Funk Association. Consisted regularly of Parliament-Funkadelic, the Gap Band, Zapp and other funk bands of the era.

From 1:00am to 3:00am (2:00 am on Saturday nights), Mojo's show was different every night. Sometimes, the MFA would stretch well beyond 1:00am, other times Mojo would introduce segments such as:

  • Star Wars - A classic "artist vs. artist" set, where Mojo would alternate selections from two different groups or artists, and the listeners would call in to vote for their favorite.
  • Journey - Sometimes a multi-night segment, where Mojo would play songs by a single artist or group, spanning their entire career. This usually included a mix of hits and obscure songs by that artist.
  • Shout-out - Everyone that called into the station during his show was the recipient of a "shout-out". He would go on for as long as it took rattling off the first names of every single person who had called in to the show.
  • 35-35-35 - Mojo would take suggestions from listeners about their favorite artists and bands. He then would choose the three most popular groups that night and play thirty-five minutes, commercial-free, of each group. This segment often gave airtime to groups that no other radio station in Detroit would play.

At other times, Mojo would spend the last 2 hours of his show showcasing live mixes on two turntables, by bringing in local DJs to do the same. One such DJ, Jeff Mills, began his career with Mojo as "The Wizard." Mojo also would air music by local groups at this time.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Electrifying Mojo" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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