As I mentioned in my post about the upcoming Comerica Cityfest, the Pure Detroit Stage will close Sunday night with a six hour tribute to Detroit radio legend The Electrifying Mojo. Called "For The Love of Mojo", this tribute features Detroit DJ's Rick Wilhite, Marc Duncan, Kenny Dixon Jr. and curator Carl Craig. There are sure to be many familiar sounds and songs to longtime listeners of Mojo's one of a kind show. Rarely in this day and age of homogenized, commercial radio does one think of a DJ as influential, but that is exactly what Mojo was.
If you did not have the honor and pleasure of hearing Mojo's show, there simply is nothing on today's vast wasteland that is commercial radio to compare it to. Mojo built a mystery around himself and his program. He rarely allowed himself to be photographed,tried hard to keep his real name (Charles Johnson) secret and his show shared this mystery. Mojo was a big believer in "theater of the mind" and his show reflected this.
Mojo's program always began with the "Landing of the Mothership", otherworldly noises and sound effects of a spaceship coming to earth, delivering the Electrifying Mojo to the earthly airwaves with his nightly mix of freeform radio. You simply cannot and will not find a DJ on today's airwaves as influential as Mojo was in his time. He played a big role in the Detroit techno scene, championing the music of many of the local up and comers such as Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson. All have cited Mojo as a major influence on their careers as well.
He played a hand in breaking many artists in Detroit, none bigger than Prince. Mojo was all over Prince's music from the start and there is no debating, he was a major reason Detroit became such a huge market for Prince, who even acknowledged the city as his "second home" at the peak of his Purple Rain popularity and years after. This is directly attributable to Mojo and Prince returned the favor in a big way in 1986. While in town for a set of surprise concerts to celebrate his birthday, Prince phoned Mojo during his show for a one of kind live on the air interview. Prince simply did not do many interviews at this stage of his career, yet paid his respect and gratitude to Mojo in this incredibly engaging talk. Prince also paid tribute to Mojo during his Musicology Tour stop in the Detroit area, railing against corporate radio and how "Clear Channel has cleared the channels of the funk" and citing Mojo and his program as an example of how radio is supposed to be.
Mojo's show was completely freeform. Although he started out on R&B stations, he did not stick to any one format of music, another idea sadly lacking in today's radio programming. A typical show could jump all over the map from Prince to Miles Davis to the B-52's, with some J. Geils Band, Peter Gabriel and Motown thrown in for good measure. Maybe a little Santana, Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix and a big serving of Kraftwerk and Detroit techno on top of that. To list the artists he played would take forever but on any given night he'd cover rock, jazz, rap, soul, techno, funk and on and on. He'd often play entire albums from start to finish or play hours of the same artist (Prince again being a favorite). This freedom allowed him to stretch far beyond the typical songs you'd expect to hear from certain artists. I'll use Prince again as the example. Yes he'd play the hits ("1999", "Purple Rain", "Little Red Corvette"), but for every hit he played the hell out of B-Sides like "She's Always In My Hair", "God(Instrumental)" and "17 Days" to the point they became hugely popular in their own right in the area. He'd dig deep into album cuts or play rare, hard to find remixes, not the least concerned at their length. He'd even throw in some rare bootleg stuff for good measure, with unreleased live stuff a focus. I never thought I'd heard Prince's searing, scintillating small club take on the Temptations "Just My Imagination" on the radio until Mojo broke it out on occasion.
Mojo introduced many popular segments during his broadcasts. "Lovers Lane" was a nightly collection of slow jams. There was "Star Wars" where two artists would be pitted against each other with the listeners calling in to cast their votes for the winner while songs alternated between the two. The Prince vs. Michael Jackson battles alone were legendary. The "Journey" was another classic segment, sometimes covering multiple nights as Mojo took the listeners on a journey of a specific artists work from their earlist to most recent. Album cuts and rare tracks often highlighted these amazing "Journeys". There was also "35-35-35" where three artists would be picked, usually by the listeners, and the winning three would be featured in commercial free 35 minute sets. This again gave an opportunity to feature more than just the "singles" other stations were playing by particular musicians and dig deeper into their catalogs. And no show was complete without the "Midnight Funk Association" at midnight sharp, with it's emphasis on the greatest funk ever made. The MFA was such a popular segment, there were actually MFA member cards distributed in its heyday as can be heard in this intro to an MFA segment posted on Youtube. Ah, the memories this brings back!
I can't deny Mojo played a huge role in turning me from a casual Prince fan to a completely fanatical collector and die hard. But listening to his show was a musical education I'm so grateful to have received. I certainly owe at least 60% of my music collection to Mojo's influence. I went from a sheltered, suburban white kid buying Triumph, Van Halen and Duran Duran records into a music addict thanks to Mojo's education. Mojo would jam Prince then let the uninitiated know what came before and influenced him with some James Brown, Jimi, Sly, Stevie Wonder and P-Funk. His show was my first real exposure to funk, jazz, techno and so much of the great R&B of the 60's and 70's.
It was a free musical education on a nightly basis and as Detroit gets ready to honor this legend,I just wanted to devote some space for a personal thanks to a man that was a major influence in shaping my musical tastes and love of music as a whole. I called into his show numerous times over the years, often speaking off the air while he played one of his extended blocks of music, and the man was always nothing but gracious, helpful and humble, taking the time for a conversation instead of the quick blowoff you'd get from so many others on the radio. Mojo, you deserve every accolade and tribute you've received and will receive in the future. You're sorely missed and I'll always hold out hope you'll return to the airwaves in some form. The members of the Midnight Funk Association are standing by, waiting to rise again.