A "YouTube jag" led Don Was to the inspiration for his 8th Detroit All-Star Revue at the Concert of Colors -- a tribute to the Electrifying Mojo.
"I was checking out everything that existed up there on Mojo, and it just served as a reminder of what an important figure he was on a number of levels," the Grammy and Emmy Award-winning producer and musician, an Oak Park High School graduate, recalls by phone from a Los Angeles recording studio. "I think (Mojo) changed the face of music globally, just by turning people on to all kinds of music that you never got to hear on the radio before then."
An Arkansas native and Air Force veteran, Mojo (real name Charles Johnson) came north during the mid-70s to study at the University of Michigan, where he also began his broadcasting career. Mojo -- who's semi-retired and still residing in metro Detroit-- explored free-form, diverse playlists on Detroit stations such as WGPR-FM, WJLB-FM, WHYT-FM and WMXD-FM, as well as Toledo`s WTWR-FM, and is credited with helping to break artists such as Prince, the B-52's, Kraftwerk, Talking Heads and The Time. He was also an early supporter of Detroit's burgeoning electronic music scene.
Mojo was so impactful that the notoriously media-shy Prince even called him on air for a live interview after his 30th birthday concert in Detroit during June of 1986. That was a few years after the J. Geils Band visited him in the studio to thank him for playing their early 80s song "Flamethrower" for urban audiences.
"I feel like I personally owe him for so much -- for opening up my mind to new stuff, for playing our records," says Was (nee Fagenson), ??, whose Detroit band Was (Not Was) benefitted from Mojo's on-air patronage. Mojo was the first guy to play those records, and record companies took notice and that really enabled us to get going."
Was adds that Mojo's Midnight Funk Association, which he branded his show, "had this whole sense of community. That's the thing that was most rare. You actually did see people flahing their headlights and turning on their prochlights at midnight. He drew from dispirate parts of the city and pulled people together into a community that crossed all those boundaries.
"You felt like you really belonged to something when you belonged to the Midnight Funk Associatiion. That's a great service."
Was will salute Mojo with a playlist of "songs that could've popped up on his show in 1981," played by a diverse lineup that includes techno pioneer Juan Atkins, blues guitarist Laith Al-Saadi, funksters Muruga + the Cosmic Hoedown Band and Amp Fiddler, rock acts Walk Thru Walls, Carolyn Striho and Amino Acids, an ad hoc Was (Not Was) reunion and more. Was will also pay tribute to Revue drummer Terry "Thunder" Hughley, who passed away last month; Mario Resto, brother of Was (Not Was) alumnus and regular Revue keyboardist Luis Resto, will take his place.
Mojo, for his part, continues to keep the same low profile he did during his radio career, when he refused to have his photo taken or make public appearances. But he says that, "It's awesome to be remembered like that. My phone blew up, literally, when (news of the tribute) hit the newspapers. It blew me away. I'm really honored. That's something special for anyone to receive." But, Mojo adds, he's unlikely to attend.
"After all these years, I don't want to end up on Facebook, y'know?" he says with a laugh. "I think I'm a little more comfortable appreciating it from a distance -- but I do appreciate it, greatly."
The 8th Don Was Detroit All-Star Revue: A Tribute to the Electrifying Mojo
8 p.m. Sunday, July 12.
Concert of Colors, Max M. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit.
Admission is free. Seating is first-come, first served.
Visit www.concertofcolors.com for more information.
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