Behind the scenes: M&M's John Morales
A mix-master finally gets his due.
Mon Jan 18 2010
INSIDE THE ENACTOR'S STUDIO Morales rules over his realm of achievements.
Think you’ve never heard the work of John Morales? Well, if you have even the most casual acquaintance with club-music history, you have. Though pioneers like Tom Moulton and Walter Gibbons had initially forged the disco-mix craft a few years earlier, Bronx native Morales, now 55, made an art form out of the act of converting a three-minute single or -album cut into an extended dance-floor killer. Starting in 1978, Morales transformed scores of tracks, many from what he calls his “family”—a group that included famed producers and songwriters Patrick Adams, Greg Carmichael and Leroy Burgess and beloved vocalist Jocelyn Brown—and released on the seminal Salsoul label.
But it was in the early ’80s, when Morales hooked up with Sergio Munzibai through a meeting at the offices of WBLS (Morales held down a mix show, while Munzibai was an assistant to the station’s fabled DJ, Frankie Crocker)that the really hard work began. Forming M&M Productions in 1982, the pair worked on at least 650 songs, performing clubland alchemy on artists ranging from Brass Construction and the Fatback Band to Lene Lovitch and the Rolling Stones. The partnership dissolved in the late ’80s (and, sadly, Munzibai passed away in 1991), but now the team is finally gaining the props it deserves via the release of John Morales—The M&M Mixes on the BBE label, a collection of joyous, life-affirming tunes from the likes of Class Action, Universal Robot Band and Inner Life.
How did you first become interested in doing dance mixes?
I had been deejaying, mostly around the Bronx, and I needed to figure out how to make these tracks longer. I started with the little PAUSE button on a cassette deck, sticking in intros and adding longer breaks. I finally bought a two-track tape machine, a reel-to-reel, and started to do some real edits. I wanted to press these things onto vinyl, and there was this place, Sunshine Sound, that would press them up. I was doing a lot of them, and it was getting pretty expensive, so I worked out a deal with the guy that worked there, letting him sell my edits for a dollar apiece, and I would get my copy for free. The word started getting around—people were even bootlegging them.
Your very first official mix was a classic—Inner Life’s “I’m Caught Up (In a One Night Love Affair).” How did that come about?
Greg Carmichael was asking around, like “Who’s doing all these hot mixes?” I met him—his studio was in the Sunshine building—and he said, “Hey, we’re mixing a record on Saturday. If you want to help us out, come to Nola Recording on 57th Street at 3am. So I’m all excited and hop on the 6 to get there exactly at 3am, and when I walk into the studio, lo and behold, there’s Jocelyn Brown on the other side of the glass, singing “Caught Up.”
I imagine you were in heaven.
Oh, yeah. And that record put me into that group of people that, though we didn’t know it at the time, were going to be very influential in the dance-music world. But just as important, it gave me a taste of working in the studio, and I really liked it.
You and Sergio had some big tracks right off the bat as well, right?
The first two that we did were Mikki’s “Itching for Love” and “No Stoppin’ the Rockin’?” by Instant Funk. And that led to getting lots of solicitations for work, and we ended up staying together till 1989. We were in the studio almost every day—that M&M train just chugged along and didn’t stop.
There are tracks in the M&M discography that one wouldn’t expect, like the Rolling Stones’ “Too Much Blood.”
Or how about Ronnie Milsap? They flew us down to Nashville to mix “She Loves My Car.” That was a trip. But then again, as a kid, my favorite guitar player was Johnny Winter, so it was all good as far as I was concerned.
Your name was never in the public as much as, say, Larry Levan’s or Shep Pettibone’s.
I was just this Joe Blow DJ working in clubs uptown, playing at Bruckner Roller Rink or wherever when I started doing this. I don’t have this star-DJ background that some of those other guys have.
Did that lack of recognition ever frustrate you?
A little bit, yeah. And I have to tell you, it’s a good feeling to know that because of this compilation, people are now aware of my involvement in all this music. I mean, I was always the guy who just did the work and went straight home—I never cared if people knew who I was. But now I’m thinking, Why not?
John Morales—The M&M Mixes (BBE) is out now.