If you grew up in the ‘80s and had even the smallest of passing interest in music, particularly club music, chances are you were very familiar, albeit unwittingly, with the work of John Morales. On the radio, in the record racks and most importantly on the dancefloor John’s work (predominately with studio partner Sergio Munzibai) helped define an era and influence future generations of DJs, producers and artists.
Born into a hard working Puerto Rican household in the Bronx, New York, at the start of the rock ‘n’ roll era, Morales, like many children of the era, was fascinated by this new art-form that was saturating the airwaves and rebelling parents everywhere. So in love with the music he heard, as a 12-year old he persuaded his local record store to give him a part-time job with payment not in dollars, but in 45s. By the time he was old enough to get a full-time job his burgeoning record collection had helped land him one of his first DJ gig at the influential Stardust Ballroom in the Bronx (his father had early owned a bar in Jersey City where John had first got the DJ bug). As his reputation grew Morales was invited downtown to Manhattan to play guest spots at the likes of Pippins, Bentleys, 1018, Limelight and the infamous Studio 54.
Like many DJs of the ‘70s John ventured into the studio more through need than necessity: “I started to make medleys and remixes because the records in those days were too short, most in the 3 minute range, and being a DJ I needed to get more out of the records I was spinning. I first started to do my edits using the paulse button a a Teac Cassette Deck, After many hours of self education I graduated and I purchased a Sony ¼” reel-to-reel and learned to edit. It was hard work and long hours editing and putting all the little pieces of tape together and making something creative happen. Reflecting now, I realize how important it was to what I would later do. It taught me a lot about what I wanted to do and how to do it, so that by the time I got in a real studio I was virtually a whiz at editing tape much to the amazement of some of the engineers I worked with.”
His now infamous ‘Deadly Medleys’ and ‘Sunshine Acetate Medleys’ brought him to attention of New York disco producers Greg Carmichael and Patrick Adams who were impressed by the hunger and desire of the self-taught engineer. “My first credited mix was Inner Life’s ‘Caught Up (In A One Night Love Affair)’, even though I had worked on a few other records before that, but I hadn’t been credited, for acts like the Universal Robot Band and Musique’s ‘In The Bush’.
A meeting at New York’s influential WBLS radio station, where Cuban-born Sergio Munzibai worked as musical director alongside Frankie Crocker (and later at Motown Records) would signal the next chapter in Morales’ career, and resulted in unquestionably the most prolific remix partnership in the 1980s and 90’s with over 650 mixes to their name. “We partnered in 1982, when we met at a New York studio called Blank Tapes where I had worked for many years with Bob Blank. Sergio and my first record together was Mikki’s Itching For Love. After that we united and did all our mixes together and the M&M moniker was born.”
Discovering an instant rapport and musical appreciation it translated well into the recording studio where the M&M stamp became synonymous with almost every major dance release of the era. In fact it wasn’t uncommon for the duo to remix upwards of 10 records in any given month. Alongside cult and groundbreaking records for the Fantastic Aleems (‘Get Down Friday Night’), Class Action (‘Weekend’), and of course Jocelyn Brown (‘Somebody Else’s Guy’) they refashioned certified pop smashes for DeBarge (‘Rhythm Of The Night’), Harold Faltermeyer (‘Alex F’), Shakatak (‘Down On The Street’), Miami Sound Machine (‘Dr Beat’), the Temptations (‘Treat Her Like A Lady’) and hundreds more in an eight year period that saw them almost an ever present on the Billboard Dance, R&B or Hot 100 pop charts. Tina Turner, the Rolling Stones, Spandau Ballet, Aretha Franklin, Shalamar, Hall & Oates, Dan Hartman, Candi Staton, Melba Moore, Rose Royce, Billy Ocean, Debbie Gibson, Odyssey, the Commodores and even Peter Schilling and Rod Stewart, in fact just about every major artist of the day was in someway retouched by the hands of Morales & Munzibai.
“We worked together till around 1989,” John recalls. His solo production projects in the ‘90s included such acts as Debbie Gibson, Brenda K Starr, Denese Lopez, the Thompson Twins, Blow Monkeys, Five Star and Art Of Noise. “Sergio unfortunately passed away in 1991. He was a wonderful person full of life that loved music and was a great people person. Anyone who knew him loved him, and I’m sure wherever he is he’s listening to music.”
John Morales took ill in 1993 and went on a self-imposed musical hiatus that would last almost a decade; the time spent testing musical software for Atari Computers and Steinberg (home to the industry standards Cubase program).
But in recent years the music bug has returned rekindling his passion to be creative and expressive. John Morales still continues to produce and remix to this day, with a schedule that’s almost as full as it was during the heady ‘80s. He’s recently completed mixing recordings for forthcoming CD and DVD releases by James Brown and the Four Tops, in addition to mixing expanded editions of Marvin Gaye’s ‘In Our Lifetime’, ‘I Want You’ and ‘Here, My Dear’ opus’ and a brace of mixes on the acclaimed Ashford & Simpson ‘Hits, Remixes & Rarities’ package. His current commitments including working with disco legends Double Exposure (‘Soul Recession’) and Chaka Khan (‘Will You Still Love Me’) as well as the latest generation of music stars including the Supreme Beings Of Leisure and P.Diddy’s latest discovery, Marina Chello and a host of others.
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