John Morales the New York remixer of an M & M Mix fame speaks to DiscoMusic.com about remixing and DJing in the 1970s and 1980s.
John Morales interview by Bernard Lopez of DiscoMusic.com
The following is an interview with '70s/'80s Disco Dance DJ and remixer, John Morales who was part of M & M Productions with Sergio Munzibai. We'll talk about his first mix project, the legendary I'm Caught Up (In A One Night Love Affair) by Inner Life, various Gregory Carmichael and Patrick Adams productions as well as other musical tidbits so read on.
John Morales and I had been speaking on the phone several times before I was invited to his home to conduct this interview for DiscoMusic.com. We would talk about his DJ career, the music and of course the mixes. I was thrilled to be able to meet him in person so on an overcast November day I drove several hours from my home in Maryland to New Jersey. He and his wife, who were only married just last year, were gracious hosts and made me feel very welcome. John Morales is a very warm and personable person, and has a voice that reminds one of TV star Ray Romano. He's a no nonsense type of guy with a New York attitude so I knew I would feel right at home as I was originally from the area and we are both Puerto Rican.
We spent the afternoon in John's home studio, which was packed with original reel to reel tapes and 12 inch acetates of all his classic mixes including the material he did for Greg Carmichael and Patrick Adams as well as his Salsoul work. While he still maintains some vintage era studio equipment to play back these tapes and acetates, John has moved as much of it as possible to his digital audio workstation. He's spent countless hours archiving and even lost a year's worth of transferred music due to a hard drive crash. In the course of our talks he would say, "Check this out..." and proceed to play versions of songs like Odyssey's Native New Yorker, Young Hearts Run Free by Candi Staton and others that I had never heard before as many are still unreleased. Sitting in his studio is akin to being in a time capsule stocked with great Disco and dance music of the 1970s and 1980s.
Let's Rewind To the Beginning
Born and raised in the Bronx, New York (April 14, 1954) in a hard working Puerto Rican household of four, John Morales became interested in music at around the age of twelve. This would have been at around the time the Beatles first broke in the United States although he admits he was not a Beatles fan, but of mainly Top 40 radio and Pop bubble-gum music.
There was a record store called Stan's Record Shop at 3rd Avenue and 156th Street in the Melrose section of the Bronx. Each day Morales would buy one record and after one year the owner asked him if he would like to work in the store. Back then the records were .49 cents a piece and the owner offered to give John ten records each week in exchange for his work. Even though he knew he was underpaid, and underage, he was in heaven because he was getting music which he would love to play. That was his real introduction to music. He liked all kinds of music and didn't care whether it was Rock, Country or R & B. He worked at Stan's till he graduated 8th grade from Immaculate Conception grammar school.
John Morales tells DiscoMusic.com that he attended Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx after his parents saved up to buy their own home and moved to the Park Chester section. He went to Cardinal Hayes for two years, but failed religion classes and then went to Monroe in the Soundview section. Soon after he went to work for Alexander's department store on 59th Street in Manhattan and was fired for eating pistachios on the job(!). His father was not thrilled and gave him an ultimatum, "either get a job or enlist in the Service–No bums in this house." John signed up for the Air Force in 1970 while he was still under 18. He was there for two years and in the second year became involved with the Armed Forces Radio while stationed in Colorado Springs. He returned home in 1971 after getting hurt and taught himself guitar and tried to emulate Carlos Santana. This culminated with him forming a Rock group with friends called the "F Band." Their first performance in front of an audience was at Saint Raymond's High School, which was a disaster because his amp blew up while on stage.
John Morales and the Birth of the Disco DJ
In 1974 his father bought a bar in Jersey City, New Jersey. It was here that John Morales started to play music for the patrons. No mixing or anything like that, but just playing music on a single turntable. This was the beginning of his career as a Disco DJ as he enjoyed the experience and began buying turntables and a mixer and practiced music selection and mixing.
During this time John Morales lived on 233rd Street near White Plains Road in the Bronx and had a very secure and respectable position working for New York Telephone. It was his girlfriend at the time who inspired him to follow his dreams and pursue a career in music. From that point on music was a 24/7 affair. Every day he would practice at home and do his mixes using Technics SL 1100 turntables, which he bought at Rock and Soul Electronics on Seventh Avenue near Macy's in Manhattan. He used a broken Uri mixer with the rotary knobs, then a Bozak and eventually moved onto a GLI mixer with sliding pots which he bought at Richard Long's AST Sound on West Broadway in lower Manhattan.
After knocking on the doors of several area clubs he landed his first job as a DJ proper at the Stardust Ballroom on Eastchester Road in the Bronx where a young John "Jellybean" Benitez previously had worked. Morales would spin Friday and Saturdays and unlike today where many DJs only play an hour or so, he played Disco and Salsa music from 8PM till 2-3am or later. After leaving Stardust, Morales went to spin at a Latin-Disco club called Epoca 2 on 233rd Street and Gunhill Road right off the New England Thruway.
During the height of the roller Disco craze a chain of Disco roller rinks opened in the Bronx. This chain consisted of three rinks called Fever, the Skate Key and the Bruchner-Jerome Roller Rink. John Morales landed the house DJ position for these rinks and was responsible for providing the music and DJs for all the rinks. He got paid $65.00 a night to DJ at the rink and he would pay someone else to play the other rinks. This was seven days a week-day and night. On Saturdays and Sundays there were multiple time slots: 10am-1pm, 1pm-4pm slot for the teens and a 5pm-10pm slot for the adults. John claims he gained a lot of experience from doing this. Although he initially enjoyed the work, he soon found the owners to be less than honorable as there were numerous times he wouldn't be paid and soon had to leave for other clubs like Jumbalaya in the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
John Morales Meets Ray "Pinky" Velazquez and Eddie Rivera of I.D.R.C.
By night John Morales would spin at different clubs, but by day he would go into Manhattan and knock on the doors of all the record labels like Atlantic, Prelude, West End, Salsoul... looking for promo 12 inch single and albums to play. It is during these outings where he met fellow Boricua, Ray "Pinky" Velazquez who was a DJ spinning at the Ipanema discotheque in midtown Manhattan. The two became good friends and Velazquez introduced Morales to Eddie Rivera of the International Disco Record Center (I.D.R.C.). Eddie Rivera had formed the I.D.R.C. record pool to service Hispanic Disco DJs after his departure from David Mancuso's New York Record Pool. Now that John Morales was a record pool member he was receiving all the new and hard to get records each week making it even easier to find better work. He later would join one of the first black run record pools out of Harlem called Disco Den on 125th Street and Lexington.
The Deadly Medleys and the Sunshine Sound Acetates
It is during the 1977-79 timeframe that John Morales started to create special edits of his favorite songs. These edits later became multi-song medleys, which could be the best of a particular artist or label or hit songs of that year. He took a combination of records and packaged them in a condensed form. Morales describes how he would first use an old Sansui cassette deck and repeatedly hit pause trying to time how long it would take to engage pause and record... and later a reel to reel using razor blades and splicing block. It was tedious and time-consuming, but it was enjoyable for him and proved to be a valuable skill that he needed for his future studio mixing career. Bootleg releases like the famous Hollywood Mixer were based on what John had done with his edits. He created two famous medleys called the Deadly Medley 1 and 2, which was one medley, but cut in half and released as two separate 12 inch records.
John explains to DiscoMusic.com that he would take these edits to be pressed at Sunshine Sound, which was located on the twelfth floor of 1650 Broadway in midtown. Sunshine Sound and its owner Frank were well known to New York DJs like François Kevorkian and others as the place to go to have their special edits pressed on 10 or 12 inch acetates that could be played in the clubs. Morales went there often and Sunshine's owner liked John's Deadly Medleys so much that he began selling them to other DJs and giving Morales a cut of the proceeds. These medleys became so poplar with other DJs that Morales almost couldn't keep up making newer varieties. The Deadly Medleys were bootlegged and pressed in many variations using different colored labels and usually saying "Disco Mixer" on the label. They were single sided 12 inch pressings.
When the Sunshine mixes first started, they were not only an avenue for extending a record, but it also became an avenue for people being creative as to what they could do with editing. When I did them I realized something early on: as much fun as they where to listen to, you could not dance to them and that's where I made the transition from those edits to the medleys. That's where the Love and Kisses and Village People medley came from. I wanted to exercise that same craft, but to be able to take them into the clubs and still have people enjoy them and be able to dance to them.
John's goal was to be in the recording studio.
Working With Greg Carmichael, Patrick Adams and Jocelyn Brown
The building which housed Sunshine Sound was also home to several record labels like Midosng Records and finally Red Greg Records were people like Greg Carmichael and Patrick Adams laid down tracks for their various studio projects like Universal Robot Band... According to John this is how he became involved with Carmichael and Adams:
One day I was at Sunshine Sound cutting acetates while talking to Frank when Gregory Carmichael walks in to have an acetate cut. Frank then tells Carmichael that John's doing all the hot mixes for the DJs and perhaps he should mix your next record... Greg looks at me and says that we're working on some stuff now if you want come by the studio. I was like wow, I was so excited and asked where to meet... Later that night I went to Nola Recording Studio on 57th Street near Carnegie Hall. I go up and there's Greg, Patrick and a bunch of people playing violins, horns and all kinds of stuff and they're doing Jocelyn Brown's - I'm Caught Up In a One Night Love Affair! I'm in the studio and I don't have a clue. My first day walking into a studio... The session is pretty much over and we're listening to the stuff and Greg introduces me to Patrick and says to him that we're going to get John to mix this record... and I always tell this story to Jocelyn: We're listening to the playback and there is a section where Jocelyn just screams... out of key... and she says to me; Make sure you don't use that on the record! I said okay, okay, I didn't know Jocelyn from a hole in the wall. So during the course of the night I'm sitting with the engineer and Greg tells me, Tell him what you wanna hear... So we finish the record and of course I used the part that Jocelyn didn't want me to use.
I asked why and John replies,
Because I felt the part... when the record came and the breakdown came... it's like my hair stood up... It's got to be in the record. I left it in there. Later that night we also mixed Dance and Shake Your Tambourine for the Universal Robot Band and that came out first if I remember well.
John Morales goes on to say how happy he felt when he first heard one of the records he mixed played on the radio. I'm Caught Up... was first played by the late Frankie Crocker of New York's WBLS 107.5:
I remember the first time I heard one of my mixes on the radio... Frankie was playing it and I was home and I'm yelling, It's on the radio! The exemment was unbearable and I remember Jocelyn calling me at home and saying: You know you used that part I told you not to use... and I said, but it sounded soooo good. Jocelyn then says, I'm gonna let you slide this time..."
Inner Life's I'm Caught Up... was initially released on a small label called TCT based in Guttenberg, New Jersey, but soon after the radio exposure a frenzy developed for that record and a number of larger record labels got into a bidding war over who would distribute it with Prelude Records winning out by shelling out a then unheard of $5,000. for the rights. Morales considers himself very fortunate that the first record he worked on became a big record.
I asked John if he would change anything from that mix session and he replied:
You always think you could have done something different without question. I can't think of one mix that I did where I could say I wouldn't change a thing. I think what I am grateful is that Greg Carmichael and Patrick Adams after working with them the first time took me in as the guy who was going to mix their stuff. I give infinite thanks to Greg and Patrick cause they embraced me not knowing me with something so personal as their music. I'm grateful everytime I tune into WKTU or WBLS and hear Inner Life.
From that point on Morales was involved in just about every aspect of any Carmichael/Adams productions for some time to come.
John Morales ontinues:
I decided whether I got paid or not... I don't think I got paid for doing I'm Caught Up, but for me at the time it wasn't about getting paid, but he music and finally be able to do something that I wanted to do. I figured that if I were successful then the money would come... I mean um... Greg was a great guy, but the only problem was that for some reason there was never any money. I remember, and I'll say this story – I remember one morning asking Greg for twenty bucks so I could get home and all he had was a subway token and this was after doing an Inner Life record we just had signed to Salsoul.
This is the part of me where I wish I was a little bit more involved in the aspects outside the studio. To this day I would lay odds that Ken Carye (of Salsoul) still doesn't know that I was responsible for doing all those Inner Life and Logg records. The thing that Greg was really good at was recognizing talent–he knew talent. He was able to put talent together and letting it excel on its own. It was his ability to take Leroy Burgess, Jocelyn Brown and all the musicians we worked with and put them in a room and say let's make some music-I have this idea... and they would just run with it. At the same time he also had an ability to keep all that talent away from everybody else. In other words what happened was we were always locked in the studio making music and not knowing there was other stuff going on outside.
I come to realize some of the reason I didn't get credit on some of the Salsoul stuff was Greg wasn't really telling Kenny that I was doing it because Ken would rarely come to the studio. Finally when I started to do stuff for Salsoul directly I got the First Choice, Instant Funk..., but still didn't get credit for a lot of the stuff I had done because Kenny would say the jackets were already done for the album. What would happen was that the record jackets were already done and some people would be credited with doing certain mixes, but when the actual record came out some mixes were replaced with other mixes. So in the event of Inner Life 1 or Inner Life 2 album (doesn't recall exactly) there are a couple of tracks that other people got credited for that I actually mixed. Tee Scott mixed "Knock Out"-they released a 12 inch single with his mix, but the album version was mine. I did the original mixes, but on the album it still says Tee Scott or Larry Levan... At that time I had decided that I know I did it so I don't really care and at that time I was working every single day-it wasn't a problem. You know, I owe all my beginning to them (Greg and Patrick). Through Greg I got to work on Carol Douglas and other stuff over at Midland / Midsong Records.
1981-1982 is when John Morales really started to branch out to do work with other labels, artists and began doing mixed sets for WBLS radio for their mid-day mix dance parties. It was at BLS that Morales would meet up with his future mixing partner, Sergio Munzibai. It was also here that John started receiving solicitations from labels who wanted another way of getting on radio. They figured that if they got John Morales to mix their records he would feature it on his radio mix sets. One of the first to approach John Morales were the Aleem brothers (a.k.a. Fantastic Aleems). John would eventually mix Get Down Friday Night and Hooked On... along with several others for the Aleem brothers.
Going back to Sergio Munzibai, he worked in the production department at WBLS and he too was a Disco DJ, but because he was gay worked at clubs like the Flamingo that catered to a gay crowd. John explains to DiscoMusic.com that Cuban born Sergio, was gregarious and loved to stay out late and party, pretty much the complete opposite of John. Nonetheless, the two struck up a friendship and soon decided to join forces and form M and M Productions (Morales and Munzibai). John explains how this occurred:
One day I was working at Blank Tape Studios doing a mix on a record called "Itching For Love" by Mickey. Salsoul hired Sergio to mix an Instant Funk track called No Stoppin' That Rockin.' Sergio had never been in a studio before and we were working in the same facility. Blank Tapes was my home for a lot of years. So we met in the hallway and I went down to where Sergio was working and helped him a little bit and then he came over to my studio and during the course of the day we said why don't we make some records together? So we did. The first record we did together was Margie Joseph's Knock Out.
The two would settle on the name An M & M Mix and use this in the credits of all the records they mixed for the next few years. After a couple of hits, labels kept calling and we acquired a manager and it kind of snowballed from there.
John Morales wants to choose the right words as he describes certain aspects of this arrangement and clearly does not want to offend the memory of Sergio Munzibai who passed away in the early 1990s:
Everything was an "M & M Mix" by us, which worked really well in the beginning... Because we tied ourselves to the name (M & M) even though one of us mixed the record, both of us were getting credit. There's a large–and I hate to toot my horn here... a lot of the late work and stuff done outside the United States was done by myself because Sergio never traveled and then in the late 1980s I started doing, Mixed by John Morales for another M & M Mix Production. That's when we had become a corporation and everything changed. I guess I was getting a little bothered that someone else was getting credit for my work.
John Morales Explains What Is the M and M Sound?
As we continue talking Morales goes on to say how he mixed tracks on SAM Records like Convertion's: Let's Do It and how he loved hearing tracks by John Davis and the Monster Orchestra, which I found surprising as I always pegged Morales as a more Urban 80s BLS sound type of guy who was more into percussion than strings. It's here where he says, "The point that Sergio and I constantly emphasized in every record we did, which was our token sound was our percussion. When we used to mix records in the late seventies there wasn't a lot of percussion. Even though there was some it wasn't really overpowering. Because Sergio and I were both from a Hispanic background we always asked what can separate an M & M Mix from Larry Levan or Shep Pettibone and it was our percussion. So we made sure, whether it was good or bad wasn't for us to say, but we made sure that all our tracks had a percussive flavor to it." I then asked if this was part of the track or was it something overdubbed and he continues, "During this period of 1983-84 the mixers were starting to get liberties like we were able to get musicians to do overdubs." This led to the obvious question as to when he made the leap to this newer style of "additive" remixing that had the potential to really change the sound. "Right around 1983 with France Joli: The Heart To Break the Heart... Our mix has the synth/keyboard riff over it-it's a hypnotic line that runs through the whole track."
Since John had a connection early on with Jocelyn Brown the topic of Somebody Else's Guy came up. "The original 12 inch came out on Vinyl Dreams... After it started getting some airplay on BLS and KTU in New York, Island Records jumped in and bought the record from Jocelyn. Jocelyn turned around when they said they wanted to remix it and told them there is only one guy that can remix the record and that is John Morales. So we got a call from Island asking if we would remix it. I've remixed every Jocelyn Brown record since 1978, of course. Jocelyn and I always had this thing that if I didn't mix her record she wasn't going to have a hit. ...so we did three versions that came out on Island Records-UK."
The Music Industry
"I've spent fifteen years mixing all kinds of things... pop, mixed the Rolling Stones, country (Ronnie Milsap)... I did all kinds of records during my tenure. This was my contribution to this period. I want people to know because maybe I wasn't so right in just staying home and not going out to the parties and schmoozing..." This now brings up the topic of how different John and Sergio were. "I was the technical person, Sergio had ideas and was creative, but he also had an ability to schmooze with people-he was a lovable person. He had a way of making people feel comfortable and not that I didn't, but I just-I never wanted to put on a face. I was who I was. Maybe I didn't play the game-I felt uncomfortable doing it... having to go somewhere (club/party) and I would go to a lot of these places, but I would leave after a little while. There were certain cliques... if you weren't part of that clique... I didn't want to kiss anyone's ass. I probably would have gotten a lot more work if I had. That's where I started to go to Europe in the mid eighties to do a lot of work. The first being "What Will I Do" by Phil Fearing and the Galaxy. During this period we where mixing records almost everyday."
By 1986 John Morales and Sergio Munzibai had come up with an amicable agreement to dissolve their partnership. Morales continued remixing and also delved more into production and writing into the early 1990s with his final work being Denise Lopez's second album Every Dog Has It's Day, which was her follow-up to Truth In Disguise. John ultimately left the music business when he developed a severe heart arrhythmia and was hospitalized for six months. This event forever changed his life. In addition the music industry and demand for remixers was not the same as he describes:
I guess I realized that things were changing. I wasn't in demand for mixing and mixing had taken a whole different turn. There was a lull in this type of work because now you had the producers themselves doing the twelve inch mixes because of automation and because this type of specialty was starting to get old. The Tom Moulton's, me, the Shep's and the François Kevorkian's developed all these techniques and now the people were incorporating these into the records they were making. They having to farm out the work wasn't as much because a lot of producers were doing it themselves. That and my health and my daughter and I said I'm going to chill out and then ten years passes. I never realized how fast time passed until today. I say I'm fifty years-old... The fact that I have thirty years in this business–I'm freakin' old and I appreciate now my contributions to what I did and part of it now is saying you know what, I want to be recognized for what I did. I thought very hard about what I have done and the people that don't know and struggling with the patting yourself on your back or self promotion. I came to the conclusion that if I don't tell people what I've done that I can't expect them to know it on their own. So if you find me tooting my horn it is simply because I want to make sure I leave a legacy, which I established for thirty years.
After the illness John went back to work for Atari and Steinberg (Cubase / Notation) as a sales rep as he had worked with both during the 1980s when sequencers were just coming out. He was still in the music industry, but just in a different realm. Today John Morales is involved in the framing and sports memorabilia business.
John Morales and Archiving the Music
John Morales is very good at preserving his musical past and showed me boxes of the original reels and acetates from just about all his mixes. Apparently not many remixers from that era saved their work or left them to others who didn't value or appreciate them. He's currently archiving much of this material so perhaps a record label may seek to release all these Disco dance music rarities on CD one day.
I would like to thank John Morales and his wife for their hospitality, and for taking time to speak with me. Now go over to your pile of records and pull the ones out that say John Morales and M & M Mix, and play them to take a trip back in time.
Written by Bernard F. Lopez (November 22, 2004)
Copyright © 2004 by Bernard F. Lopez
All rights reserved
Related Links to John Morales
- John Morales: The M&M Mixes #1 - New York City Underground Disco Anthems (CD)
- John Morales: The M&M Mixes #2 - New York City Underground Disco Anthems (CD)
- John Morales: The M&M Mixes #3 - New York City Underground Disco Anthems (CD)
- John Morales: The M&M Mixes #3 - Instrumentals (CD)
- John Morales Presents Club Motown
- Jocelyn Brown (CD)
- Universal Robot Band (CD)
- Love Saves the Day - A History of American Dance Music Culture 1970-1979 (Book)