Jonzun Crew – We Are The Jonzun Crew
The Jonzun Crew looking slightly outrageous on the cover of their
Pac Jam 12″. Ahh the early 80s!
The Jonzun Crew featured three brothers, Michael and Sonni Johnson, and Larry Johnson (who later came to be known as Maurice Starr). The brothers were almost destined to be in the music biz — their old man Ray V. Johnson was a master of many musical instruments, and in his time jammed with some of the greats of soul including B.B. King, Noble Watts and Ray Charles!
The brothers grew up in a poor family in Florida, with a family of eight crammed into a two bedroom house. It was here they were exposed to a rich variety of music — from Country & Western to rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm & blues, jazz, classical and gospel, and mastered a huge variety of instruments too.
Growing up in this environment gave them a passion for music, and the drive to be not just good but great musicians. The brothers spent 7 hours a day nearly every day of the week, and the other time scraping money together from gigs and odd jobs to buy instruments and equipment. In 1973 Michael and his brothers took a bus to Moston, Massachusetts, taking with them their instruments, and a bag of their Mama’s delicious Southern fried chicken! (I wanna try some of that!).
Jonzun Crew is born
The brothers had been writing and recording music for years, but it wasn’t until the 80s that Michael Jonzun formed the Jonzun Crew, consisting of him an his brothers along with Steve Thorpe and Gordy Worthy. They broke onto the early hip hop and electro scene around 1980 with Pak Man, which was one of the first real electro funk jams ‐ before even Planet Rock. When Pak Man was released on Tommy Boy Records they changed the name to Pack Jam, and they also dropped some other dope 12″s in this period like Space Is The Place and Electro Boogie Encounter.
Their album Lost In Space dropped on Tommy Boy in 1983. This jam We Are The Jonzun Crew is from their first album, and it also made it to a 12″ of it’s own later that year. Their follow up album Down To Earth dropped in 84, and they released a few more singles before splitting up in 86, when Michael Jonzun decided to pursue a solo career.
Something that really makes the Jonzun Crew tracks stand out is that despite their heavily electro sound of synthesizers, keyboards and vocoder vocals, they were using live drums in a lot of their classic tracks, with some drum machine hits worked in too. They might sound like synthetic drums, but Pack Jam, Space Is The Place and We Are The Jonzun Crew are all based on live drum tracks, which is where they get their unique groove and swing, and on top of that all the synthesizer parts are played live too, making up a sound that Michael Jonzun described as ‘space funk’.
Jonzun Crew – Pack Jam
Jonzun Crew perform their biggest hit, Pack Jam live on German top hits show Formail Eins in 1983
Pack Jam is probably the Jonzun Crew’s most well known hit these days — still a favorite with electro fans and bboys alike. With a dope groove from the drum track, vocoder raps and a VERY fat bassline, it is pure old school dope. The “Watch Out For The OVC’ is a reference to an instrument build by their keyboardist while they were still playing as the Johnson Brothers, which was a keyboard that would light up different letters of the Johnson Brothers band name when a note was played — quite a futuristic concept back in 1973.
Here the Jonzun Crew perform Pack Jam live on German top hits TV show Formail Eins. Formail Eins also often used Space Is The Place as background music during segments of their show. But more importantly, check out their outfits — fans of a certain french duo of robots might find the look strangely familiar. Daft Punk may be dressed by Hedi Slimane, but I’d say their robo-fashions owe more than a passing influence to old school cats like the Jonzun Crew, Space and Kraftwerk.
The Jonzun Crew imagery — classic inspired costumes complete with Beethoven and Mozart style powdered wigs, with ruffled shirts and flamboyant suits were the work of New York stylist and fashion designer Jesse Harris.
Michael Jonzun Production
Michael Jonzun also boasts a pretty impressive production career. He produced and wrote some of the songs on Peter Wolf’s 1985 album Lights Out, which included appearances from The Cars, King Crimson, Elliot Easton and even a duet with Mick Jagger, and as well as his production work for Jonzun Crew, Michael also did a lot of work with Sugar Hill Records in the early 80s — he and his brother wrote and produced music for The Sugar Hill Gang, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5, The Sequence and Brother To Brother, though they weren’t credited (or paid) for all of their work with Sugar Hill.
Some of the other artists he produced for include Afrika Bambaataa, LL Cool J,Tom Browne, Ice T, Ginuwine, Chuck D of Public Enemy and Madonna, and he was even invite to tour with Bruce Springsteen’s band. He also produced New Edition, and unfortunately produced New Kids On The Block so we kind of have him to blame for boy bands.
The Jonzun Crew also reunited with a slightly different lineup and released a 1990 album, but I can’t tell you much about that since i’ve never heard it!
Michael Jonzun of the Jonzun Crew,
shot by English photographer Janette Beckman
Check out Jonzun Crew’s official Myspace here!