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Don Was Revue electrifies Mojo's legacy at Concert of Colors

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Monday, July 13, 2015

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DETROIT -- During the past seven years, Don Was used his All-Star Revue at the Concert of Colors to pay tribute to music made in Detroit, and the people who made it.

But this year he paid homage to someone who made just as much impact without singing or playing an instrument.

On Sunday, Was -- the Detroit-born founder of Was (Not Was) and a Grammy and Emmy Award-winning producer -- and his compatriots paid homage to the Electrifying Mojo, the wildly eclectic and influential disc jockey who played a wide array of sounds on stations in Detroit and Toledo, primarily during the 80s and 90s. Championing the likes of Prince, the B-52's, electronic music -- including Detroit techno -- and much more, Mojo (real name Charles Johnson) kept his face hidden but his name revered as hundreds of thousands joined his International Midnight Funk Association.

Was' state goal on Sunday, July 12, at Orchestra Hall, in fact, was to showcase "songs that could've been played on Mojo's show in 1981," though he cautioned, "They may sound a little bit different" -- a harbinger particularly to the stocking-masked Amino Acid's blitz through Kraftwerk's "Trans European Express." But tone of the night was celebratory, and the 13 All-Star acts all took a lusty turn through everything they played.

It wasn't know if the notoriously reticent Mojo was in the building Sunday; he wasn't visible during a quick walk-around the venue. But was there in spirit -- and in voice, having taped a special opening for the show that called the Midnight Funk Association "to order" before the DSO Youth Ensemble, backed by Was and the night's house band, played a string-quartet version of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze." Was and co-host Ann Delisi of WDET also played some vintage Mojo audio clips between acts, including the June 1986 call from Prince live on-air after a concert at Masonic Temple Auditorium.

There were moments of genuine history on Sunday, particularly when the three Was (Not Was) singers reunited for the first time in a decade to close the show with "Out Come the Freaks," a song championed by Mojo in 1981, and when techno pioneer Juan Atkins showed up to offer a live recreation of his Cybotron classic "Alleys of Your Mind" from the same years. The 10-voice choir A New Thing honored Mojo's inclusion of gospel in his broadcasts with a soulful rendering of "Psalm 23," while keytar-wielding Amp Fiddler nodded to Mojo's rock tastes by taking on Peter Frampton's "Do You Feel Like I Do," complete with a talk box solo and ironically probably around the same time Frampton himself was playing it at the DTE Energy Music Theatre.

Other memorable performances included Laith Al-Saadi's rocking rendition of the J. Geils Band`s "Flamethrower," Laura Rain and the Caesars bombastic take on Parliament's "Testify," Third Coast Kings' funky romp through James Brown's "There It Is," Carolyn Striho's muscular cover of the B-52's "Mesopotamia" and Walk Thru Walls' medley of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" and Wall of Voodoo's "Mexican Radio," the latter changed to "Mothership Radio" with locally flavored lyrics.

Truth be told there wasn't bad entry in the bunch on Sunday, and Mojo, whether present or afar (he can catch the performances soon enough on the Don Was All-Star Revue channel on YouTube), could feel his legacy was given its due.

Was -- who also performed during a moving Concert of Colors tribute to the late Marcus Belgrave on Saturday, July 11 -- dedicated Sunday's show to the late Terry "Thunder" Hughley, the drummer who had been part of the Revue house band and was supposed to play this year before dying last month. Was asked those in the crowd to "take care of yourselves; if you have a Coney dog, eat some vegetables, too. I plan to be back for the 25th anniversary...and I want you to be there." Sunday's show, like its predecessors, offered plenty of reason for fans to honor that request.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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