For those willing to dig below the layers of Rick James and Prince inspired funk, there lies a vast terrain of vintage electrofunk to be discovered. Its still for the most part a sub genre beyond the reach of the vast majority of iTunes or Amazon subscribers. The finicky nature of R&B meant that the electrofunk stars came and went nearly as fast as new jerrycurl formulations.
One noteworthy artist from this genre created a small bubble in this scene that popped almost as soon as it blew up. No newbie to the music industry, Howard Johnson was part of the one hit wonder disco band Niteflyte in the ’70s. His debut solo album in 1982 spawned the slick R&B hit ‘So Fine’. As good as that Kashif produced song was, Johnson would make a surprising move to a new production team for his next project Doin’ It My Way.
In choosing Mic Murphy and David Frank, otherwise known as The System, Johnson had switched from one popular and established R&B sound to one that was slowly rising. The System was on a roll in 1983 with their debut Sweat becoming a hit as well as producing a one-off album for the band Attitude. With big hair and an even bigger drum kit, the System look and sound was everywhere by the time Doin’ It My Way’s first single ‘Let Take Time Out’ hit the airways.
Doin’ It My Way was essentially a System album, as nearly all the songs were written by the duo. Mic Murphy’s backing vocals and guitar playing are prominently featured on some tracks. David Frank’s keyboards and programming joined with a team of musicians who made recording sessions look much like a typical System project.
To Howard Johnson’s credit, his vocals were as good if not better than Murphy’s so hearing this album was like hearing the System after some vocal coaching (not that Mic Murphy was lacking in that regard). Unlike the System, Johnson’s songs were overly bright and upbeat. The optimistic tone was enough to make The System sound downright chilly by comparison.
Not surprisingly, Doin’ It My Way was typical of mainstream R&B of the day in that it was happy go lucky flirting music that made you dance. Most of the album was uptempo, only occasionally slowing down and getting mushy.
There were a number of notable singles that sadly did not make it beyond urban radio and dance venues. Songs like ‘Jump Into Fire’, ‘Let’s Take Time Out’ and ‘Let This Dream Be Real’ were radio favorites and were as good as anything from the great Southwestern Ohio funk bands Zapp or Dayton.
As time passes and those who were teens during this time have become middle aged, interest in artists like Howard Johnson (and this little chapter of R&B) seems to grow. A re-release in 2006 introduced Johnson’s music to a new generation of sample hungry DJs who likely have incorporated the some of Johnson’s style into their own digital composites.
Finding Johnson’s quickly evolved back catalog still remains a difficult exercise in patience. For the R&B music fan willing to dig deeper, Doin’ It My Way is sure to be a treasure.