Saturday, September 13, 2008

J.J. Johnson - "Willie Dynamite" (1974)

more previews further down ...

This one's been out on the blogosphere before, but I wanted to get a good quality vinyl rip out there - the arrangements on this soundtrack album are fantastic, particularly the percussion. So upgrade your files and enjoy ...

I also wanted to have a general look through J.J. Johnson's 70s film and TV soundtrack work as a composer and arranger, in order to fill in the 1971-1977 funky gap in his AMG discography.


It was perhaps inevitable that trombonist/composer/arranger J.J. Johnson would end up doing film soundtracks at some stage, given the breadth of the orchestral colours he'd previously explored, both in his own compositions and in other ensembles. Born in 1924, Johnson was on board for Miles Davis' pivotal "Birth Of The Cool" period from the late 1940s, both in the studio and live, as well as many other bands. His trombone style was regarded as having redefined the use of the instrument in bebop, much as Charlie Parker is seen as having redefined the alto saxaphone, or Hendrix the guitar.

After beginning his work as a leader by recording several jazz quintet dates in the mid-1940s, he went on to record some 70 albums as a leader - such as "The Eminent Jay Jay Johnson" (1953) and "Live at Café Bohemia" (1957) - not to mention hundreds of albums as a sideman. In the late 1940s he formed a recording and performing partnership with fellow trombonist Kai Winding, which lasted on and off for several decades on albums like "Jay and Kai" (1954-57), "Nuf Said" (1955), "The Great Kai and J.J." (1960) and the CTI album "Israel" (1967) featuring Herbie Hancock and others.

At the same time, he was exploring orchestral arrangement and composition in pieces like his "Poem for Brass" in 1956, and Dizzy Gillespie's "Perceptions" (1961), a six-movement suite for "brass choir", percussion and harps which references classical structures. Some of the muted brass and harp sequences in the latter work can be seen as precursors of his later film soundtrack work.


In 1965, Johnson played trombone on the soundtrack for Quincy Jones' "The Pawnbroker" followed by Sonny Rollins' "Alfie" in 1966. In 1967, film composer Elmer Bernstein got Johnson a job as the staff conductor and composer at MBA Music in New York, where he mainly composed TV commercials.

In 1969, after Johnson had worked on his album "Walking In Space", Quincy Jones convinced him to make a move from New York to California, and to try his hand at film composing. He completed one more album - "Stonebone" with Kai Winding, featuring Herbie Hancock on electric keyboards - then headed west.

After scoring some episodes of 'The Mod Squad' and "Barefoot in the Park" for TV, Johnson's first feature film scoring job came in 1971, when he did string and horn arrangements on the track Walk from Regio’s on Isaac Hayes' "Shaft".

His first full soundtrack, still under the 'supervision' of Quincy Jones, was "Man and Boy" in 1971 . Set in the early 19th century, it's about Bill Cosby and son trying to find a stolen horse. Johnson responded with a predominantly Ennio Morricone-influenced harmonica and tremelo guitar lineup, though the occasional funky beat creeps in. Bill Withers guests on vocals on one track.

1972's "Across 110th St" was a shared affair with vocalist Bobby Womack, notable for the superb title track - written by Womack and Johnson - that was recycled on Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown" 20 years later. Elsewhere, Johnson's mixing a southern-funk base with brass that touches on both bigband and classic Quincy Jones, supplemented by some tight clavinet ("Harlem Clavinette") and rhodes ("Harlem Love Theme"). Story : Two New York City cops go after amateur crooks who are trying to rip off the Mafia and start a gang war.

Also in the same year, Johnson arranged the percussion-driven "T Stands for Trouble" on Marvin Gaye's superb "Trouble Man" album, which along with Hayes' "Shaft" and Mayfield's "Superfly" stands as one of the templates for the blaxploitation sound - muted brass backing lead saxaphones, upfront percussion and minor string arrangements. The track was later sampled by both Brand Nubian and Ice Cube. If you check the above youtube preview of the track, you can hear Johnsons' signature complex, hard-hitting conga lines that he developed on his 70s soundtracks.

Written, produced, directed by and starring "Shaft" sidekick Christopher St John, "Top Of The Heap" (1972) (new link to DVD rip) concerns a black beat cop who is disgruntled with his life, family, job and his white superiors. He begins daydreaming about being an astronaut forced to fake a moon landing for a NASA photo-opportunity. 

Johnson stretches out with a larger orchestral palette in 'Cleopatra Jones' from 1973, particularly with his string work on tracks like "The Wrecking Yard" and "Airport Flight", and continues the big-band funk in tracks like "Go Chase Cleo". There's a great low-key rhodes number called "Emdee", and the requisite soul-funk tracks are provided by vocalists Joe Simon and Millie Jackson. Jackson was perhaps the only vocalist who could have matched the swagger of action star / model Tamara Dobson.

In 1973, Johnson composed the score for Don Medford's "The Fuzz Brothers", starring Louis Gossett Jr. The movie was a pilot for a TV series - two black police officers, who happen to be brothers, battle crime in a run-down section of Los Angeles.

Later in the year, Johnson composed music (alongside Benny Golson and Dave Grusin) for a short-lived TV series called "Roll Out", a comedy that examined race relations through the eyes of predominantly black World War 2 supply drivers. It's been described as a M.A.S.H. ripoff that didn't really work, and soon failed in its timeslot against the popular "Odd Couple".


Johnson's last feature soundtrack, 1974's "Willie Dynamite", is also his most cohesive and tight. He's working with a stripped-back ensemble, with a soul-jazz band punctuated by the usual great brass arrangements, upfront percussion - who is that conga player? - and some great rhodes and hammond work. It's carefully arranged, yet still has the air of a live band.

"Willie Chase" starts with some standard blaxploitation brass stabs that sit on a driving conga line, before building up into a brass tour-de-force and going out on a great band workout, complete with rhodes solo over a cowbell-led percussion section. "Willie Escapes" is another good variation of this.

"Passion's Dilemma" is an uptempo number with a flute melody giving way to the rhodes as it builds up; and "Make It Right" is a low-key piece with flute and harmonica working over rhodes and organ.

The Martha Reeves songs - often written or co-written by the film's director Gilbert Moses III - are also a notch up from the standard blaxploitation vocal tracks - with "Willie D"; "King Midas" and "Keep On Movin' On" all holding their own as soul songs outside of the film context. Arrangements on these last two were by Dale Oehler, who produced most of Bobby Hutcherson's 70s output, and had worked alongside Johnson on "Trouble Man"

Poster boy for the fur industry


"Willie Dynamite" was Johnson's last major film scoring job, though he continued to work in television until the end of the decade. He was never the main composer on any of the TV shows, instead becoming more of an incidental music "episode composer" in various science fiction and police shows, while others like Oliver Nelson usually had the main show credits.

He scored a few episodes each in TV series like 'The Six Million Dollar Man', 'The Bionic Woman', 'The Bionic Boy' (!), 'Starsky and Hutch', 'Buck Rogers In the 25th Century' and 'Future Cop' (can I hear his trombone in that last theme?).

After searching out all of the particular TV episodes that Johnson actually scored - yes, this how I spend my weekends - I found three on youtube :

Our fearless fighters are chased by the cops, giving Johnson yet another opportunity to score a chase scene.

Some good horror stings from Johnson as the dreaded FEMBOTS are exposed! "Kill Oscar" was a special three-episode storyline for which Johnson also composed a new one-off theme over the opening credits.

A not-to-be-missed disco scene. Also check this great episode preview.


Although I don't have an actual quote from J.J. Johnson himself, one of his biographies alludes to his belief that "racism and other prejudices kept a black jazz musician such as himself from securing the amount and quality of work he was qualified to perform" within the Hollywood system. Unfortunately, there are echoes of these same problems in quotes from fellow film composer Todd Cochran some thirty years later ...

As his film composition career petered out, Johnson began to record and perform again, with "The Yokohama Concert" in 1977 being his first non-soundtrack release in eight years. He went on to record another 17 albums as a leader, including "Standards: Live at the Village Vanguard" (1988) , "Tangence" (1994) and "The Brass Orchestra" (1996).

Sadly, Johnson became ill with prostate cancer in the late 90s, and took his own life in 2001.



01. 'Willie D' (4:11)
02. 'Willie Chase (Instrumental)' (3:05)
03. 'King Midas' (4:51)
04. 'Willie Escapes' (Instrumental) (3:00)
05. 'Passion's Dilemma' (Instrumental) (3:01)
'Keep On Movin' On' (3:36)
07. 'Make It Right' (2:58)
08. 'Parade Strut' (Instrumental) (2:35)
09. 'Gospel Family' (1:37)
10. 'Willie D' (2:49)

Tracks 2, 4, 5, 7-9 written by J.J. Johnson
Tracks 1, 10 written by j.J. Johnson and Gilbert Moses III
Tracks 3, 6 writtem by Gilbert Moses III

Vocals - Martha Reeves & The Sweet Things (tracks 1, 3, 6, 10)
Keyboards (Solo) - Ian Underwood , Pete Jolly (track 9)
Harmonica - Tom Morgan (track 7)

MCA Records # 393
Released 1974
Arrangements on tracks 3, 6 by Dale Oehler
Engineer - Ami Hadani , Eddie Brackett
Executive Producer - Gil Rodin
Producer, Conductor, Composed By, Written-By - J.J. Johnson

Vinyl rip
by Simon666 to WAV and MP3 @ 320kbps

Other albums
linked in this post are at :
blaxploitation pride, dexondaz, zona de jazz, call it anything, speaker mix, produto di-gestivo, that would be an ecunemical matter, funky disposition, and regalame esta noche.

Please thank and support these bloggers if you click through and download.


Here are the downloads, but please comment as well, I do all this for the music conversation :

WAV - MP3 


ish said...

thank you Simon. I learn something from every one of your posts!

Simon666 said...

even if it's just disco moves from the Buck Rogers episode ?
Thanks Ish :)

ish said...

What the heck were those foam rubber half columns in that disco scene?
Is that a necessary part of futuristic dancing? Count me in!

I had no idea Johnson did the horn charts for Trouble Man. Explains a lot!

Simon666 said...

Maybe they were just left over from the gym scene ??

He only did the horn charts on the track "T Stands for Trouble", there were a lot of arrangers on that album ..

tswift98 said...

Thanks simon666 and ish

Anonymous said...

Nice job Simon. Your an awesome blogger. Thanks

Simon666 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Noah said...

Thank you Simon666. You are probably the best person on the entire internet

panzan said...

the artwork link is wrong too - actually goes to the rapidshare link for mp3.

love to get the artwork when you have a chance to fix it.

Gianni said...


katonah said...

yet another classy post simon.
dale oehler worked some of the hutcherson albums to my mind.
many thanks as always

Simon666 said...

OK I've stuffed up the links.

Links are now at the base of the post itself.

Thanks for comments guys!

powerpool said...

Awesome post. I might have mentioned this before, but without the likes of you - and you in particular - I would have no access to this amazing music. Born '58 in Germany, that stuff was simply not available when I was old enough to develop my own taste. Some friends who had been to the US had some of it, so I could have a listen at times. Never had my own copies and almost forgot that this music exists. ("Troubled Man" would be one of my earliest memories). This is great work, simon, and you have my uttmost respect. Also your background-info and cross-reffering is most appreciated. This is a whole new world, and I think I have to buy a bigger hard drive.

Anonymous said...

thank you very much.

cheeba said...

Simon, once again you've connected the dots brilliantly. Many thanks for the word & sound!

mr.gone said...

Hi Simon. There's a fair amount of dross in the Blaxploitation soundtrack area, but from the clips I've heard, this is definitely way ahead of the game.


Simon (Mr.Gone)

Al said...

I've just bumped into this sensational blog by searching for the word "rhodes" - my ultimate love...
I thought I knew something about soul and funk... until now.
I live in Central Europe, so most of the seventies' soul and funk remained outside the Iron Curtain. Now, thanks to bloggers like simon666 (although the 666 scares me...) my eyes have opened!

Zillion thanks!

djandpete said...

brilliant album thanks

kizza said...

Yeah, fantastic post simon!
It's great to finally get a HQ rip of the Willie Dynamie S/T. Thanks heaps!

Dan Buskirk said...

Thanks for doing the research on those TV scores! You're doing a real service extracting the genius from the junk. It's the type of scholarship that often gets lost in the shuffle. Keep up the great work.

MaxPtah said...

wow, I've found a new blog to check out. Thanks for putting background info on here too.

el goog said...

Hi Simon
I found them at San Pasquale Ent by HEYCEE.
J.J. Johnson - Willie Dynamite (Music From The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (1974)
J.J. Johnson - Cleopatra Jones (Music From The Motion Picture) (1973)


Simon666 said...

Thanks El Goog -
Not my rip, that seems to be the same 128k rip that's been around for a while. I really just wanted to get a better sounding one up ..

atrackbrown said...

thank you, thank you, thank you. i'm in a 70s blaxploitation and have been looking for this.

Simon666 said...

No problems atrackbrown, make sure you turn it up loud :)

Simon666 said...

More JJ Johnson - added a link to "The Brass Orchestra" (1996), near the end of the post

Simon666 said...

Just a note that this is one of those posts I come back to when I see JJ Johnson albums out in the blogsphere, so there have been a few additions in the last months. See the paragraph headed "The Composer" near the beginning, and "The Composer re-emerges" near the end of the post. ...


This blog is an open library. Enlightenment!Thank a lot!

Orlando said...

Nice one, Simon. Much obliged, and well impressed with the up. Really enjoying this. said...

Lo que se encuentra en tu blog es realmente fantástico. Es difícil agradecer apropiadamente. Lo seguiré intentando. Muchas gracias por tu trabajo, amigo.

Simon666 said...

gracias por tu comentario :)

david said...

muchas gracias por el trabajo

freqazoidiac said...

Came on by from an ebay bidding war I lost on Willie Dynamaite, so might as well try to listen to the sucker in it's entirety, after years only have bits and pieces of this OST.

I saw your link in the older post for a lower quality version of this, in the comments so I followed it and came here and extra happy you have Lossless. Excellent. Thanks.
Awesome blog too, you put original work into it which is rare, and I know how time consuming it can be as that's what I strive for with my blog too. Come visit some time ... freqazoidiac.blogspot and grooveyardrecords.blogspot (our vinyl store)

Cheers from Vancouver Island Canada.

McStrut said...

Funky new year! Willie Dynamite was the first album I listened to in 2011 - 37 years after being released. Thanks for the informative post. I also appreciate all the detective work (such as highlighting J.J.'s TV work etc) that you do centred around the main album. Great stuff. Thank you.

Rob E said...

Brilliant music! Thank you!


Straight "Crystal Carrington" Playa!!!

Anonymous said...

This is nice work you've done here. Good job!
I was doing a small bit of research on Diana Sands, which led me to "Willie Dynamite", which led me to J.J. Johnson, which led me here. I'm glad I found your sight. Now, I have to catch up on all your post
Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed the soundtrack (and the film) for a long time but was stuck with a tinny 128 kbps version, which didn't reflect the artistry on offer. Thanks for the upgrade!

Ihc Renrut said...

bless you simon!! absolutely tremendous. ;)

Unknown said...

Been looking for this ever since I caught the movie years ago! Willie Dynamite was a slept on movie and soundtrack. Triple J did his thang on this joint!

Simon666 said...

Hi everyone eight years later :)
Just added a link in the post to a new from-DVD rip to JJ Johnson's soundtrack for "Top Of the Heap" (1972). It's a with-dialogue rip, as the soundtrack was never released, but some great stuff there :

Mesh B said...


TheeInferno said...

Thank you so much :-)