Roger Johnson RIP – DMC pays homage to our first ever World Champion

Some of the key strengths of any DJ’s armour is bravado, their confidence and showmanship. Back in 1985 however one particular DJ was not feeling his usual strength as he prepared to take part in the first ever DMC World DJ Championship in London. “He was hesitant to say the least” recalls Roger Johnson’s lifelong friend Troy Harewood, Founder of the UK Hip Hop Museum.

“In fact, it was a friend and Roger’s wife who actually entered him to take part.”

The rest they say is history.

The first brick in a new path of musical history was laid by Johnson as his nine-minute mix of scratching over Kurtis Blow and James Brown would immortalise the Londoner forever.

“Back then Roger would have never realised how seminal he was in the DJ world, he was a very humble man” says Troy.

Roger’s victory at The Hippodrome in Leicester Square has indeed gone down in turntable history. Not only did he put this new art form firmly on the map, he opened a door where thousands would follow. Thanks to his stunning nine-minute mix, he showed others what could be achieved and what was possible in life.

He demonstrated to bedroom DJs around the world that a global stage could be theirs’ too.

A moment Troy remembers intensely.

“The DMC journey consumed every aspect of his life—practicing and recording on his 1200’s became a minute-by-minute obsession. Flawlessness was non-negotiable; he had to be the best. His singular focus on winning propelled him to victory”.

We all sadly said goodbye to Roger in April. His body finally too weak to fight the evils of cancer as the disease took another genius from us. But thank the lord Roger took the opportunity of life with both hands.

“I remember the first time I met Roger” says Troy. “It was at our local nightclub Campus West in Welwyn Garden City in 1980. At that point he was one of the best jazz funk dancers in the UK and one of the guys I looked up to – and yes, of course.  I would copy his dance moves.”

Winning the DMC Title was just the start of Roger’s career of course, his music would soon be filling our airwaves on the BBC with Dave Pearce.

“When I created the BBC’s First Hip Hop Show ‘A Fresh Start To The Week’ I invited Roger to be part of the show and do live mixes each week” says Dave. “I had been inspired by Marly Marl’s Mixes on Mr Magic’s New York WBLS Show so I got Roger to emulate that vibe – he would do live Hip Hop mixes in the show and he would cut and scratch live on air but in a really musical way, creating a new track in real time – using elements of lots of records all on vinyl all completely live. It was of course the first time anything like this had been done on BBC Radio and his RJ Scratch Attacks soon became a cult listen.”

As Roger became a firm favourite DJing on the emerging UK rave scene, his career would also take him into the studio and a position at Mute Records where he became an integral part of the DnB scene, working with industry giants like Photek and LTJ Bukem. His journey escalated as he ventured into music production, contributing to Moby’s remixes and eventually joining him on an epic five-year tour.

“As well as being a great DJ, Roger was a lovely guy with a wicked sense of humour and a great smile – I hope to get round to doing a book some day and telling some of the stories of those early days” admits Dave.

Many of Roger’s friends gathered recently in Hertfordshire for the RJ Scratch Attack Fundraiser organised by Troy and David Carter, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

DMC of course were there with Martin Madigan presenting Roger with a DMC Lifetime Achievement Award – DMC Champions Cutmaster Swift and DJ Pogo were also present as was lifelong friend Alex P whilst DMC Founder Tony Prince sent a beautiful video message to Roger, thanking him for being the pioneer of our Championships.

After the evening, Roger used all his energy to give one final message on his social media to his friends…

“It’s taken a while for me to send this as I had to recover (lol) both physically and emotionally. Thank you to all who came to the fundraising event at The Hilltop Tap last Saturday, it was truly a special night and I just wanted to let you all know how blown away I was and still am by it all. It was very overwhelming to be honest and at times my emotions got the better of me. Big love to all the DJs, you all played some bad boy sets. I truly don’t have the words to explain how I feel all I do know is that I love you all so, so much. And I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.”

Who would have thought what was to follow when Roger mixed his way to glory in 1985? The DMC Final nights that would follow with the likes of James Brown, Public Enemy, Run DMC, Janet Jackson, Cash Money, A-Trak, Craze, C2C, Scratch Perverts, QBert, Roc Raida and current World Champion K-Swizz all gracing the DMC stage – that Johnson first made his own. What a legacy. What a man.

And the final question I ask his great friend Troy is how he will want to be remembered? The DMC World family of course will always remember him as number one, the trailblazer, the man who first put his needle on the record before anyone else…

“I feel Roger would have wanted to be remembered as a man who was revolutionary in the music world and a man of the people because everyone loved him, they really did. And of course, we will be honouring Roger by immortalising him in the UK Hip Hop Museum… so he will live on forever…”