The Ohio Players

  • Funk/R&B group formed in 1959 from Dayton Ohio. There have been nearly 30 members over the years – the classic lineup from the 70s was James “Diamond” Williams (drums, percussion, lead and backing vocals), William “Billy” Beck (keyboards, lead and backing vocals), Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner (guitar, lead and backing vocals), Marshall “Rock” Jones (bass guitar), Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks (trumpet, trombone, backing vocals), Clarence “Satch” Satchell (saxophone, flute, percussion, backing vocals), and Marvin “Merv” Pierce (trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone, backing vocals). All members contributed to songwriting.
  • Jones, Middlebrook and Satchell were founding members, along with Robert Ward on guitar and Cornelius Johnson on drums. Originally called The Ohio Untouchables, they headed for Detroit in 1961 to be the backing group for the R&B group The Falcons. Ward proved to be an unreliable leader for the band, and when he left for a solo career in 1964, the band broke up. Jones, Middlebrook and Satchell wanted to continue their music careers, so they returned to Dayton and recruited Bonner as their guitarist and frontman. Bonner had a different R&B style, so they changed the name of the group to The Ohio Players – “Players” referring to their musicianship as well as their skills as ladies men.
  • They added several more musicians, and signed with a record label in 1967. They had a minor hit on the R&B chart in 1968 with Trespassin’, but their followup singles flopped, and their record label went bankrupt. They signed with another label, and their debut album, Observations in Time, was released in 1969. It was popular in the Dayton area, but otherwise it was not successful. Several members left, and the group went on hiatus in 1970.
  • The following year, the group reformed with a new cast around the core members. Influenced by the emerging funk sound of Sly & the Family Stone, they released their second studio album, Pain, in 1972. It was their first of 11 albums during the 70s, all of which featured sexually provocative album covers. In 1973, the absurd single Funky Worm, from their album Pleasure, was their first major hit, peaking at #1 on the R&B chart and at #15 on the Hot 100 chart. It featured a synthesizer solo that would be sampled by dozens of hip hop artists in later years.
  • The peak of their success was in 1974 and 1975. Three albums released in those years – Skin Tight, Fire and Honey – all topped the R&B album chart and Fire topped the Billboard 200 album chart. All 3 were certified platinum in sales, driven by two songs that topped the Hot 100 chart – Fire and Love Rollercoaster (my personal fave), as well as R&B top 10 hits Jive Turkey, Skin Tight, I Want To Be Free and Sweet Sticky Thing. The Honey album actually won a Grammy award for Best Album Cover Art (but alas, nothing for the music itself).
  • 1976’s Who’d She Coo? was their last hit, peaking at #1 on the R&B chart and at #18 on the Hot 100. It was part of their Contradiction album, their final #1 on the R&B album chart. Eight more albums followed between 1977 and 1988, each progressively less successful. Various lineups have performed in concerts over the years since then, and the group still performs occasionally today, with Billy Beck and Diamond Williams the only remaining members from the glory years. Satchell, Middlebrooks, Bonner and Jones all have passed away.
  • The Ohio Players were funky dudes whose horn driven grooves produced 2 great songs – Love Rollercoaster and Fire – and many other somewhat forgettable R&B hits. But as a teenage boy, you can be sure that I wanted to check out their album covers! Here’s one of their performances on Midnight Special – check out Wolfman Jack’s intro, and the dancers that hit the stage at the 2:30 mark! I love this goofy song!

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