One of the funkiest groups in the funkiest decade, the Ohio Players became the template for a generation of Midwest jamming groups. Formed in Dayton, Ohio in 1959 as the Ohio Untouchables, the group initially included members Robert Ward (vocals/guitar), Marshall "Rock" Jones (bass), Clarence "Satch" Satchell (saxophone/guitar), Cornelius Johnson (drums), and Ralph "Pee Wee" Middlebrooks (trumpet/trombone). When Ward, the group leader, broke the act up in the early 60s, the remaining members reformed with additions Gary Webster (drums) and the auspicious young guitarist, Leroy "Sugarfoot" Bonner, and later added trumpeter Bruce Napier, trombonist Marvin Pierce, and keyboardist Walter "Junie" Morrison.
The Ohio Players signed with the Detroit-based Westbound label in 1971 and began a string of three successful albums, each punctuated by a loose, funky sound and erotic album covers that brought added attention. They hit with the single "Pain," and became an R&B staple. However, upon their signing with with Mercury Records in 1974 and the addition of keyboardist Billy Beck and drumer Jimmy Williams, they reached new heights.
This lineup created a series of memorable songs and albums over the remainder of the decade, including "Funky Worm," "Fire," "Who'd She Coo," and their biggest hit, "Love Rollercoaster." The Ohio Players were perhaps the biggest R&B band in the world by 1976; but their fall was quick. Drug usage among the group members gutted the creativity and work ethic of the members, and charges of tax evasion robbed them of the wealth they had created over the decade -- and they never fully recovered.
The group fired leader Satchell and signed with Boardwalk Records for the minor 1980 hit "Try a Little Tenderness" (a cover of the Otis Redding classic), but they never again achieved the heights of their earlier years. The group split and reunited several times in various forms over the next two decades, and both Satchell and Middleton died in the mid-90s. The Ohio Players released the album Trespassin' early in the new century, their last recording to date. For several years after, two versions of the Ohio Players tour the nation, one led by Bonner and one by Williams, always playing the basketful of memorable hits from the group's heyday.
By Chris Rizik