Ohio Players Biography

Formed in Dayton, Ohio, USA, this multi-talented unit originated from four members of the Ohio Untouchables, saxophonists Ralph ‘Pee Wee’ Middlebrooks and Clarence ‘Satch’ Satchell, bass player Marshall Jones and guitarist Leroy ‘Sugarfoot’ Bonner. The Ohio Untouchables forged a reputation as a powerful instrumental group by providing the backing to the Falcons, whose R&B classic ‘I Found A Love’ (1962) featured singer Wilson Pickett. They began recording in their own right that same year, and with the addition of Bonner to the line-up became the house band for Compass Records. In 1967 they began recording as the Ohio Players, but did not achieve any notable success until the following decade when they embarked on a series of striking releases for the Westbound label, after brief sessions for Compass, Capitol Records and RubberTown Sounds. The group’s experimental funk mirrored the work George Clinton had forged with Funkadelic for the same outlet and in 1973 the octet - Bonner, Middlebrooks, Satchell, Jones, drummer Greg Webster, pianist and lead vocalist Walter ‘Junie’ Morrison, and trumpet players Bruce Napier and Marvin Pierce, enjoyed a massive R&B smash with the irrepressible ‘Funky Worm’.

The Players later switched to Mercury Records, with new drummer James ‘Diamond’ Williams and keyboard player William ‘Billy’ Beck joining in place of Webster, Morrison and Napier. Their US hits included ‘Fire’ (1974) and ‘Love Rollercoaster’ (1975), both of which topped the soul and pop charts. ‘Who’d She Coo?’ became the group’s last substantial hit the following year and although success did continue throughout the rest of the 70s, their releases grew increasingly predictable. The group had become renowned for their sexually explicit album covers, suggesting the possibilities of a jar of honey, or depicting macho males dominating scantily clad subservient females - and vice-versa. However, their musical credibility was such that their version of ‘Over The Rainbow’ was played at Judy Garland’s funeral. Williams and Beck left the line-up in 1980 to form a new group, Shadow, although both subsequently returned. Various line-ups of the Ohio Players recorded throughout the 80s, achieving a minor soul hit in 1988 with ‘Sweat’. They have continued touring into the 90s, with only Bonner and Williams remaining from the classic era line-up.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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