The Ohio Players: The Origins Of Ohio Funk
I have a big, yet not unsurprising, admission to make. I did not purchase and take home my first Ohio Players album for the music. I did not even know who the Ohio Players were nor what the term “funk” could possibly mean. I did know, however, that the woman depicted on the album Honey was extremely hot and I was even more…er…excited to find that the interior cover was just as or even exceedingly more titillating than the front cover. Big deal! I was like thirteen and was always on the look out to fill up the account in my spank bank for future transactions! That’s not the point here. The point is that eventually I actually placed the record on the turntable and experienced the raw rhythms of funk which broadened not only my musical horizons, but also allowed me to see that not all great entertainment came from the sunny climes of the West Coast, but could be created far closer to home.
Although, to be honest, the whole album Honey was not a complete funkfest, as “Sugarfoot” Bonner’s heartfelt ballad Alone Again can attest to. This fact was overshadowed by the monster jam Love Rollercoaster, which has become the most identifiable legacy of the Ohio Players, being the most covered and sampled song from their extensive repertoire. Love Rollercoaster even became overshadowed by it’s own quirkiness, as rumors surrounded the origin of the scream heard in the first few seconds of the song. Whispers of death, murder and mayhem abounded as fans and DJs fanned the flames of intrigue. Was it a murder that occurred next door to the studio and was accidentally picked up by the sensitive mics? Was it the model who was so lusciously covered in honey, which was reportedly not honey at all, but a solution of melted plastic that horrifically burned her sensitive skin and she was murdered by a member of the band when she threatened to sue? According to James “Diamond” Williams, drummer for the Ohio Players, the truth was far more mundane than the rumors…yet the rumors served as purpose.
“There is a part in the song where there’s a breakdown. It’s guitars and it’s right before the second verse and Billy Beck does one of those inhaling-type screeches like Minnie Ripperton did to reach her high note or Mariah Carey does to go octaves above.” Williams then reveals how the rumor was born by saying, “The DJ made this crack and it swept the country. People were asking us, ‘Did you kill this chick in the studio?’ The band took a vow of silence because that makes you sell more records.”
During an interview with James “Diamond” Williams, I related my original interest in the cover art and how it introduced me to their music. He laughed, bemused, yet not at all surprised.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s what you gotta watch out for (laughs) but other than that, it’s just that we were very blessed to be able to write some music that has been able to stand the test of time and even to be around today to still play the music and, as a matter of fact, to be quite well doing it. We wrote some music at that time…you know, everybody wants to write a White Christmas kind of song. It’s just a song that when you think about Christmas, White Christmas comes to your mind. But, to write a song called Fire was almost the same or to write a song called Love Rollercoaster.” Williams went on to explain his analogy. “When you think about a roller coaster, you immediately think of our song. If you think about fire and you think of a song that would illustrate that, you know, that visual type thing, you immediately think of our song in most cases. It’s just like, and I don’t want to be so picky, picky…there are a number of others. Like, if you think about happy times, you think of Celebration with Kool and the Gang. These are just songs that, during that period of time, you can relate to it. So, it transcends time. It transcends time. Rollercoaster transcends time; it’s not a period piece. People are still riding roller coasters. Of course they’ve changed. Sometimes now they’re on some doggone rollers or whatever, but nonetheless a roller coaster it is. And we were talking a little bit heavier than rides there, you know, so that kind of transcends things too. We’re talking love and romance and things like that.”
Even today’s youth are more familiar with the Ohio Players than they may even consciously know. Funky Worm, Fire and Love Rollercoaster are probably some of the most sampled songs in existence and the groups music is featured in everything from movie soundtracks to video games to television shows.
Love Roller Coaster and Fire, both of which have been very good songs for us. “Fire’” being used for the TV show Hell’s Kitchen with Chef Ramsey and it’s been used in various other movies and all that stuff and whatever, whatever.” Williams went on to say, “Like Rollercoaster has been covered by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Snoop and other people have done our songs. So we’ve been very blessed in the TV and the movie media. We’ve done quite well in our songs being placed.”
It is amazing that after all these years, the Ohio Players are still performing a rigorous touring schedule to appreciative audiences. It’s not surprising…just amazing and inspiring.
“We’ve played at the Apollo several times. We did the Jazz festival in New Orleans, you know, just different places. In Memphis we were there at the Beale Street Festival for like, I don’t know, 200,000 people. It was a ridiculous number of people out there. So, you know, we do big festival dates.” As far as playing back in their hometown, Williams said, “It pleases us that we’re able to come home now and do a venue that’s real nice. We hope to do them proud by us coming there.”
Just to rile him up a bit, I asked Williams if the crowds that they encounter on the road are still receptive and energetic when they hear the funky slap bass and rhythmic groove of the Ohio Players.
“Yeah! Are you kidding me? I mean, we play a lot of casinos and all that stuff like Foxwood and all the big casinos. Yeah, we get a great response.” Williams ended by speaking towards the genre of funk itself, saying, “You know, this music, thank God, hasn’t died and there are radio stations that are still playing seventies music and that interim of music everyday and we’re just blessed to be around to play it.”
See all of our Downtown Dayton Revival Music Festival Band Spotlights
- Downtown Dayton Revival Music Festival Band Spotlight – Volume I
- Downtown Dayton Revival Music Festival Band Spotlight – Volume 2: Werking Hard On The Duck Farm
- Downtown Dayton Revival Music Festival Spotlight – Volume 3: Shake! Shake! Shake! with Bronze Radio Return
- Downtown Dayton Revival Festival Band Spotlight Volume 4
- Downtown Dayton Revival Festival Band Spotlight Volume 5: The Funky Worm Returns
- Downtown Dayton Revival Festival Spotlight Volume 6