From The Ohio Untouchables to Ohio Players
Ohio Players’ lineup, throughout their lifetime, had been constantly shifting. It was in Dayton, Ohio where the band was formed in the late 1950s as the Ohio Untouchables. The founding members were singer-guitarist Robert Ward, bassist Marshall “Rock” Jones, guitarist-saxophonist Clarence “Satch” Satchell, trumpeter/trombonist Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks and drummer Cornelius Johnson.
A relative of Ward’s had founded Lupine Records which was based in Detroit, Michigan. From Ohio, the boys traveled to the Motor City to serve as backup singers for the Falcons. In 1963, Ward left, and the other remaining members returned to Dayton to re-form the group with additional members Gregory Webster on drums and guitarist Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner (who would be the new leader of the group) and two more vocalists Bobby Lee Fears and Dutch Robinson.
By then the group renamed themselves as Ohio Players. Later they got a new deal with Compass Records as its house band, backing Helena Ferguson Kilpatrick in her only hit song “Where Is the Party” in 1967. Under the same imprint the group released their debut single “Tresspassin'” in 1968. It reached #50 on the R&B chart that year.
However, Compass went bankrupt and in 1970 the Ohio Players disbanded again. The following year they reconvened once more with fresh lineup that consisted of Bonner, Satchell, Middlebrooks, Jones, Websiter and new members Bruce Napier (trumpet), Charles Dale Allen (vocals), Marvin Pierce (trombone), and Walter “Junie” Morrison (keyboards). They signed a new contract with Westbound label that same year and scored their first single on that imprint with “Pain” which entered the R&B Top 40 and the Hot 100. James Johnson then joined as an additional vocalist.
In 1973, the group scored their first #1 R&B hit with “Funky Worm” (from their albumPleasure), which was also their first Top 20 hit at #15. It sold over a million copies and was certified gold.
After signing a new deal with Mercury, the Ohio Players changed their personnel again. Morrison left and was replaced by new keyboardist Billy Beck and Jimmy “Diamond” Williams came to replace Webster; and eventually they added new members Clarence “Chet” Willis (guitars, vocals) and Robert “Rumba” Jones (conga). Morrison eventually left the group to join another funk outfit Funkadelic.
Peak years: 1974-75
1974-1975 was a boon period for Ohio Players. It was at Mercury where Ohio Players achieved their biggest success. Their debut album under that label Skin Tight (1974) featured two top 10 R&B hits with “Jive Turkey” and the title track, with the latter also reaching #13 on the pop charts.
“Fire”, from their LP of the same title, went on to become their first #1 pop hit, staying in that position for about a week. The album itself won them their first platinum disc. The band also hired another saxophonist James Johnson in time for the recording of their next album.
1975’s Honey LP produced the Top 40 pop hit “Sweet Sticky Thing,” and their second and last #1 pop hit “Love Rollercoaster.” The single also generated their only UK hit at #51. Honey was also certified platinum.
Later career up to the present
In 1976, the band released Contradiction, which featured their last big hit with “Who’d She Coo?” (#18 pop, #1 R&B). Towards the end of the 1970s their success began to wane. The group released their last Mercury LP Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee in 1978 before moving to Arista the following year. They released their only album on the label,Everybody Up. It was followed by two disappointing releases on Boardwalk label,Tenderness (1981) and Ouch! (1981). Then they issued their last two albumsGraduation (Century Vista, 1984) and Back (Track Record, 1988). Since their last album no new material has been heard from them yet.
Many of Ohio Players’ members had passed away — Satchell (in 1995), Middlebrooks (in 1997), Ward (in 2008), Cornelius Johnson (in 2009) and Bonner (in 2013). Despite these deaths the remaining members of Ohio Players still continue touring up to this day.