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The Ohio Players were an American funk and R&B band, most popular in the 1970s. They are best known for their double #1 hit songs “Fire” and “Love Rollercoaster”.
Gold certifications, records selling at least one million copies, were awarded to the singles “Funky Worm,” “Skin Tight,” “Fire,” and “Love Rollercoaster;” plus to their albums Skin Tight, Fire, and Honey.
The band formed in Dayton, Ohio in 1959 as the Ohio Untouchables, and 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). They were best known at the time as a backing group for Detroit’s The Falcons.
The Ohio Untouchables broke up in 1963 with Ward leaving for a solo career, but the core members of the group returned to Dayton and the following year added Gregory Webster (drums) along with Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner (guitar), who would become the group’s front man. The group added two more singers, Bobby Lee Fears and Dutch Robinson, and became the house band for the New York based Compass Records for Vocalist Helena Ferguson Kilpatrick in 1967 who had just returned from Gershwin’s European Tour of Porgy and Bess.
The group disbanded again in 1970. After again reforming with a line-up including Bonner, Satchell, Middlebrooks, Jones, Webster, trumpeter Bruce Napier, vocalist Charles Dale Allen, trombonist Marvin Pierce and keyboardist Walter “Junie” Morrison, the Players had a minor hit on the Detroit-based Westbound label in 1971 with “Pain,” which reached the Top 40 of the Billboard R&B Chart. Dale Allen shared co-lead vocals on some of the early Westbound material, although he was not credited on their albums Pain and Pleasure.
The band’s first big hit single was “Funky Worm”, which reached #1 on the Billboard R&B chart and made the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring of 1973. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in May of that year. The band signed with Mercury Records in 1974. By this time, their line-up had changed again, with keyboardist Billy Beck instead of Morrison and Jimmy “Diamond” Williams on drums instead of Webster. On later album releases, they added second guitarist/vocalist Clarence ‘Chet’ Willis and conga player Robert “Rumba” Jones.
The band had seven Top 40 hits between 1973 and 1976. These included “Fire” (#1 on both the R&B and pop chart for two weeks and one week respectively in February 1975 and another million seller) and “Love Rollercoaster” (#1 on both the R&B and pop charts for one week in January 1976; another gold disc recipient). The group’s last big hit was “Who’d She Coo?” a #1 R&B hit in August 1976. It was their only success in the United Kingdom, where it peaked at #43 in the UK Singles Chart in July 1976.
Clarence Satchell (born April 15, 1940) died December 30, 1995 after suffering a brain aneurysm, Ralph Middlebrooks (born August 20, 1939) died in November 1997, and Robert Ward (born October 15, 1938) died at home December 25, 2008. Cornelius Johnson (born July 12, 1937) died February 1, 2009. Leroy Bonner (born March 14, 1943, Hamilton, Ohio, USA) died January 26, 2013 at age 69. Marshall Jones resides in Jamestown, Ohio.
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