KCEP-FM presents a special Classic Thursday Tribute to the Ohio Players with exclusive interviews not given anywhere else, after the recent loss of Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner, frontman for the hit-making funk music band the Ohio Players, who has died. He was 69. Tune in Thursday, January 31st beginning at 6am – 9pm for the best of the Ohio Players not heard anywhere else.
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 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 “Kumba” Jones.
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 died January 26, 2013 at age 69.
The Ohio Players influenced many bands of the 70’s and 80’. The twangy southernistic singing style of Bonner was emulated by many. Cameo’s Larry Blackmon’s trademark ”ooww” was heavily influenced by Sugarfoot’s singing style. Members of Cameo have even been quoted as saying they were so influenced by the Ohio Players that New York City Players was their name before Cameo. Others that had that Sugarfoot vocal sound include Lionel Ritchie, and the Commodores, The Bar Kays, go-go band EU, and a host of many others. After playing drums for James Brown and Bootsy’s Rubber Band, and currently playing for Parliament-Funkadelic, drummer Frank “Kash” Waddy was quoted as saying “ we used to sit and wait to see what the Ohio Players were going to do next. They were trendsetters.”
On their smash hit Fantastic Voyage, Lakeside wanted to take you on a voyage to their hometown of Dayton Ohio which they called the “Land of Funk”. The Land of Funk (Dayton Ohio) produced other great bands such as Zapp and Roger, Dayton, Sun, Heatwave, Faze-O, Slave, Steve Arrington, Shirley Murdock, Shadow, Platypus, Walter “Junie” Morrison, New Horizons, Aurra and many others. In one way or another you can trace all the roots back to the band who laid the foundation for “The Land of Funk”, The Ohio Players.
You can hear more about the life of Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner on Thursday January 30, 2013 on Power 88 with stories and tributes from various representatives from the bands listed above, friends and family of Sugarfoot.
You can also listen live online all day at www.power88lv.com.