Nov 28, 2015

RhoDeo 1547 Grooves


Today's artists with their slinky, horn-powered grooves, impeccable musicianship, and eye-popping album covers, the Ohio Players were among the top funk bands of the mid-'70s. For a second and last time here to.  ... N'joy

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Emerging from the musical hotbed of Dayton in 1959, the group was originally dubbed the Ohio Untouchables, and initially comprised singer/guitarist Robert Ward, bassist Marshall "Rock" Jones, saxophonist/guitarist Clarence "Satch" Satchell, drummer Cornelius Johnson, and trumpeter/trombonist Ralph "Pee Wee" Middlebrooks. In late 1961, a relative of Ward's founded the Detroit-based Lupine Records, and the group traveled north to the Motor City to back the Falcons on their hit "I Found a Love"; the Ohio Untouchables soon made their headlining debut with "Love Is Amazing,". Ward had proved to be an unreliable leader, who would sometimes, during gigs, walk off the stage, forcing the group to stop playing. Eventually, the group vowed to keep playing even after he left. Ward and Jones got into a fistfight in 1964, after which the group broke up.

At that point, the nucleus of Middlebrooks, Jones, and newly added guitarist Leroy "Sugarfoot" Bonner returned to Dayton; there they recruited saxophonist Andrew Noland and drummer Gary Webster, the latter a somewhat elusive figure whose true involvement in the group's convoluted history has never been definitively answered -- some sources credit him as a founding Untouchable, others even as the band's early leader. In any case, by 1967, with the subsequent addition of singers Bobby Lee Fears and Dutch Robinson, the newly rechristened Ohio Players were signed as the house band for the New York-based Compass Records, backing singer Helena Ferguson on her lone hit, "Where Is the Party," before issuing their solo debut, "Trespassin'," which hit the R&B charts in early 1968.

Although the Players' trademark bottom-heavy, horn-driven sound was already blossoming, their follow-up, "It's a Cryin' Shame," flopped, and as Compass teetered on the brink of bankruptcy they exited the label. (Their early Compass sides were later packaged as First Impressions.) the Players then landed on Capitol, where 1969's "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" was a minor hit; an LP, Observations in Time, soon followed, with covers of "Summertime" and "Over the Rainbow" offering a strong hint of the stylistic detours to follow. In 1970 the group disbanded, however; Fears and Robinson both mounted solo careers, while the remaining members again decamped to Dayton, eventually re-forming with keyboardist, vocalist, and songwriter Walter "Junie" Morrison, trumpeter Bruce Napier, and trombonist Marvin Pierce.

Influenced by the groundbreaking funk of Sly & the Family Stone -- and with the nasal, cartoon-voiced Bonner assuming vocal duties -- the new Ohio Players lineup made their debut with the single "Pain," issued on the small local label Rubber Town Sounds; it was soon picked up for distribution by the Detroit-based Westbound label, reaching the R&B Top 40 in late 1971. An LP, also titled Pain, appeared that same year, and was followed in 1972 by Pleasure, which launched the absurdist smash "Funky Worm." Ecstacy appeared in 1973, and after 1974's Climax, the Players signed to Mercury; the label change also heralded yet more lineup changes, with keyboardist Billy Beck replacing Morrison (who later signed on with Parliament) and drummer Jimmy "Diamond" Williams taking over for Webster.

At Mercury, the Ohio Players enjoyed their greatest success; not only did their sound coalesce, but they became notorious for their sexually provocative LP covers, a tradition begun during their Westbound tenure. Their 1974 Mercury debut, Skin Tight, was their first unequivocal classic, launching the hit title track as well as "Jive Turkey." Its follow-up, Fire, remains the Players' masterpiece, topping the pop charts on the strength of its bone-rattling title cut, itself a number one hit; "I Want to Be Free," one of the band's few attempts at social commentary, was also highly successful. 1975's Honey -- which featured perhaps the Players' most controversial and erotic cover to date -- was another monster, generating the chart-topping masterpiece "Love Rollercoaster" in addition to the hits "Sweet Sticky Thing" and "Fopp."

The insistent "Who'd She Coo?" from 1976's Contradiction, was the Players' last number one R&B hit; "O-H-I-O," from 1977's Angel, was their last major hit on any chart, and as the '70s drew to a close, the band's fortunes continued to decline. 1979's Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee was their final Mercury effort, and upon signing to Arista, the Players returned with Everybody Up, followed by a pair of dismal releases on Boardwalk, 1981's Tenderness and 1982's Ouch! After 1984's Graduation, four years passed prior to the release of their next effort, Back. No new material was forthcoming, although various lineups continued performing live well into the following decades. Despite the deaths of core members Satchell (December 1995), Middlebrooks (November 1997), Ward (December 2008), Johnson (February 2009), and Bonner (January 2013), the band continued to sporadically record and extensively tour. On August 17, 2013, The Ohio Players were inducted into the inaugural class of the Official R&B Music Hall of Fame that took place at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Ohio.

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After greatly increasing their visibility with Skin Tight, the Ohio Players became even more visible with Fire -- an unpredictable masterpiece that boasted such explosive horn-driven funk jewels as "Smoke" and the wildly addictive title song. The Players were always best known for their hard-edged funk, but in fact, there was much more to their legacy. "I Want to Be Free," the almost innocent "Together," and the remorseful "It's All Over" demonstrate that their ballads and slower material could be first-rate soul treasures. The influence of gospel imagery and the black church experience had asserted itself on Skin Tight's "Is Anybody Gonna Be Saved," and does so once again on the intense "What the Hell" and the hit "Runnin' From the Devil." Without question, Fire was one of the Ohio Players' greatest triumphs -- both commercially and artistically.

Ohio Players - Fire  (flac 200mb)

01 Fire 4:33
02 Together 3:06
03 Runnin' From The Devil 4:47
04 I Want To Be Free 6:52
05 Smoke 5:58
06 It's All Over 4:14
07 What The Hell 5:36
08 Together / Feelings 1:12

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Honey may have had the most controversial LP cover of 1975. Its erotic cover, which depicted a nude model covered in honey, was protested by feminists when it was alleged that the model had become stuck to the floor during the photo shoot. Some retailers, in fact, refused to carry it. All the controversy certainly didn't hurt the album commercially. In 1975, the Ohio Players were one of R&B's most successful acts, and were inescapable for anyone who listened to black radio at the time. The album kept the band's commercial momentum going thanks to such hard-driving funk as "Love Rollercoaster" (a song that was sampled to death by rappers in the 1980s and '90s and covered by the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1996), "Fopp," and the playfully jazz-influenced hit "Sweet Sticky Thing." While the Players' outstanding contributions to funk would continue to have an enormous impact long after the band's popularity faded, it's important to stress that only about half of Honey falls into the funk category. In fact, lead singer Sugarfoot's moving performance on the remorseful "Alone" makes one wish that the Players' ballads were discussed more often.

Ohio Players - Honey  (flac 196mb)

01 Honey 5:19
02 Fopp 3:52
03 Love Rollercoaster 4:54
04 Ain't Givin' Up No Ground 1:42
05 Sweet Sticky Thing 6:16
06 Let's Do It (Interpolated With Let's Love) 5:18
07 Alone 4:37

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Upon the release of this album, the Ohio Players were at the pinnacle of their long music careers, which date back to the late '50s. This album produced the number one Billboard R&B single "Who'd She Coo." The rhythm arrangement and jazzy horn arrangement are complemented by a titillating guitar, colorful vocals, and a suggestive lyric. While the title is "Who'd She Coo," the chant is actually "oochie coo", but was modified due to its racy content. The ballad "My Life," with its rolling rhythm and frigid background vocals, shines with Leroy Bonner's agile baritone. Still on a somber note, "Bi-Centennial" sends a social message to the masses, and the title track is a direct reflection of life. Some of these compositions stray from the course with instrumental interludes, but that can be understood considering that the group was initially assembled as an instrumental band. "Who'd She Coo" was the funk ensemble's last number one hit, but they would return to the Top Ten on their album, Angel, with "O-H-I-O." Though there were competitive groups emerging, internal strife facilitated the demise of this pioneering funk band.

Ohio Players - Contradiction  (flac 237mb)

01 Contradiction 4:36
02 Precious Love 4:55
03 Little Lady Maria 4:16
04 Far East Mississippi 4:54
05 Who'd She Coo? 4:31
06 My Life 3:58
07 Tell The Truth 3:39
08 My Ladies Run Me Crazy 3:54
09 Bi-Centennial 3:45

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After taking a break from aggressive, sweaty funk on Mr. Mean, the Ohio Players made an artistically successful return to it with the neglected Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee. By 1978, their popularity had decreased considerably, and funk fans were much more interested in what newer arrivals like Cameo, Bootsy Collins, Slave and Rick James were up to. But the Players still had some life left in them, and energetic offerings like "Dance (If Ya Wanta)," "Sleepwalkin'" and the single "Funk-O-Knots" aren't anything to be ashamed of. This album may not be in a class with Skin Tight, Fire, or Honey, but it's certainly decent. Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee turned out to be the Players' last album for Mercury -- after that, they moved to Arista and recorded one more worthwhile album, 1979's Everybody Up. And when the early 1980s rolled around, a downsized version of the Players would end up on Boardwalk and record the worst albums of their career.

Ohio Players - Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee  (flac 228mb)

01 unk-O-Nots 4:53
02 Sleepwalkin' 5:32
03 Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee 8:13
04 Nott Enuff 5:00
05 Time Slips Away / Shoot Yer Shot 7:12
06 Dance (If Ya Wanta) 6:13

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El Isabelino said...

Downloaded all the Ohio Players albums, thanks Rho. But had a problem with the the song Honey on the Honey Lp. It's all static/noise. No problem with the rest of the Lp or with the other albums. I downloaded it three times to make sure but still the same issue. Thanks.

Rho said...

Hello Isa, the file plays fine with me using foobar with dts installed. an excellent player which offers plenty of fast conversion possibilities as well..

Jams Runt said...

Hey Rho,

Sorry I forgot to thank you for the Sonic Youth. Could you re-up Fire? It would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for all your fine work.