Dayton’s mighty The Ohio Players deserve a spot in Rock Hall of Fame

There is so much to love about Montgomery County: The Ohio Players  were the trailblazers of a virtual Rhythm & Blues empire with its roots in Dayton. This band popularized a specific genre of R&B music known as  Street Funk.  They were the first American band from the Dayton area to go gold with an album earning over $1 million and the first to go platinum with an album selling a million copies. They have been called the premiere R&B band in the nation during the 1970s, popularizing a distinctive Midwestern sound and reaching an international following with European and Japanese tours. The Ohio Players  music continues to energize artists of subsequent generations, and many young hip-hop musicians cite the influence of their sound.
There is so much to love about Montgomery County: The Ohio Players were the trailblazers of a virtual Rhythm & Blues empire with its roots in Dayton. This band popularized a specific genre of R&B music known as Street Funk. They were the first American band from the Dayton area to go gold with an album earning over $1 million and the first to go platinum with an album selling a million copies. They have been called the premiere R&B band in the nation during the 1970s, popularizing a distinctive Midwestern sound and reaching an international following with European and Japanese tours. The Ohio Players music continues to energize artists of subsequent generations, and many young hip-hop musicians cite the influence of their sound.

Credit: HANDOUT

Credit: HANDOUT

This commentary by Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson appeared on the Ideas and Voices page Sunday, Feb. 7.

Few things say rock and roll as clearly as keyboardist Billy Beck’s high-pitched scream before the lyrics kick in and the song “Love Rollercoaster” sends listeners up and down hills with “oohh oohh oohhs.”

This says nothing of “Fire,” “Funky Worm,” “Skin Tight,” “O-H-I-O,” “Sweet Sticky Thing,” “I want to be free” or “Jive Turkey.”

Yet the Ohio Players, Beck’s then band and Dayton’s always pride, seemingly remain as far outside Rock and Roll Hall of Fame contention as a tone deaf jive turkey.

ExploreWhy aren’t the Ohio Players in Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

As my colleague Don Thrasher wrote in an article last December, Daytonian Keith Jenkins of the Oniru Group and Sculptures of Sound Music created a Change.org drive to get attention for the Players.

File photo of Leroy Bonner from June 1, 1975. Leroy "Sugarfoot" Bonner, frontman for the hit-making funk music band the Ohio Players, has died in southwest Ohio. He was 69.
File photo of Leroy Bonner from June 1, 1975. Leroy "Sugarfoot" Bonner, frontman for the hit-making funk music band the Ohio Players, has died in southwest Ohio. He was 69.

Credit: Dayton Daily News File

Credit: Dayton Daily News File

The Players were a big deal as the petition signed by 2,500 people explains.

It reads in part:

“The Ohio Players began as ‘The Ohio Untouchables’ in 1959 and have thus made music for 61 years; and still scheduled to tour in 2021. Yet with this rich legacy and genre molding influence, they have not been inducted into the prestigious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.

“Their illustrious career has produced 14 Top 20 hits, with six No. 1 songs, two No. 1 pop albums at a time when the greatest collection of modern music legends performed, such as The Beatles, Queen, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Presley, Elton John, Aretha Franklin, Jackson 5, Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra and many others.

“They also scored 14 gold and platinum records with three consecutive platinum albums (a feat unparalleled for funk bands).”

More than that, they were musicians with Afros envied by the gods.

ExploreOhio Players Way? Locals seek to honor Dayton funk pioneers

Don’t get me wrong, there are many great bands, but I argue that few had the lasting impact of the Ohio Players.

In the 1970s and 1980s, southwestern Ohio ― particularly Dayton’s West Side ― was known for its stable of funk bands that included Zapp and Roger, Faze-O, Heatwave, Sun, Slave and Lakeside.

Their influence can be heard in hip-hop, house and other musical forms popular today through sampling, covers and remixes.

James Diamond Williams, born and raised in Dayton, joined the Ohio Players in 1972 and remained with them while they churned out many top 40 hits. CONTRIBUTED
James Diamond Williams, born and raised in Dayton, joined the Ohio Players in 1972 and remained with them while they churned out many top 40 hits. CONTRIBUTED

The Ohio Players ― the granddaddies of ‘em all ― have seen their songs sampled or remade by Snoop Dogg, Puff Daddy, Russ, Jay-Z, Salt-N-Pepa, Soundgarden, Action Bronson, A Tribe Called Quest, Mary J. Blige and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

ExploreDayton drummer makes Rolling Stone top 100 list

The Ohio Players’ manager James “Diamond” Williams, one of Rolling Stone magazine’s greatest 100 drummers of all-time, still performs with the band, but many of the band’s core members have died.

I certainly do not know what could get the attention of the 30 or so members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation nominating committee based in New York. I wish there were some sort of fire alarm I could pull or siren I could ignite.

ExploreFigure out the funk Dayton

I’d tell them that the Ohio Players formed in Dayton made an undeniable impact on the American music known as rock. They ramped up the bassline and were and are on “the one.”

The Ohio Players’ musical legacy lives on.

It is shameful that they have not received the national recognition they deserve inside the celebrated music hall on the shore of this state’s Lake Erie.

Community Impact Editor Amelia Robinson has written a column for the Dayton Daily News since 2006.

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