Funk Legend Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner will be remembered by his friends and family as being a quintessential guitar player, mentor and a loving father.
The co-founder of the Dayton-based funk band Ohio Players died Saturday after a battle with cancer, according to family.
Bonner, whose career spanned 56 years, died just shy of his 70th birthday, according to a post on his Facebook page. “While his family, friends, colleagues, and fans mourn his passing they celebrate fondly his memory, music and legacy,” the posting stated.
The Hamilton native was the lead singer and guitarist of the Ohio Players since he joined the band in 1971.
“I would compare him to a commercial Jimi Hendrix, but Sugar was more refined,” said John “Turk” Logan Jr., president and CEO of Logan Communications and WTRK Internet Radio. “Sugar was probably one of the most prolific guitar players and musicians of our time.”
“He could play orchestrated chords on two necks. The average guitar player did all he could do to play six strings,” said James “Mississippi Red” Thornton, leader of the Bumble-Bee-Licious Blues Band. “Leroy was a guitar player’s guitarist, meaning that he did things with the instrument. He wasn’t afraid to try new tones and it always worked.”
Close friend Donald “Duck” Blanton, 56, of CITYBOY Entertainment, called Bonner a “big brother, mentor, motivator, leader and someone to look up to.”
Ronald L. Bonner Sr., 65, of Hamilton, said his older brother was the oldest of 12 children who left Hamilton to start his musical career as a teenager.
“I am proud of his accomplishments and that he did what he set out to do,” Bonner said.
Ronald Bonner and two of Leroy Bonner’s daughters said they found out about Leroy Bonner’s death on the Internet and as of Monday afternoon had not been able to get in contact with their father’s girlfriend, who they said lived with Leroy Bonner in Trotwood.
Despite this, the daughters Trellis Jones and Phabreanne Bonner wanted to focus on the good times they had with their father when contacted by the Dayton Daily News. The Cincinnati residents both described him as being a man with a sense of humor who loved to spend time with family.
Phabreanne Bonner said people would often ask her about she felt about being the daughter of a celebrity. “I didn’t see any difference in him being a performer than him whipping my butt when I was wrong,” she said.
Jones, 51, added that her father loved listening to Blues Legend B.B. King and had nicknamed his double neck guitar, Messiah.
They said they were hurt when their father told them in September that he was diagnosed with cancer and that it had spread throughout his body.
“It crushed us to find out that this is going on like this and this fast,” said Phabreanne Bonner, 48.
Cincinnati family members said they are planning a memorial that will be held at a later date. They said no public funeral services will be scheduled.
The Ohio Players rocketed onto the international stage in the 1970s with string of funk hits, including “Fire,” “Skin Tight” and “Love Rollercoaster.”
“He was one of the most talented and influential musicians of the era,” said Michael Sampson, director of the Land of Funk Museum and Hall of Fame, which is scheduled to open in Dayton in March. “He was copied. He was idolized by so many artists, who tried to emulate his style. He was the perfect icon for the perfect band.”
The Ohio Players will be one of the bands featured in the museum’s exhibits when it opens later this year.