The Funk will live on

Attorney Merle F. Wilberding is one of our regular community contributors.

With the death last week of Marshall Jones, one of the founders of the Ohio Players, Dayton Funk lost one of its legends and the music world lost another musical genius.

Marshall Jones and the Ohio Players skyrocketed to fame. Beginning as The Untouchables in Dayton they soon changed their name to the Ohio Players and produced some of the greatest funk hits of all time, hits like “Love Rollercoaster,” “Fire,” “Skin Tight,” and “Honey.” Their music was terrific, and they all contributed: Marshall “The Rock” Jones, Leroy “Sugar” Bonner, Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks, James “Diamond” Williams, Clarence “Satch” Satchell, Billy Beck and Marvin Pierce.

Beginning in the late 1970s I began working with the Ohio Players on a number of projects. At the time, Marshall Jones was the leader of the group. It was clear early on that relationships were important to Marshall. One day, he brought me out to his house on Peters Pike, where he lived for many years. He showed me several pieces of artwork that he had done, including some pottery sculpture. Then he brought me into his inner sanctum, a room he devoted to replicating the universe.

He had painted the entire room black, except for the stars he had speckled throughout the walls. Hanging from the ceiling by fine filament line was our entire galaxy, in perfectly proportioned and perfectly painted replicas of the sun, all the planets, and other symbols of the rest of our universe. Marshall was obviously very proud of this room, not only for its artistic beauty but for what it did for his inner soul. As I listened to him, I could see an inner peace come over him as he talked about his life, but, more importantly, talked about his life in the larger context of the universe. This was a special moment, and one I will always treasure.

Another special moment, but for completely different reasons, was when Marshall asked me to come to Los Angeles to join him to meet with Clive Davis, the president of Arista Records. The Ohio Players had signed a recording deal with Arista Records shortly before I first met with the Ohio Players, but they had not yet personally met with Clive Davis. I, of course, dressed up in my gray suit and tie, while Marshall dressed down in his Levi overalls, making us look exactly like what we were — a rock star accompanied by one of “The Suits.”

The meeting took place in the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Clive Davis had a long term lease for a gigantic suite. This was a rare meeting between a recording star and a music mogul of historic proportion. I was very impressed with Marshall’s ability to convey to Clive Davis his vision for the future of the Ohio Players.

Sadly, four of the seven original members of the Ohio Players have now passed on: The Rock, Sugar, Pee Wee and Satch. Of the three remaining, Marvin Pierce has been living in Australia for many years, pursuing his own interests. Diamond Williams has remained in Dayton and has been leading the Ohio Players in still another resurgence of their popularity, with Billy Beck continuing at the keyboards.

The Ohio Players have made a real and valuable contribution to music. They should be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Closer to home, the Dayton community has memorialized them at the Funk Museum. At the same time, the Dayton community has lost another musical legend with the death of Marshall Jones, but his fame and funk will live on and will forever be his legacy.