The final instalment in our programme to reissue the Ohio Players’ three Westbound albums on vinyl. Standard weight black vinyl in a gatefold featuring another of Joel Brodsky’s iconic cover photos.
Hailing from Dayton in the southwest corner of Ohio, the Ohio Untouchables comprised local guitar hero Robert Ward, Cornelius Johnson (drums) and three musicians who would become the mainstay of the Ohio Players: Marshall “Rock” Jones (bass), Clarence “Satch” Satchell (sax and guitar) and Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks (trombone and trumpet). Their most notable achievement was as the backing band on the Falcons’ 1962 hit ‘I Found A Love’. Following singles of their own on the Lu Pine label, Ward left for a solo career, by which time the band had recruited guitarist Leroy “Sugarbear” Bonner. Returning to Dayton, the line-up was boosted by Andrew Noland (bass) and new drummer Gregory Webster. Joe Harris – later of the Undisputed Truth – fronted the group for a while, but by the time they were ready to record he had been replaced by Bobby Lee Fears and Dutch Robinson.
Their first release as the Ohio Players was for Ray Charles’ Tangerine label in 1967. They became a sort of house band for the New York-based Compass Records, also releasing two 45s on the label. They then licensed some tapes to Capitol who released them as the album “Observations In Time”. When the vocalists left the group, the remaining members returned to Dayton, where Bruce Napier (trumpet), Marvin Pierce (trombone) and Walter “Junie” Morrison (keyboards and vocals) were added to the long-term line up.
The song ‘Pain’, recorded in Nashville for the Top Hit label in 1971, demonstrated their new funky sound and gained attention straight away. Detroit indie label Westbound heard it and signed the band. Reissued on Westbound, the record became a Top 40 R&B hit. The fold-out cover of their subsequent “Pain” album featured Joel Brodsky’s iconic photograph of shaven-headed model Pat Evans about to whip a man bent over backwards on the floor. The album charted at a relatively modest #21, but the six months it spent on the charts was an indicator of what was to come.
The band was touring heavily and just a hit away from major success, which came with their next album, the similarly packaged “Pleasure”, and the chart-topping ‘Funky Worm’. The album was preceded by the release of the single ‘Got Pleasure’. Based around a bouncing piano groove, tight horns, exciting flute and ecstatic vocals, the single should have marked the band’s breakthrough, but it stalled at #45 R&B. The album – like its predecessor, a mixture of furious funk grooves and smooth soul ballads – snuck into the charts at the end of 1972. Released as a single in early 1973, ‘Funky Worm’ was an absurd piece of funk based around a conversation between a granny and a graveyard worm, fuelled by a distinctive synth line by Junie Morrison. It charted at #1 R&B and Top 20 Pop, reactivating interest in the album, which rose to #4 R&B.
Their third Westbound album “Ecstasy” was packaged in a sleeve featuring Joel Brodsky’s photo of leather-clad Pat Evans, this time chained to two scantily dressed men. The music was brilliant. The mix of funk, soul and sheer joyous invention found its outlet in what is probably the strongest overall set by the band. ‘Sleep Talk’, ‘Food Stamps Y’all’ and the title track all pack a mighty punch, while songs such as ‘You And Me’ show the band’s deft touch with the more soulful material. However, the band’s minds were elsewhere, and within months they were recording for their new label, Mercury. This probably had an effect on the chart positions achieved by the “Ecstasy” LP and its singles, ‘Ecstasy’ and ‘Food Stamps Y’all’. Their split with Westbound saw them shed Junie Morrison and drummer Gary Webster. Junie went on to record three albums under his own name for Westbound, before joining Funkadelic.
From the summer of 1973, when ‘Funky Worm’ topped the charts, until the Bicentennial Summer of 1976, the Ohio Players were one of the hottest acts in the USA. Their combination of sensual soul, sleazy funk and X-rated album covers meant that gold records and #1 hits were the order of the day. Post-Westbound, they scored three gold singles, two gold albums and three platinum. Their sound is still one of the most influential in 70s funk.