Classic Album: The Ohio Players-Pain.

It wasn’t until The Ohio Players signed with Westbound, and released their sophomore album Pain in 1972, that commercial success came the way of a group that was founded in 1959. Originally, they were known as The Ohio Untouchables, and had a chequered history.

Initially, The Ohio Untouchables lineup featured drummer Cornelius Johnson, bassist Marshall “Rock” Jones, guitarist and vocalist Robert Ward, guitarist and saxophonist Clarence “Satch” Satchel plus trombonist and trumpeter Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks. In the early days, the Drayton-based quintet was best known as The Falcons’ backing band. This allowed the group to hone their sound before heading out on their own.

When The Ohio Untouchables started playing live, it soon became apparent that Robert Ward was an unreliable bandleader. He would suddenly walk off the stage during concerts forcing the band to stop playing. Eventually, the band decided to keep playing when their leader left the stage. However, things came to a head in 1964 when Robert Ward and bassist Marshall “Rock” Jones got into fight onstage. This resulted in the group splitting up for the first time.

Robert Ward decoded to draft in new musicians, while the rest of The Ohio Untouchables headed home to Drayton. That was where they discovered guitarist Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner who became the band’s lead singer. The other new recruit was drummer Gregory Webster. This wasn’t the end of the changes.

The group decided to change direction musically and starting playing R&B. This allowed them to play to new  Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner’s strengths, and meant they weren’t competing with Robert Ward’s group. With that, the new group began playing live.

In 1965, the group decided changed its name to The Ohio Players. The reason for this was because of how the group perceived themselves as musicians and “ladies men.”

The newly named group added two more singers to its lineup. Bobby Lee Fears and Dutch Robinson joined The Ohio Players who were ready to record their debut single.

By then, they were managed by Johnny Brantley a manager and producer. He recorded The Ohio Players’ debut single This Thing Called Love which was released on Ray Charles’ Tangerine Records in 1967. However, the single failed to find an audience and The Ohio Players moved on.

Johnny Brantley arranged for the group to become the house band at New York-based Compass Records. They played on various recordings and backed Helena Ferguson on her top thirty single Where Is The Party? 

The Ohio Players also released two singles on Compass Records during 1967. This included Trespassin’ and It’s A Crying Shame. Despite neither single making any impression on the charts, an expanded lineup began recording the group’s debut album. 

By then, vocalist Helena Ferguson Kilpatrick had joined the group. She was part of the expanded lineup who began recording what later became Observations In Time. It was nearly completed when their manager decided to license the album to Capitol Records. This seemed a strange decision.

It turned out that Compass Records wasn’t in the best financial health. That was why the incomplete version of Observations In Time was licensed to Capitol Records. However, the decision backfired when Observations In Time was released in 1968 and although it was a hit in Ohio, it failed to make any impression on the national charts. This was a huge disappointment for The Ohio Players.

So was the commercial failure of the single Here Today and Gone Tomorrow in the UK in 1970. Executives at Capitol Records thought that the single would sell well in the UK. However, this wasn’t the case and was another disappointment for the band.

Just two years after the release of their debut album The Ohio Players split-up in 1970. It looked like the end of the road for the band.

It wasn’t, and the group reformed with a new lineup. This included  drummer Gregory Webster, bassist Marshall “Rock” Jones, guitarist and guitarist and saxophonist Clarence “Satch” Satchel. They were joined by trombonist and trumpeter Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks, trumpeter Bruce Napier, trombonist Marvin Pierce, keyboardist Walter “Junie” Morrison plus vocalists Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner and Charles Dale Allen. The new line-up was the start of a new and exciting chapter for The Ohio Players.

Especially when a local label Top Hit sent the group to Sound Recorders in Nashville, to record a new eight-track album. By then, The Ohio Players had discovered that Walter “Junie” Morrison was the group’s secret weapon. Not only was he a talented, inventive and progressive keyboardist who also played guitar and drums. He was part of the group that recorded an album’s worth of funky and sometimes jazz-tinged cover versions. However, when the label listened to the tracks the highlight of the session was Pain, a funky instrumental.

By then, The Ohio Players had come to the attention of Armen Boladian who had founded Westbound Records in 1968. He had signed Funkadelic who were well on their way to becoming one of the most innovative and successful funk bands of the seventies. They were joined in 1971 by The Ohio Players.

Having signed to Westbound Records, Pain (Part 1) was rerecorded and released in 1971, and reached sixty-four in the US Billboard 100 and thirty-five in the US R&B charts. Across the border in Canada, the single reached ninety-one giving The Ohio Players a minor hit single. This was just a start for Armen Boladian’s latest signing. 

Buoyed by the success of Pain, Armen Boladian was keen that The Ohio Players release an album soon. They could’ve released the material recorded in Nashville as their sophomore album, but Armen Boladian decided to send the group into the studio to record a new album.

When they entered the studio The Ohio Players were joined by two new recruits. This included vocalist and saxophonist James Johnson and Dale Allen who was going to share the lead vocal. However, his time with the group was cut short after he had a heated argument with Clarence Satchell in the studio during the third day of the recording session. That was the end of his time with The Ohio Players.

They had written the six tracks that became Pain and coproduced the album with Herb James and Billy Pittman. Once the album was completed, it was scheduled for release in early 1972.

When Pain was released in February 1972, it still featured some of sound that appeared on their debut album Observations in Time. However, the album was funky and had a tough, slick, polished sound that was soulful and sometimes, jazz-tinged. Walter “Junie” Morrison’s keyboards played an important part in the album  

Pain opened with the funky, jazz-infused instrumental Pain, and showcases The Ohio Players’ new sound. It’s followed by the soulful ball Never Had A Dream which later heads in the direction of jazz. Players Balling (Players Doin’ Their Own Thing) has a looser, funkier and vampish sound as the group jam and experiment. The result is a very different tracks to what’s preceded it.

I Wanna Hear From You is a funky, soulful and psychedelic sounding track where Dale Allen and Sugar take charge of lead vocal. The Reds is a progressive genre-melting track where elements of blues, funk, jazz and rock are combined by The Ohio Players. They close the album with Singing In The Morning which features Granny on a track that has a looser, space sound and finds the band combining a jazz, funk and soul. It brought to an end The Ohio Players’ Westbound Records’ debut, Pain.

 It was also an album of firsts. Pain was the first Ohio Players’ album to feature the group’s romantic, sensual sound and featured songs that were devoted to their love of women. It was also the first album to feature what many regarded as a suggestive photo on the album cover. The Ohio Players knowing that: “sex sells” used a Joel Brodsky photo of a woman in leather underwear dominating a prostrate man. This was a controversial photo and similar to the one on the cover of Funkadelic’s album Free Your Mind. 

The other first was the inclusion of Walter “Junie” Morrison’s character Granny on Pain. She featured on all their Westbound Records’ albums and he revisited the character on his solo albums. That was in the future.

Before that, The Ohio Players released Pain in February 1972, and it reached 177 in the US Billboard 200 and twenty-one in the US R&B charts. This was enough for Pain to be certified gold and was the start of the most successful period of the band’s career.

They released eight albums between 1972 and 1976 that sold in excess of six million copies. The Ohio Players were one of the most successful funk band in the world. 

This began with Pain where The Ohio Players music was ambitious, innovative and progressive on Pain, where they combined funk, soul and jazz with elements of blues and psychedelia to create a timeless and heady musical brew.

Classic Album: The Ohio Players-Pain.

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