CULT CLASSIC: THE OHIO PLAYERS-ECSTASY.
Cult Classic: The Ohio Players-Ecstasy.
It wasn’t until The Ohio Players signed with Westbound, and released their sophomore album Pain in 1972, that commercial success their way. The group was founded in 1959 and originally was 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 Dayton-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 and even psychedelic. Walter “Junie” Morrison’s keyboards played an important part in the album
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.
Ten months later, The Ohio Players released Pleasure in December 1972. The album was still soulful and funky, and sometimes moved in the direction of jazz. However, The Ohio Players revived the vocal harmonies that had been part of their original sound. They added to the radio friendly sound of some of the songs on Pleasure. Other songs were the result of late-night jam sessions. These would play their part in the sound and success of Pleasure.
Just like Pain, critics were won over by Pleasure, and the album received plaudits and praise. It reached sixty-three on the US Billboard 200 and four on the US R&B charts. When Funky Worm was released as a single, it reached number fifteen on the US Billboard 100 and topped the US R&B charts. This gave The Ohio Players biggest hit single of their career and they would become one of the most successful funk groups of the early seventies.
Buoyed by the success of Pleasure, The Ohio Players began work on their much-anticipated fourth album Ecstasy in early 1973. The group wrote eight new tracks and covered Louis Crane and Belda Baine’s Not So Sad and Lonely and Food Stamps Y’all. These ten tracks became Ecstasy which was arranged by Walter “Junie” Morrison’ and co-produced by The Ohio Players..
When Ecstasy was released in September 1973 their fourth album was well received by critics, who poured praise on what was another carefully crafted album of tough, sweaty funk and sweet soul. Sometimes, though the album headed in the direction of jazz as The Ohio Players showcase their versatility and ability to switch between and fuse disparate musical genres. That was apparent throughout the album.
Ecstasy opens with the title-track which is soulful and sensual slice of funk. The Ohio Players then head in the direction of sweet soul on You and Me. Not So Sad and Lonely sounds as if its roots were in a jam session as the group combine jazz and funk and add another soulful vocal to create one of the highlights of Ecstasy. Slow, sultry, funky, jazz-tinged and soulful describes (I Wanna Know) Do You Feel It? The tempo is still slow on Black Cat which closes side one and finds The Ohio Players at their funkiest and features a sassy, sensuous vocal.
Food Stamps Y’all which opens side one finds The Ohio Players combining funk, fusion and jazz-funk on a track that was released as the second single from Ecstasy. Another highlight of the album is Spinning which is another funky cut with a heartfelt, soulful vocal. Sleep Talk features another soulful vocal which is combined with a funky arrangement that packs a punch. The tempo is dropped on Silly Billy which features a tender and almost wistful vocal. Closing Ecstasy is Short Change which has a tougher, funkier sound than many of the tracks on the album. It shows another side to The Ohio Players
When Ecstasy was released in September 1973 it reached seventy on the US Billboard 200 and nineteen on the US R&B charts. The lead single Ecstasy reached thirty on the US Billboard 100 and twelve in the US R&B charts. Then wen Food Stamps Y’All was released as a single it failed to trouble the carts. Although Ecstasy didn’t quite match the success of Pleasure, the rise and rise of The Ohio Players continued.
Their next four albums they released on Mercury went on to sell over 3.5 millions copies, with three being certified platinum and one gold. The Ohio Players released eight albums between 1972 and 1976 that sold in excess of six million copies and were one of the most successful funk band in the world.
This began with Pain which was released in February 1972 and was The Ohio Players’ first album for Westbound. It was also the album that launched and transformed their career. After thirteen years of struggling to make a breakthrough they were enjoying commercial success and critical acclaim.
The commercial success continued when Pleasure was released in December 1972. Just like Pain, it was released to plaudits and praise and The Ohio Players were well on their way to becoming one of the most successful funk bands of the seventies.
This continued when they returned in September 1973 with Pleasure. While it wasn’t as successful as Pain and Pleasure the music was was ambitious, innovative and progressive. Seamlessly, The Ohio Players switched between and fused funk, fusion, jazz, jazz-funk and soul to create a truly timeless and heady musical brew on Ecstasy which was the group’s swansong for Westbound.
Cult Classic: The Ohio Players-Ecstasy.