The Ohio Players started in Dayton, Ohio in 1959 and after enduring some changes, the group landed their first big hit “Funky Worm,” with many more to come, which landed them a place in history. (Courtesy photo)

By Ralph E. Moore Jr.
Special to the AFRO

If you can remember the rockin’ music of the 1970s, you’ll recall it wasn’t all disco music. There was Motown Music and the Sound of Philadelphia and don’t you dare forget the rhythm and blues of the Midwest making folks move their feet. That was the sound of the Ohio Players: horns, drums, keyboard and their equally great instrument: the singing voices from the members of the band. Some called their music funk and others labeled it “rhythm and blues with a flair.”

Their song titles revealed them as not an ordinary band. “Fire,” “Love Rollercoaster” and “Skin Tight” were all award winning albums from the Ohio Players. One can still hear them on the radio if you tune to the right station, such as Soul Town on Sirius. But now the group is also on tour.  They just played to 10,000 people in Dayton, Ohio in late September.  It must have been like a homecoming.

The Ohio Players started in Dayton, Ohio in 1959 as a back-up group for vocalists known as The Falcons (their album, “I Found a Love”).  That edition of the Ohio Players broke up in 1964 and re-formed in 1970 with 9 members.  The band’s first big hit was “Funky Worm” which climbed to #1 on Billboard’s Rhythm and Blues Chart; you can hear the little animal in the instruments’ wiggling throughout the song.

The Ohio Players had 17 top 40 hits between 1973 and 1976.  Their last hit was “Who’d She Coo?” in ’76.

Recently this writer had a conversation with James “Diamond” Williams, the band’s drummer for the last fifty years and now the band’s leader.  

AFRO: Is there an Ohio Sound such as there is a Motown Sound (Smokey, Stevie, Diana, Marvin)? and the Sound of Philadelphia (Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Billy Paul, The Three Degrees)? In other words, is there a Midwestern sound?

James Williams (JW):Oh my God, are you kidding me? Of course, there is. You know the Ohio Players are from the Dayton area, the O’Jays started out in Canton, Ohio, the founder of the Pretenders was from Akron, Ohio and John Legend is from Cleveland.

AFRO: What’s the difference between your music, which dates back to the 1970s and the music that is being created these days?

JW: Music today does not make you want to move (dance) as ours does. It’s not catchy to the ear. Machines make the music today, the vocals and the instrumentation. It’s all programming nowadays. People could sing in the old days; they did not use auto tune to correct their singing. 

The Ohio Players were inducted into the first class of the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame in August of 2013. The RBHOF is not to be confused with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame which is a museum in Cleveland. There is no structure to the National Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame yet; it has held virtual induction ceremonies and is a groundbreaking traveling exhibit at least until a site is agreed upon.

The Ohio Players will be performing in the Baltimore area at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club on Oct. 29 and 30, 2021 at 8:00 p.m. But tickets are only available for the Oct. 30 show at this point. The Oct. 29 show is already sold out. Ticket prices range from $79-99. For further information go to bbjlive.com.

Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, Virginia on May 27 and 28, 2022 (Friday and Saturday) at 7:30 p.m.  Limited Seats are available. For assistance purchasing tickets, call the Birchmere sales line at 1-800-746-9213 seven days a week from 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (CST).

The Ohio Players are back.  Treat yourselves and go see them. Get tickets while they’re still available.

9/28/21