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Ohio Players in Trenton, 5 Things To Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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Many things come to mind when you think about the Ohio Players. "Funky Worm." "Fire." "Love Rollercoaster." And, oh, those album covers...

Forty-five years after its debut album the Buckeye group from Dayton remains active and on the road, with drummer James "Diamond" Williams, guitarist Clarence "Chet" Willis and keyboardist Billy Beck still around from the glory days. Even in their late 60s they're still funky and still feisty, and a corps of young blood -- some of whom have actually been in the band for a couple decades or more -- is making sure that the "Fire" keeps burning for the foreseeable future...

Williams, 68, says that 45 years ago he and the other Ohio Players "were just striving to create good music." Having it, and the band, endure like it has is a welcome surprise. "I'm amazed that the songs are still being played around the world and people are still enjoying them. And it's the people; without the people we wouldn't keep going. They come out and give their time and their energy. They come to reminisce about these songs and they love the music. If it weren't for them we absolutely wouldn't be out here."

This year also marks the 45th anniversary of "Funky Worm," the group's first No. 1 R&B hit -- a song Williams, as a formally trained musician, had some issues with at the time. "When 'Funky Worm' came out I had just gotten out of college. I was music major, had taken 12 years of private lessons, played in the All City Orchestra, had a music scholarship to university. So to start to play what was such a novelty song when I got in the band was, 'I sure hope we write something a little more challenging...' I thought it was kind of a silly song and was like, 'Oh my, did I get into music to do this?' But it was my first gold single, and I enjoy playing it every night. It's not as musically challenging as our other stuff, but it's a great novelty song."

Williams recalls that the 70s funk/R&B scene when the Ohio Players were most successful was very competitive. "You had so many bands at that time -- Parliament-Funkadelic, Kool & the Gang, the Commodores, Earth, Wind & Fire, even Chicago Transit (Authority) doing there thing. We were coming out of a period when there were a bunch of doo-woppers, like the Dramatics, the Chi-Lites, the Temptations, and then the bands that produced and recorded their own material took over. There was just incredible music being produced, and a lot of it, and we always knew what the other guys were doing."

The Ohio Players also had a reputation for racy, provocative album covers featuring models in various states of dress (or undress) and poses. "Those photographers always did a great job," Williams says. "We were always too busy fighting to finish the albums to go see (the photo shoots), but we were proud of them. We thought if we could get people to stop and look at the album -- and they did -- maybe they would listen to it. People would never stop and look at us, being ugly old guys, but they would stop and look at a nice female black woman."

Although they are the, well, OHIO players, Williams says the group has felt nothing but love and welcome from its Michigan audiences. "It's really funny; To see people from Michigan do the O-H-I-O (chant) is absolutely wonderful. We love everything about Ohio -- Ohio State, Ohio teams, beating the team from Michigan -- we enjoy all that. But when the music playing everyone just gets down and has a good time, together. Nobody's a Wolverine or a Buckeye when that happens."

The 23rd Annual Jazz on the River -- featuring Marsha Ambrosius, Oleta Adams, the Ohio Players and more -- takes place Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 4-5, in Trenton's Elizabeth Park, 4461 Elizabeth Drive. Music starts at 1 p.m. each day. (The Ohio Players perform at 4 p.m. Sunday.) Admission is free, with a $5 suggested donation to for parking. Call 734-261-1990 or visit zonjic.com.

Web Site: www.zonjic.com

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