Ohio Players emerged in the early 70’s as the first wave of Dayton funk bands-which would later go on to include Sun,Heatwave,Slave and Zapp among others. Clarence Satchell,Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks and bassist Marshall Jones were originally members of the Ohio Untouchables. They started out as a backing group for The Falcons-whose members included Wilson Pickett,Eddie Floyd and the Untouchables original lead singer/guitarist Robert Ward. The apparently unreliable Ward was replaced by Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner . The band changed their to name to the Ohio Players by 1965.
The band signed to Westbound in 1970. There they added musicians such as Walter Junie Morrison. He provided their first major hit in the humorous funk groove of “Funky Worm” a couple of years later. In 1974,the band left Westbound and signed to Mercury while Junie stayed behind for a solo career and eventually joining George Clinton’s P-Funk-with George being an admirer of Ohio Players. Right out of the box on Mercury they had a hit which I discovered over 20 years ago in my parents 45 collection. But the album version is another entity altogether. It’s the title song to their Mercury debut Skin Tight.
Marshall Jones gets the party started with one of the most iconic bass lines in 70’s funk-with it’s bluesy base. Wah wah guitar joins in shortly before conga drums lead into the main song. It starts with ascending and descending horn charts. The drum plays a fast tempo that hits heavy on the snare on every other beat. The wah wah and percussion zero right in on the rhythm while the electric piano provides melodic accompaniment. Throughout the song,ascending horns define the chorus while descending horns define the choruses. After an electric piano solo on the bridge,the chorus fades out the song.
The first time I heard this song,it didn’t really occur to me that this was hearing funk 101 as it were. In terms of the mid/late 70’s sound of the genre,this song had it locked down. The call and response lead/falsetto vocals and horns,and the chorus staying right on the one for nearly eight minutes on the album version. Of course,Jones’ bass line became (as my friend Henrique pointed out) the signature riff on songs such as The Commodores “Brick House” a several years later. Ohio Players always gave up the funk after this. But “Skin Tight” is the song that truly got the party going for them on Mercury!
Filed under 1974, Clarence Satchell, Dayton Ohio, drums, electric piano, Funk, Funk Bass, horns, Leroy Sugarfoot Bonner, Marshall Jones, Ohio Players, percussion, Ralph "Pee Wee" Middlebrooks, Uncategorized, wah wah guitar
The Bar Kays have and will probably always continue to funk’s most enduring band for two important reasons. One is that they’ve continually recorded for nearly half a century at this point-always re-imagining the new sounds and grooves of each new time period. Another is that they survived all but two of their original members dying in the same plane crash that killed the singer they backed up: Otis Redding. James Alexander is the only one of these two still in the band. But these Memphis soul survivors have never failed in some way to give up the funk with verve and vitality. And the 70′ were a huge breeding ground for their burgeoning search of the perfect groove.
After 1975 the reformed band,who’d modeled themselves into something of a Southern version of Funkadelic,their original label Stax folded. This put them into a position of having to sign with Mercury Records. Since that was the home of fellow funkateers Ohio Players at the time? It was an excellent move. The Bar Kays first album for the label entitled Too Hot To Stop came out in 1976. There was no shortage of strong funk within it’s eight songs. And it was kind of hard to pick which one to talk about in all honesty. But there was one leaped out at me. One that carried a sound I’d never really heard come from any of their grooves before. It is called “Bang Bang (Strike Em Dead)”.
The band are calling out to each other in rough Spanish or Portuguese from the sound of it over the kinetic Brazilian drums of the intro-just before the Afrocentric percussion comes into play. On the main groove an acoustic piano,Clavinet and a bopping bass are all having one serious conversation as the horn section rises from below into the mix. On the choruses? There is a big descending synthesizer melody along with the wordless, harmonized vocalese of the band members. As the song progresses,the horns begin to take faster and more elaborate solos as the vocal chants and calls of the group members become a total instrumental element all their own.
Somehow the Bar Kays heavy Southern fried funk took on a whole different groove on this song. The thrust of this rhythmically is an Afro-Brazilian groove with somewhat jazzier flavors to the melodic construction,and the nature of the vocals. One thing it continues to carry over from the bands signature sound is it’s extremely high energy and fast tempo. And that’s one thing I’ll say about the Bar Kays. While normally a slower tempo music when you listen to it? The funk this band often came out with was very uptempo and fast paced. And the strong musical Afrocentrism of this percussion based jam really helped to calcify this bands way with strong,thick uptempo funk.
Filed under 1970's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Funk, Funkadelic, horns, Memphis Soul, Mercury Records, Ohio Players, percussion, Stax, synthesizers, The Bar Kays