John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

The Funky Legacy of the Ohio Players

“Skin Tight” exemplifies their jazzy, riff-heavy, hilariously inventive music making.

By - Sep 2nd, 2016 01:24 pm
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Ohio Players

Ohio Players

Let’s start with Carol Burnett’s parody of Gone With The Wind. Lacking money for a beautiful gown to wear to the ball, she uses curtains and sews her own outlandish creation. When she comes down the stairs in her new construction, the curtain rods extend outward to create a ridiculous sight and just like that, comedy gold is made. Keep that scene in mind as you watch the Ohio Players perform “Skin Tight.”

There was point in the 1970’s when Glam Rock and Funk seemed to be in a race for the most outrageous fashion statement. If there had been an award for most surrealistic look at the Grammy Awards, it would have gone to this band from Dayton, Ohio. In their unwitting tribute to Carol, the sheer curtains are made of some type of experimental polyester you might find on the sale table at Joann Fabrics. These guys upstaged the actual stage they were on. With this look, the wrong song would have made other bands eternal laughingstocks. But these guys were cooler than the breeze blowing through their lightweight threads.

Rarely in the mix when people talk about great funk music, The Ohio Players belong up there with Sly Stone, James Brown and George Clinton.They had hits that were unbelievably catchy. The two biggest, “Fire” and “Love Rollercoaster,” were lascivious, inventive, joyful and benignly insane. Had they been wearing curtains instead of denim, I might have chosen either of these great songs. But today’s theme is “wispy” and I really love this song.

It features one of the great voices of the era, Leroy “Sugarfoot Bonner. His lazy drawl almost defines the era and the way it sneaks out from under his asymmetrical afro is endlessly entertaining. He’s every bit as sly as Sly. Bonner played a double neck Mosrite, an odd choice more associated with country pickers like Joe Maphis. I’m not sure if he ever touched the 12 string neck — maybe he was saving it for a Byrds tribute back in Akron. He replaced a guy named Robert Ward, who is adored by guitarists who know what’s what. Ward had a light and lyric touch and the fluttering tremolo that raised the price on the formerly cheap Magnatone amps he preferred. But he had a tendency to walk off stage whenever the mood struck him and the band found their solution in Sugarfoot.

With him ensconced as frontman, “Skin Tight” kicked the Ohio Players into high gear. It was a mix of funk and jazz. The jazz happens in the horn interlude. Tricky and cool, it’s a very nice interlude and a pivot point between verses. It drops you off back at the thing that really drives the song, its gold plated riff. Thumped heavily and neatly on the bass, it’s like an elephant on tiptoes and should be in the Riff Hall Of Fame. When doubled on guitar with a touch of wah wah, it’s a hypnotic suggestion to get your butt out on the floor.

I mentioned lascivious, how about these lyrics?

Yeah, yeah
You are a bad bad Mrs.
In them skin tight britches
Runnin’ folks in ditches
Baby about to bust the stitches, yeah

Skin tight, skin tight
Skin tight, skin tight
Hold tight

You are a real fine lady
Though your walks a little shady
Step on the strip on time
There’s money you’re bound to find, yeah

Skin tight, skin tight
Skin tight, skin tight
Skin tight, skin tight
Hold tight

Gone, gone, gone with your bad self
Walk that walk, talk that talk mama
Skin tight
Hold me barely back girl
Keep on steppin’ to me baby

©  Bonner, Leroy/Williams James L./Jones, Marshall/Pierce, Marvin R./Middlebrooks, Ralph/Satchell, Clarence

It’s safe to say these guys had zero influence on Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell, but it’s poetry just the same. There’s nothing wrong with hilarious, and rhyming Mrs., britches, ditches and stitches not only shows restraint  (I can think of another one that might be the easy choice today), it’s truly inventive. It might even make Cole Porter chuckle. Let’s give an honorable mention to “hold me barely back girl,” it’s my new favorite nonsensical phrase.

There is a lot roadhouse in these guys. You suspect they logged the kind of hours The Beatles did when you watch them. Their look says they’ve seen it, done it and know they’re worth the money. They are up there to show you the hippest crew on the planet. All this went down way back in the mid 70’s — it looks dated, but it sounds like tomorrow. If it was released today I’d have to believe it would be an instant hit. They’d probably be wearing something else, though.

2 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: The Funky Legacy of the Ohio Players”

  1. Ken says:

    Hey, John! The Players were from Dayton, Ohio. (Not Akron). A few other notable bands started there too: Lakeside, Zapp Band. Funk was a big thing in the Daytonview neighborhood nurtured by high school band programs and jazz traditions. Get up off that thing!

  2. Bruce Murphy says:

    Ken, thanks, we corrected it

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