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CD REVIEW

Ohio Players: The Definitive Collection: Plus…

by Bill Murphy on February 13, 2018


With the opening of the Funk Music Hall of Fame tentatively scheduled for winter 2018 in Dayton, Ohio, the timing couldn’t be better for a deep dive into the Ohio Players catalog, and it doesn’t get much more comprehensive than this new three-disc set from the U.K. archival imprint Robinsongs. Spanning 15 years of the group’s hitmaking heyday in the ‘70s and ‘80s, The Definitive Collection gets right into the nitty-gritty of what made the Players (or “the OPs,” as hardcore fans have always known them) such a stalwart of early ‘70s R&B radio, and tracks their ability to parlay that exposure into crossover pop stardom. Digging further, the sleeve notes by Christian John Wikane map out the OPs’ history in meticulous detail, relying largely on interviews with early frontman and producer Walter “Junie” Morrison and drummer James “Diamond” Williams. This is where the tale of two bands emerges, and it’s what makes this collection so unique because it assembles the best of the band’s material on Westbound (the Detroit-based label that also had Funkadelic on its roster) with the string of hits that came later on the Mercury label, after Morrison left the Players for a solo career and guitarist Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner stepped to the fore. Sugarfoot will always be known as the defining voice of the Ohio Players, if for nothing more than his signature growling “Oww!”—a quirk of his singing style that helped make workouts like “Skin Tight,” “Fire,” “Love Rollercoaster” and “Fopp” such monumental slabs of soul-infused funk. And therein lies not only the mystery, but also the mystique of the OPs: From their luridly sexploitative album artwork (almost always featuring a stunningly beautiful black woman in various stages of undress) to their profound musicality in just about any genre, this was a band that embodied the funk lifestyle and somehow managed to make it accessible to an incredibly wide audience, without compromising their art. It’s not likely to happen again, and that revelation only adds to the mystique.
Authors: Bill Murphy
Artist: Ohio Players
Album: The Definitive Collection: Plus…
Label: ROBINSONGS