TIR 101: Diamond Tells How He Helped The Ohio Players Sparkle

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Brought to you by FUNKNSTUFF.NET and hosted by Scott Goldfine — musicologist and author of “Everything Is on THE ONE: The First Guide of Funk” ― “TRUTH IN RHYTHM” is the interview show that gets DEEP into the pocket with contemporary music’s foremost masters of the groove.

Featured in TIR Episode 101: Legendary drummer, singer and composer James “Diamond” Williams of Dayton, Ohio’s funk monsters, The Ohio Players. Williams joined The Ohio Players in 1972, replacing Greg Webster behind the kit for the band’s third and final Westbound Records album, 1973’s Ecstasy.

While The Ohio Players’ roots stretch back to the late 1950s, it wasn’t until “Funky Worm” hit No. 1 on the R&B chart in early 1973 that the group got a taste of major success. They would go on to notch four more chart-toppers. A move to Mercury Records saw the band refining its sound to the signature millions would love. It was marked by stronger songwriting and pristine production, inventive arrangements, the distinctive lead vocals of highly influential, one-of-a-kind talent Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner, as well as his nimble guitar playing, the falsetto background singing of Diamond and William “Billy” Beck, as well as the latter’s brilliant keyboard work and, of course, the former’s progressive and impeccable drumming.

Beck proved to be the final piece to the puzzle as he was the last to join, replacing enigmatic genius Walter “Junie” Morrison. Add to that intoxicating aural mix, Marshall Jones’ rumbling bass, and horn players Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks, Marvin “Merv” Pierce and bandleader Clarence “Satch” Satchell and you have the unmistakable magical funk perfection that was mid-1970s Ohio Players. The Ohio Players were also famous for their sexy and provocative album covers showing young ladies in various stages of undress.

The Ohio Players’ 1974-77 creative and commercial peak included the gold- or platinum-selling albums Skin Tight, Fire, Honey, Contradiction and Angel. During that time they were considered one of the biggest funk/R&B bands in the world. They were so hot that an entire episode of the concert TV series “Midnight Special” was devoted to just them.

The wild ride slowed in a hurry during the end of the decade with just one more album, Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee, closing out their time with Mercury and a final comeback attempt, Everybody Up, failing to reignite the fire with Arista Records in 1979. During their glory years, The Ohio Players’ hits and classics included “Skin Tight,” “Jive Turkey,” “Heaven Must Be Like This,” “Fire,” “I Want to Be Free,” “Runnin’ From the Devil,” “Smoke,” “Love Rollercoaster,” “Fopp,” “Let’s Love,” “Sweet Sticky Thing,” “Who’d She Coo?”, “Far East Mississippi,” “Contradiction,” “Angel,” “Body Vibes,” “O-H-I-O,” “Merry Go Round,” “Funk-O-Nots” and “Take De Funk Off, Fly.”

Diamond, Billy and guitarist Clarence “Chet” Willis,” who had quietly joined the Players in the latter part of the 1970s, reunited with Sugar for an Ohio Players comeback album called Back in 1988, but it went largely unnoticed. That would be the group’s final studio album to date, but varying lineups would keep bringing the Players’ unique brand of funk to stages for performances that continue to this day, led by Diamond and fellow surviving 1970s bandmates Chet and Billy. The enduring influence, impact and love of the Ohio Players is evident throughout the music industry as well as popular culture.

Here, Diamond discusses his approach to drums, the secret sauce that made The Ohio Players so special, unforgettable memories, band member talents and personalities, the group’s catchy new single, “Reset,” and impending album, and busy tour schedule.

RECORDED JUNE 2019

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