The Ohio Players, a Dayton original, was first founded in 1959 under a different name.
The original members began as a backup band called “The Untouchables.” But by 1965, after some disagreements among band members, they changed their format and their name. They went on to produce such worldwide No. 1 hits as “Love Rollercoaster,” “Fire” and “Funky Worm” before deciding to part ways in the late 1970s.
Today, some original band members are back together after more than 50 years in the business and are finding new success with the same “funk” style music that made them famous.
James “Diamond” Williams, born and raised in Dayton and still living here, started playing drums as a child. By the time he graduated from Dunbar High School in 1968, his achievements earned him a full scholarship to Miami University. Eventually, he transferred to the University of Dayton (UD).
“I was drafted into the Ohio Players in 1972 at the beginning of my senior year at UD,” Williams said. “I was in a band called The Majestics.”
Both the Ohio Players and the Majestics were well known at the time, and Williams said there was always a somewhat friendly competition between the two bands.
“Both bands had a chance to play in 1971 at the Lakeview Palladium, (formerly located at Gettysburg and Lakeview in Dayton)” Williams said. “I told my wife that we were going to rip the Ohio Players in half. Little did I know that we would be annihilated ourselves!”
Williams said that from the time the Ohio Players stepped on the stage, he knew there was no competition.
Around that time, another Majestics band member, Marvin Pierce, left to join The Ohio Players. Pierce called Williams to fill in when the drummer became ill. He jumped at the chance to join them when he got the call.
“The rest is history,” Williams said. “That was right as ‘Funky Worm’ was being released and I received a gold 45 since I was the drummer.
“When I joined the band, I found out what being on the road was all about,” Williams said. “Each and every place we traveled was new to me and we were getting booked a lot.”
Williams said for periods of 60-80 days, the band was constantly traveling or in the studio recording and writing at least two albums a year.
“It was a whirlwind between 1974-1979,” Williams said. “In those years, we had nine in the band and now we have 11. Four of us were part of the original group.”
In fact, those years were the most successful for the Ohio Players as they churned out seven top 40 hits between 1973 and 1976. But by 1979, business mistakes and disagreements among the members had them parting ways.
“My daughter was just a year old at the time,” Williams said. “We had been together so long that we needed to separate and start to live and enjoy our lives.”
The Ohio Players officially disbanded with some members continuing to write and perform music on their own. Then in 1983, the late Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner, lead singer for the original band, called Diamond and other former members to discuss putting the band back together.
Those four, including Williams, percussionist Robert “Kuumba” Jones, lead guitarist Clarence “Chet” Willis and keyboardist Billy Beck, are now in their 60s. But none of them feels even close to retiring from the industry they all love.
“Any time you leave anything at the level where we left it, it’s tough to put it back together,” Williams said. “Other people had been doing things under the guise of the Ohio Players, and it wasn’t easy to get engagements.”
Over time, the Ohio Players have built a new following. With about 30 tour dates last year, Williams said they are happy but would like to grow that number to between 50-60 shows annually. Last year they played at venues including The Rose Music Center in Huber Heights and at the Hollywood Bowl. The band has a new single – “Reset.” It’s their first new release in 30 years, and it’s doing well.
“Here I sit at 67 years old, but I’m still having a great time,” Williams said. “I will probably stay out here a little longer. We can’t count on anything but I’m still swinging at these drums.”
Williams is proud to be part of this Dayton, Ohio legendary group and has high hopes that one day the band will be recognized by its hometown in a big way.
“It’s time for us to be recognized by the city of Dayton,” Williams said. “By way of a street, parkway or lane. We have brought so much recognition to this city and we should see our name here.”