Tuesday, January 29, 2013

LEROY "SUGAR" BONNER: An Original "Player"

LEROY 
"SUGAR" 
BONNER:
An Original "Player"
 ________________________

The Ohio Players were 
my "Led Zeppelin." 
Their charismatic 
frontman / vocalist / 
guitarist Leroy Bonner 
was my "Jimi Henrix." 
And I was shocked
and saddened to hear
of his death this past 
weekend at age 69.
________________________

During the early and mid 1970s I had little clue about, and even less interest in, such iconic rock bands as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. I gravitated more towards soul music and artists such as Rufus  and The O'Jays.  And while many of my junior high school peers were spending time in Study Hall, carving KISS logos into their desktops, I was busy drawing full-color, live performance pictures of The Ohio Players on sheets of notebook paper — with me as the "token" eighth member. In fact, I often fantasized of having an afro and donning a sequined jumpsuit with platform shoes and jamming with the dudes from Dayton.

The Ohio Players - circa '74 could have 
easily clobbered The Stones any day!
Led by frontman / vocalist / guitarist Leroy "Sugar" Bonner, The Ohio Players were far  more "street" than their commercial chart-topping hits "Fire" and "Love Rollercoaster" would indicate. They were, after all, the group with all them nekked ladies on their album covers!

The Ohio Players were also much grittier than most of their R&B contemporaries such as Earth, Wind & Fire and The Commodores. In fact, with Bonner's blistering Jimmy Page-like riffs and drummer James "Diamond" Williams'  ferocious chops added to the group's overall loosely tight funkiness, The Ohio Players were in many ways more akin to Grand Funk Railroad than to The Bar-Kays. Just check out "What the Hell" from their 1974 Fire album or "Fopp" from 1975's Honey — then go back and listen (closely) to the first Van Halen record — hmm, a strong influence, indeed.

LEROY "SUGAR" BONNER - circa '74
But at the core, The Ohio Players were a world-class R&B group. And their (other) soulful signature classics including: "Skin Tight," "Funky Worm," "Sweet Sticky Thing" and "Who'd She Coo?" also have endured the test of time quite nicely.

Yes, their music remains as relevant today as ever. In fact, I was shopping at a used record store in Chattanooga last week with my teenage son, Jesse. In addition to scoring LP copies of Joe Jackson's Look Sharp and Elton John's Rock of the Westies, Jesse was particularly amped about discovering his third purchase — a used copy of The Ohio Players' Honey — ON VINYL, man! As they say, "like father, like son."

A true classic.
As a kid, I only knew of Bonner by his stage / nickname, Sugar — then later as Sugarfoot. He was my first bona fide rock star hero, and to say the least, I'm extremely bummed about his death this past weekend. (Insert frowny face here.) But his music remains as much a part of my life today at age 50 as it was back in 1975 when I was 12 — watching him shred on The Midnight Special.

In sum, Great music. Great memories. Well-done, Sugar! (Insert HUGE smiley face here.)

-Christopher Long
(January 2013)


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