A brief history of Dayton’s funk legacy
By Basim Blunt
During the 1970s, a new genre of music called funk was making its way into the American mainstream and Dayton, Ohio was at the epicenter. Community Voices Producer Basim Blunt says that more funk bands came from Dayton, than any other place in the world. This story is about the world famous funk bands that hailed from the city’s West Side, and one community’s attempt to honor their legacy before the music fades.
“I used to watch the Ohio Players practice when I was a kid in a garage,” said Daytonian Harold Remblert, Jr. “I’m a funketeer; I’ll be a funketeer for life. ‘Cause it was part of me and I’m a part of that era … I love funk.”
Remblert is a true funketeer. Me, I’m not from Dayton. I’m from Jersey City; a subway stop from the Big Apple and music nirvana. Growing up in the 70s, Dayton, Ohio was nowhere on my radar. But funk music sure was. It was the soundtrack of afro sheen commercials and brown skin honeys doing the bump on Soul Train. On the weekends, my crew and I stood in line for hours to see groups like Slave, Heatwave, the Ohio Players and Lakeside set New York on fire. Those were the days.
Fast forward 30 years and I find myself with a wife, house and kids and living where else? In Dayton, Ohio. How could I have known that one day I would be meeting many of my music idols at the local Wal-Mart? What’s more amazing is that there’s no trace of Dayton’s music history within the city. So then now I’m like, “What the funk is going on?”
The Ohio Players were the first band to set it off in a big way. The 1974 record Skin Tight went gold and held number one on the charts for seven weeks. The Players were Dayton’s first music superstars. The bassist, Marshall Jones, is one of the original Ohio Players. He is bass Buddha; the Tony Soprano of bass clef.
“I’m the one who made that famous song,” Marshall said. “I get emails from all over the world of bass players telling me about how they was impressed that they grew up on my music and so forth. ‘Cause I wasn’t that crazy about Skin Tight. I wanted to change some parts in it and they said ‘naw, man that’s the groove.’”
The Players were on fire; they followed up Skin Tight with a streak of four #1 hits, two Grammy nominations and a European tour. Marshall says that staying in Dayton allowed the Players to mentor to the next generation of musicians who were hungry for a taste of fame.
“Dayton kept us grounded. We were stars to the world, but Dayton was our home. We were a true show band. With all the musicians, even if they were in school and learning, they had a world class show band as a model,” Marshall said, “That’s why so many groups came up out of Dayton.”
One of those groups, Slave, was formed when Ohio Players trumpeter Pee Wee Middlebrooks brought his talented young nephew, Stevie Washington, to Dayton.
“Steve Washington lived in Jersey and he was in his senior year of high school so we did a performance in Newark, New Jersey. And Steve came to the show. And he begged his momma, I wanna go back with my uncle PeeWee. So Steve, lil Stevie came to Dayton and he started Slave in PeeWee’s basement and next thing you know they’re making hit records. Hits. I mean Hits. And we weren’t taking them serious cause they were teenagers,” Marshall said.
Slave’s first single, “Slide,” was an instant funk classic. It featured a groove driven by Marc Adams’ signature slap bass sound.
“People like to dance particularly in African American communities,” said Sam Carter, who played keyboards for Slave. “They like the freedom of dancing and expressing themselves, and funk gave a strong platform for that. The music scene here was very strong.”
The Ohio Players were responsible for yet another Dayton discovery when sax-player Clarence Satchell discovered the house band at a local nightclub. That group was called Faze-O. Keyboard player Keith Harrison remembers that evening.
“We did our last gig at the Red barn and Satch was there, and he was in a one-piece leather jumpsuit,” Harrison recalled. “After we finished he said, ‘I wanna take you guys in the studio, if you’re interested be over my house tomorrow.’ We went over to Satch’s the next morning. We sat in his driveway, I think, man, for about three hours before he came out. And he said, ‘I was testing ya’ll to see how bad you wanted it.’”
Their song “Ridin’ High” stayed on the billboard charts for an amazing 18 weeks, and is still one of the most sampled songs in hip-hop.
The group Heatwave was formed by brothers Keith and Johnnie Wilder. They combined funk with disco on the multi-platinum selling Boogie Nights. The hit-making band Lakeside struck gold with their single “Fantastic Voyage,” which was the first R&B record to have a rap performance.
Way before Niki Minaj and Lady Gaga, Dayton funk bands offered fans a visual stage show with costumes that were part Las Vegas, part Sci-Fi. One artist that combined musicianship and showmanship was Roger Troutman & Zapp.
Janetta Warren sang background on the band’s debut smash “More Bounce to the Ounce.” Warren says, “The outfits that we wore back then … the costumes, today the artists just walk up on stage in a pair of jeans and a shirt. That’s not how it should be done.”
Zapp ushered in the 1980s with a techno-funk sound and Roger Troutman’s trademark talk box that handled the vocals and melodies.
“Roger really loved my voice because I could hit all the notes that he hit on the talkbox, you know being the techno sound and everything, and I just kinda matched him a lot. And so he really, really loved that,” recalled Warren.
Recently, Ohio Players drummer James Diamond Williams dropped by the City Paper, fresh from their live performance at the Downtown Dayton Revival Festival. The Players rocked a blistering 45-minute set, covering all their Billboard hits. When Diamond joined the players in 1972, the band recorded what R&B aficionados call the holy trinity of funk albums: Skin Tight, Fire and Honey. Diamond not only played drums, but he brought a falsetto vocal to these recordings that have influenced generations of funk musicians from Prince to Stokely of Mint Condition.
“I played in the all-city Dayton Orchestra as a kid,” Williams said. “Playing in the symphony I learned to count measures, but I also listened to the string parts and horn parts and different variances of musical expression.”
The Ohio Players broke the classic R&B approach to songwriting in so many ways. The slow jam “I Want to Be Free” (Fire, 1974, Mercury Records) has a drum solo at the beginning and at the bridge; that was unorthodox for an R&B ballad.
“When I first got in the Players, I was hungry and wanted to play everything that I had in my mind, that’s why Sugar (the group’s lead guitar and vocalist) said ‘Diamond why don’t you start this song off?’ so I had four bars to go at,” Williams recalled. “It was so unapropos for a drummer to start off a slow song, but we made it fun for ourselves and hopefully the world.”
In 1998, Michael Sampson was the first one to curate a museum exhibit that was dedicated to the Dayton Funk scene. It was called “Something In the Water.”
“Dayton loved these bands,” Sampson says, “They felt that these groups identified with them personally. The musicians – a lot of them – have not received their due. They should. It did not have to be that we were the home of this powerful brand of music.”
It’s been more than 10 years since the “Something In the Water” exhibit closed. Now, Sampson has partnered with the city’s Wright Dunbar Neighborhood District Association and is planning to open up what will be called the Land of Funk Hall of Fame this fall.
Michael takes me on a walk through the Wright Dunbar District. It’s a revitalized section of Third Street. This is the street where the Land of Funk Hall of Fame plans to open in October 2012.
“The subject matter is exciting … the music is exciting,” Sampson said. “We want the exhibition to be exciting.”
They say all things funk come from West Dayton. This is where it all happened. I hope Dayton will realize that fans from all over the world revere the music that came from this city. What happened here was something that will never happen again.
Reach DCP freelance writer Basim Blunt at BasimBlunt@daytoncitypaper.com
Dayton Funk Essentials
Ready to get funked up? Here’s a brief rundown of Dayton Funk Essentials, music trivia and facts that every Daytonian should know about their hometown musical story.
Dayton bands were responsible for 110 charting Billboard rhythm and blues singles between the years 1972 and 1988 – a feat that remains unmatched by any other American city.
Dayton musician Junie Morrison sang lead on the first two Ohio Players hits “Funky Worm” and “Ecstasy” before going solo. In 1977, Morrison began collaborating with George Clinton and Funkadelic on the recording of One Nation Under a Groove, which is considered by many to be the greatest funk recording of all time.
The funk band Lakeside took their name from a popular amusement park on the city’s Westside, the Lakeside Palladium. The historic landmark was torn down in 1993 to build the US-35 extension.
Charminade Julienne High School alumni Keith and Johnny Wilder formed Heatwave while in London. The band recruited English musician Rod Temperton, who would become one of the most successful songwriters in music. In 1979, Temperton began writing for Michael Jackson, penning the million-sellers “Off the Wall,” “Rock With You” and “Thriller.”
R&B songstress Shirley Murdock and The Phoenix Group are planning to install a sound sculpture at the Salem/Catalpa Gateway to honor Roger Troutman at the former site of the Troutman Recording Studio. Local artist Michael Bashaw is designing the sculpture.
These Hollywood movies all haves prominent scenes where a song from a Dayton funk band is played as part of the movie: Steve Harvey’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” (2012), “First President” (1996) featuring comedian Sinbad and “The Johnson Family Vacation” (1999) with Cedric the Entertainer.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers covered the Ohio Players song “Love Rollercoaster” in 1996. It becomes one of the very few songs in music history to reach number one while performed by two different artists. The Chili Peppers’ version appears in the movie “Beavis and Butt-head Do America.”
Tupac Shakur and Dayton’s Roger Troutman’s Rap/ R&B hit “California Dreaming” became the biggest selling single for both artist and is rated #51 on VH1’s “Greatest Rap Songs of All-Time.” The collaboration between Tupac and Roger earned them a Grammy nomination for “best best rap duo performance.” Both artists’ lives would be tragically cut short by the end of the 1990s.
Design and preparations are already underway for the Dayton Funk Hall of Fame. The West Third Street museum is in walking distance to the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Park and the Paul Lawrence Dunbar House -a fitting place to house some of the genre’s archives of funk history.
The Essential Dayton Funk Mixtape set-list.
Here’s a few gems from the Gem City’s finest that need to be downloaded to your collection, album titles in parenthesis. Local Dayton music shops like Omega Music and the Record Gallery have many of these albums on their original vinyl.
1. “FOPP” by the Ohio Players (Fire)
2. “Stone Jam” by Slave (Stellar Funk: the Best of Slave)
3. “Your Love Is On the One” by Lakeside (Shot of Love)
4. “Grooveline” by Heatwave (Gangsters of the Groove)
5. “Go On Without You” by Shirley Murdock (The Best of Shirley Murdock)
6. “Breakin the Funk” by Faze-O (Breakin’ the Funk)
7. “Sun is Here” by Sun (Sunburn)
8. “Love the Way You Funk” by Platypus (Platypus 2)
9. “Heaven Must Be Like This” by the Ohio Players (Skin Tight)
10. “Computer Love” by Roger and Zapp (ZAPP IV U)
visit: WYSO Boogie Nights on Facebook to get the online links to the Dayton funk bands, see videos and purchase music.