Ralph Middlebrooks
Born: 8-20-1939 Died: 1
1-15-1997
(
undisclosed)
   Originally dubbed "The Ohio Untouchables," and initially comprised of singer/guitarist Robert Ward, bassist Marshall "Rock" Jones, saxophonist/guitarist
Clarence "Satch" Satchell, drummer Cornelius Johnson, and trumpeter/trombonist Ralph "Pee Wee" Middlebrooks, the group was formed in Dayton in 1959.
   The original lineup knocked around for a while during the 1960's as studio musicians before signing with Detroit-based Westbound Records. The newly
christened
"Ohio Players" made their debut with the single "Pain," reaching the R&B Top 40 in late 1971. An album, also titled "Pain," appeared that same
year, and was followed in 1972 by
"Pleasure," which launched the absurd smash "Funky Worm." "Ecstasy" appeared in 1973, and after 1974's "Climax," the
Players signed to Mercury Records.
   Their first effort for their new label was 1974's
"Skin Tight." A classic bass line helped propel the sexy title song beyond any of the Ohio Players'
previous hits. The album contained only six songs, each long and loose enough to tap into the energy of a live performance. The street funk of
"Jive
Turkey"
and the breezy ballad "Heaven Must Be Like This" gave the band more exposure on R&B radio. The album, which began a new trend of cover art
featuring beautiful, near-naked women, went platinum. Suddenly, the music world was the Ohio Players' oyster and they were ready to crack it wide open.
   1975's
"Fire," remains the Players' masterpiece, topping the pop charts on the strength of its bone-rattling title cut, itself a #-1 hit; "I Want To Be Free,"
one of the band's few attempts at social commentary, was also highly successful. Also released in 1975,
"Honey" featured perhaps the Players' most
controversial and erotic cover to date. It was another monster, generating the chart-topping masterpiece
"Love Rollercoaster" in addition to the hits
"Sweet Sticky Thing" and "Fopp."
   
The Ohio Players began their inevitable decline the following year with "Contradiction." The album was uniformly good, but it was missing the
knockout hooks of their prior albums. The guitar and drum driven
"Who'd She Coo?" was the only tune able to creep into the Top 40. Before 1976 was
wrapped up, the splendid compilation
"Ohio Players Gold" was released. The disc contained all the essential tracks from the band's four Mercury outings as
well as a pair of unreleased tracks,
"Feel The Beat (Everybody Disco)" and "Only A Child Can Love."
   "O-H-I-O,"
from 1977's "Angel," was their last major hit on any chart, and as the 1970's drew to a close, the band's fortunes continued to decline. 1979's
"Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee" was their final Mercury effort, and upon signing to Arista, the Players returned with "Everybody Up," followed by a pair of dismal
releases on Boardwalk, 1981's
"Tenderness" and 1982's "Ouch!" After 1984's "Graduation," four years passed prior to the release of their next effort,
"Back;" no new material was forthcoming, although various lineups continued performing live well into the following decade.
   Founding member Ralph Middlebrooks passed on in late 1997 effectively ending the group.