FAIRFIELD — The Ohio Players bring their string of hit songs including “Fire!,” “Love Rollercoaster,” “Skin Tight,” and “Who’d She Coo” among others to Cache Creek’s Club 88 on March 30.
While the band has evolved through many personnel changes over the years, drummer James “Diamond” Williams has anchored the rhythm section since 1972. He recently answered some questions via telephone.
Q. When did you start drumming?
A. I starting beating on pots and pans in my mother’s kitchen and started taking formal lessons at the age of 9. In school, I got involved in the music program and played in the all-city band and the all-city orchestra, went to music camps with scholarships and got a full-ride music scholarship to Kentucky State University. I spent a couple of years there then transferred to the University of Dayton. I didn’t finish because I got drafted into the Ohio Players in my senior year of college and went off into the pros.
Q: What set the Ohio Players apart as a band?
A: We looked at ourselves as a band on the cutting edge. We came out of an era when there were a lot of doo-wop groups: The Chi-lites, The Dramatics, The Temptations, – doo-wop this, doo-wop that. We decided to do the singing and the playing. It was very unique for a band to do both then.
We wrote a lot of unique songs, but to me the most unique musically is “I Want to Be Free,” which starts out with a drum solo then it goes off into a slow song. Nobody ever started a ballad off with a drum solo. It was just musically insane.
We also started writing longer tracks like “Skintight,” which was seven-and-a-half minutes long. Of course this meant that you had to hang in there in the studio for that time because there were no computers. There was no cut-copy-paste. You couldn’t take four bars and loop it. No sir. You were the loop. If you messed up in three minutes of the loop, guess what, you had to loop back to the beginning.
Q. You guys were known for album covers that were, shall we say, racy.
A: The idea was to get guys to look at the album cover. The band was just a bunch of scrappy-looking rough guys. We thought people would see the album and say, ”these mugs are some ugly trolls.” That would never work. So we figured if we could get the women to listen and the guys to look at the album cover, we could have a package and it seemed to work.
Q: What was your songwriting process?
A: A lot of it was writing in the studio, just instantaneous grooves. We also would play at night in clubs and if people really started to party when we played a certain groove or rhythm, we took that straight to the studio. Back then we would test grooves like that and when it seemed to work, we would run with it.
Q: You are proud that the Ohio Players play everything you hear live.
A: You would be surprised by how many bands use machinery offstage for horn parts or vocal parts. But you didn’t hear that from me. I’m not trying to out anybody. We are one of the few bands today who are playing and singing everything you see on stage. That gives us the flexibility to play things that are unique every night and they don’t have to be repetitive. If a groove hits us and we happen to notice the crowd’s vibe is a certain way, I can tell the band “Stay right there” you know, like James Brown used to say: “Don’t nobody move!” There’s only a few bands doing that today.
Q: What is the best part about performing in the Ohio Players now?
A: I’ve got four grandkids and they have seen their grandfather onstage playing this music and seen people cheering and loving it. That it has lasted long enough for them to have a chance to see it says something itself. That makes me prouder than anything.
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org