Runnin’ From the Devil Sho’ Nuff Gets Ya Hot
On another Must Hear Long Play Thursday I present Fire (1975), one of the first Ohio Player records I heard. Who can resist listening to an album with such artwork? No mortal that is for sure. The Ohio Players combined hard funk, a sense of humor, and S&M themed erotic album artwork. While doing so, they created some great music. Fire, mixing hard funk and smooth (in the best way) jazz, finds the Ohio Players at the peak of their powers. On later efforts, the jazzy soul funk sound would increasingly go soft, but on Fire the Players slower material is tight and dynamic, not turgid and discofied. Excellent musicianship is one reason the Players were such a dynamite band for so long. One shouldn’t overlook the unique voice and delivery of Sugarfoot and the groups wacky sense of humor, even after Junie Morrison left.
Fire was their sixth record, and second one released on the Mercury label. Full of classic funk, including “Fire,” “Runnin,” “I Want To Be Free,” “Smoke,” and the overlooked “What The Hell.” Fire is must hear. The Ohio Players line-up for this recording consisted of :
James “Diamond” Williams – drums, chimes, percussion, lead & background vocals
Billy Beck – Fender Rhodes piano, Clavinet, ARP synthesizer, percussion, lead & background vocals
Mervin Pierce – trumpet, flugelhorn, valve trombone & background vocals
Marshall ‘Rock’ Jones – Fender bass
Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner – guitar, percussion, lead & background vocals
Ralph “Pee Wee” Middlebrooks- trumpet, trombone & background vocals
Clarence “Satch” Satchell – baritone sax, tenor sax, soprano sax, flute, percussion, lead & background vocals
Thanks to Burger King, “Fire” is known to many North Americans even if they don’t know who recorded the song.
“Together” is the first slow song. Thankfully, the slow songs are actually good on Fire. “Together” sounds innocent for a group that was known for their edgy album artwork.
“Runnin From the Devil” has a nice breakdown and ends with some New Orleans-style horns and odd drums. The rest of the song is superb too. Utilizing loud breathing as a sonic element long before the Hot Boys, the Players battle the dark lord.
“I Want To Be Free” has a great bass line, drumming and overall arrangement. Synth and support vocals float above the bass line while Sugarfoot’s vocal performance is passionate. James “Diamond” Williams’ drumming is first-rate on this song.
Before “Smoke” is one minute old you will probably find yourself addicted to the horn-powered groove. Like nicotine, a great funk song is addictive. Probably even more so, 30 seconds of exposure and you’re hooked to a pair of speakers. “Smoke” delivers a heavy hit of the Funk. The Players throw in discombobulating horns just after the one minute mark. Great use of hand claps, which add so much to the song. The band doesn’t want to let go on this one. Is that Marvin Martian I hear?
Bringing it back down on “It’s All Over,” Sugarfoot delivers another great vocal performance.
“What the Hell” cannot be contained. Opening with a heavy drum solo, which explodes with a gong into guitars, horns, piano, and a whispered “Hell”, the OP’s couldn’t have transitioned sound in a more jarring, but still lovely, manner. “What the Hell” channels Funkadelic with fuzzed-out guitar and in your face drums. I hadn’t heard this song in a while, but damn.
Finishing with the sweet, short “Together/Feelings,” a delicate horn and piano oriented piece, the Players give proof on Fire that polished funk can still hit hard.
1. “Fire” (4:33)
2. “Together” (3:06)
3. “Runnin'” (4:47)
4. “I Want to Be Free” (6:52)
5. “Smoke” (5:58)
6. “It’s All Over” (4:14)
7. “What the Hell” (5:36)
8. “Together/Feelings” (1:12)