Leroy Bonner of the Ohio Players Dies at 69

January 29th, 2013

Leroy Bonner, the frontman of the Ohio Players, a funk band whose influence lasted well beyond the string of hits it had in the mid-1970s, died on Saturday in Trotwood, Ohio, near Dayton. He was 69.

His death was announced by his family on the Facebook page of Sugarfoot’s Ohio Players, a spinoff band that he had been leading. No cause was given.

Mr. Bonner, a singer and guitarist better known by his nickname, Sugarfoot, teamed in the 1960s with core members of a group called the Ohio Untouchables to form the Ohio Players. The group became known for its brassy, bottom-heavy dance music — as well as its flamboyant outfits and provocative album covers — and reached both the pop and rhythm-and-blues charts with “Love Rollercoaster,” “Fire,” “Skin Tight,” “Funky Worm” and other songs.

From 1973 to 1976 the Ohio Players had seven singles in the Billboard Top 40. Both “Fire” and “Love Rollercoaster” reached No. 1.

Although the band’s heyday was four decades ago, its sound has been kept alive by others.

“Love Rollercoaster” gained new fans through a 1996 cover version by Red Hot Chili Peppers. “Funky Worm” has been sampled by many hip-hop artists.

Born in Hamilton, Ohio, about 20 miles north of Cincinnati, in 1943, Leroy Bonner grew up poor, the oldest child in a large family. Information about his survivors was not available.

After running away from home at 14, he wound up in Dayton, where he connected with the musicians who would form the Ohio Players. The band’s lineup changed over the years, but its instrumentation and sound remained basically the same: a solid, driving groove provided by guitar, keyboards, bass and drums, punctuated by staccato blasts from a horn section.

Vocals were a secondary consideration. “We were players,” Mr. Bonner told The Dayton Daily News in 2003. “We weren’t trying to be lead singers.” The core members of the band did not originally sing, he explained, but “we got so tired of having singers leave us that we decided we’d just do the singing ourselves.”

“I used to play with my back to the audience in the old days,” he added. “I didn’t want to see them because they were distracting. Then the first time I turned around and opened my mouth, we had a hit record with ‘Skin Tight.’ That’s amazing to me.”

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