During the 1970’s, 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,” says 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 ‘70’s, 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, me and my crew 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 the 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 cleft.
“I’m the one who made that famous song,” Marshall says, “And 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 grove.”
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 says, “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 says.
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,” says 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 recalls, “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
Zapp ushered in the 1980’s 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,” recalls Warren.
In 1998, MichaeI 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 says, “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.