Leroy "Sugarfoot" Bonner, who died in Ohio on 26 January at the age of 69, was the frontman for the hit-making funk band the Ohio Players. Known for their brassy dance music, catchy lyrics and flaboyant outfits, they topped the charts in the 1970s with hits such as "Love Rollercoaster," ''Fire," ''Skin Tight" and "Funky Worm."
Born in Hamilton, Ohio, Bonner teamed up in the 1960s with core members of a group called the Ohio Untouchables to form the Ohio Players. The band had a string of Top 40 hits in the mid-1970s, and continued to perform for years after that. He had remained active in recent years with a spin-off band called Sugarfoot's Ohio Players.
"Humble yet charismatic, soft-spoken and of few words, the weight of his thoughts, lyrics and music has influenced countless other artists, songs and trends," stated an "official family announcement" on the Ohio Players Facebook page. "He will be missed but not forgotten as his legacy and music lives on."
Marshall Jones, the bass player and a founding member of the Ohio Players, called his bandmates "a bunch of the most creative people – especially Sugarfoot – that I have ever been around." He said of Bonner's death, "It's kind of crazy. I'm still feeling fragile."
Jones said after years of playing music, the band's sudden stardom, with No. 1 singles and huge crowds in venues such as the Superdome in New Orleans, was stunning.
"I sit back now, and it was all a brilliant blaze," he said. "I think 'Damn, did I do that?' It was just 'Zoom!' That was a starburst. And like all things like that, it fizzles." Jones said he, Bonner and other band members were delighted and flattered when "Love Rollercoaster" gained new fans through a 1990s cover by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Bonner had said he learned about music in Hamilton, where he was the oldest of a large family, playing harmonica, learning guitar and sneaking into bars as an adolescent to play with adult musicians. He said he ran away from his home some 20 miles north of Cincinnati at the age of 14, and said in a 2009 interview that he had only gone back there once. He explained that he had bad memories of growing up poor.
He wound up in Dayton, where he connected with the players who would form the band. Their line-up changed at times, but featured horns, bass, guitar, drums and keyboards.
"We were players. We weren't trying to be lead singers, but we became one of the first crossover singing bands," Bonner said in 2003. He said he initially played with his back to the audience, because he didn't want to get distracted.
While the band used sexual innuendo, Bonner said he didn't relate to some of the explicit lyrics and attitudes of later pop music and rap.
"There is nothing but the old school and the new fools," he said. "It's a shame the way these artists are preaching badness to a drum beat."
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