Sugarfoot Bonner, frontman of the Ohio Players funk band which had a string of hits in the 1970s, has died at the age of 69.
The band posted a message about his death on its Facebook page. Leroy Bonner died in Dayton, Ohio on Saturday.
"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," read the posting, which was drawn from an official family statement.
The Ohio Players was known for hits such as Funky Worm, Love Rollercoaster, Fire and Skin Tight in the mid-1970s when funk was at its height.
Horns and brass section
Bonner, often clad in a skin-tight jumpsuit and furs, played guitar and fronted a lineup that included a saxophonist and horn player as well as a drummer and backup singers.
Formed in Dayton, Ohio, the group in 1959 was originally called the Ohio Untouchables. However, the name changed to the Ohio Players in 1964, the year Bonner joined.
Born in Hamilton, Ohio, Bonner was the oldest of a large family and learned to play harmonica and guitar at home.
He said he ran away at age 14 and wound up in Dayton, where he connected with the players eventually formed the band.
"We were players. We weren't trying to be lead singers, but we became one of the first crossover singing bands," Bonner told the Dayton Daily News in a 2003 interview. He noted that he initially played with his back to the audience because he didn't want to get distracted.
The Ohio Players were the house band for New York-based Compass Records and had some success on R&B charts in the late ‘60s with the album Observations in Time, recorded for Capitol Records.
Then, influenced by Sly & the Family Stone, the band pushed Bonner to the fore. With his nasal voice, they released Pain in 1970, had more hits with the release of Skin Tight in 1974 and then the subsequent Fire, with its songs Together, I Want to Be Free and It’s All Over, as well the title track (which became a No. 1 hit).
Marshall Jones, the 72-year-old bass player and founding member of the Ohio Players, said the band's sudden stardom had been a surprise since they had already been making music for years.
"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."
He described his bandmates as "a bunch of the most creative people — especially Sugarfoot — that I have ever been around."
Ohio Players songs have also been revisited over the years, with Love Rollercoaster covered by the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1990 and the band's Funky Worm sampled on N.W.A.'s 1988 album Straight Outta Compton.