In a 2002 photo, Leroy ‘Sugarfoot’ Bonner, lead singer for the Ohio Players, performs in Atlanta. The band had a number of top 40 hits in the 1970s including ‘Love Rollercoaster.’ Mr. Bonner of Hamilton, Ohio, met the band members in Dayton.
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CINCINNATI — Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner, frontman for the hit-making funk music band the Ohio Players, died Saturday. He was 69.
The Ohio Players, known for their brassy dance music, catchy lyrics, and flamboyant outfits, topped music charts in the 1970s with hits such as “Love Rollercoaster,” “Fire,” “Skin Tight” and “Funky Worm.”
Born in Hamilton, Ohio, Mr. 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 with a spinoff 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 a posting attributed as an “official family announcement” on the Facebook page of Sugarfoot’s Ohio Players. “He will be missed but not forgotten as his legacy and music lives on.”
Bass player Marshall Jones, 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.”
Mr. 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.
Mr. Jones said he, Mr. Bonner, and other band members were delighted when “Love Rollercoaster” gained new fans through a 1990s cover by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Mr. 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 age 14, and told the Hamilton Journal News in 2009 that he had only gone back there once. He explained he had bad memories of growing up poor.
He connected with the players who would form the band in Dayton. The group 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,” Mr. Bonner told the Dayton Daily News 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, Mr. 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.”