Saturday, January 20, 2018
News Roundup

Ohio Players bring funky music, urban myth to heritage festival

It's a kind of scream undoubtedly familiar to any Busch Gardens employee who operates one of the park's roller coasters.

Or is it? Maybe instead of an excited patron, it's the kind of bloodcurdling scream you might hear in a slasher flick. Maybe it's the last gasp of a woman meeting with an untimely ending?

Of course, it's not, but I've used the urban myth behind the scream heard on the Ohio Players' Love Rollercoaster to introduce the song to a new generation. The old school funk group, which brings its venerable act to the Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival Saturday, gained a measure of surprising notoriety when a rumor began that a woman was murdered while they recorded the 1975 song.

Yes, right around the 2:30 mark of the song you hear a piercing cry.

And it's a woman being stabbed to death?

"That was promoted by a DJ on the West Coast," said James "Diamond" Williams, original Ohio Players drummer and one of four original members who continue to tour with the band. "Billy Beck, another of the original members, did a Minnie Ripperton shrill. He inhaled to simulate a scream you would hear on a roller coaster.

"You wouldn't believe how many times we were asked that question," Williams added. "But for the longest time, we wouldn't answer that question. The mystery helped sell a lot of records. A lot of records. We thought about screaming in some of our other records."

Williams' lighthearted answer reflects the upbeat attitude that undoubtedly sustains his drive. Asked what keeps him touring, he quipped, "car payments. Car payments and grandchildren."

The real answer, however, lies in the fact that the Ohio Players' music — funk with remnants of jazz, but Williams just calls it "good music" — left an indelible impression on fans in the '70s and '80s.

We keep coming out for such concerts because Love Rollercoaster reminds us of the skating rink, Fire inspires visions of Afro-wearing dancers on Soul Train and, for me, Everybody Up conjures memories of early-morning bus rides to Godby High School.

We've been blessed to create something that reminds people of certain times and instances," Williams said. "People remember hearing the siren in Fire and pulling over in their cars because they thought that meant the law was after them.

"Hearing it again brings back those same memories. And it does the same with us."

Williams promises the thousands who come out to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park Saturday will get a show full of energy, enthusiasm and musicianship. The band boasts of not using computers or samplers to enhance the musical production, and Williams said he spent years taking lessons to hone his craft before becoming a professional.

"We're closer to perfection playing our songs today than we were 40 years ago," Williams said.

And apparently, the urban legend surrounding Love Rollercoaster is no closer to dying, pun intended. Snopes.com features an entry dealing with the alleged murder — and an interesting aside about an album cover model — and the story reportedly found its way into the plot of a 1998 movie called Urban Legends, naturally.

I recognize that Williams' admission and this column may contribute to the song's scream no longer raising eyebrows, but I can make one promise: After today, I will never again admit that it's not true.

That's all I'm saying.

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