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One of the most popular funk bands of the 1970s and ’80s, the Ohio Players is back in the spotlight, this time emphasizing the distinctive voice and musical style of its frontman, Hamilton native Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner. Sugarfoot’s Ohio Players will join Lakeside, Con-Funkion, Dazz Band and The Barkays Aug. 29 at the Soul Food Festival at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds, and that’s close enough to home for Sugarfoot. Although Sugarfoot was born in Hamilton, he hardly calls it home anymore. Since he left as a teenager, he’s only been back once, for a funeral last year, and just zipped in and out of town as fast as he could, he said. “Everything I used to know has been gone,” he said. “I have too many bad memories about Hamilton and I don’t like to go back.” But it was in Hamilton where he first started learning about music, playing harmonica on the street corners for change, learning his first few guitar chords from “some wino,” and sneaking into the Rendezvous Lounge when he was 12 years old to play with the musicians there. But by the time he was 14, he ran away from his Front Street home, where he was the oldest of 14 children, left town and never looked back. “We were poor and I wanted to go anywhere I could make some money,” he said. He first went to Cincinnati, then to Dayton, where it was easier to make money playing music. There, in 1971, he hooked up with a band called the Ohio Untouchables, but when he joined as singer and guitarist, they changed the name of the band to Ohio Players. Within two years, the Ohio Players cracked the Billboard charts and in 1974 scored the first of six consecutive No. 1 albums on the Rhythm’n’Blues charts, “Skin Tight.”
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