Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Mar 20th 2009 5:00PM by James Sullivan
At the height of the Ohio Players' popularity in the mid-1970s, when the R&B band scored eight Top 40 hits in three years, DJs across the country played what amounted to a game of Telephone, passing along an ever-shifting rumor about the fate of the bloodcurdling screamer. Supposed insiders claimed it was a snuff recording. Someone had been murdered, and the band was brazen enough to overdub the sound of her shrieking on the song.
The woman was a recording engineer's girlfriend, some said. She was a pesky groupie. In another version, the band supposedly recorded in an apartment, and the victim was a cleaning lady. Milder accounts had the band sampling an existing recording of a 911 call or a shock therapy session.
The band made it relatively easy for the storytellers to believe such imaginative tales. After more than a decade of false starts and regrouping, the Dayton-based band (originally the Ohio Untouchables) had come to national prominence with albums called 'Pain' and 'Pleasure,' each featuring cover images of a bald-headed Nubian princess in bondage -- and in not much else.
The cover of 'Honey,' the 1975 album that featured 'Love Rollercoaster,' was their most provocative to date -- a nearly nude model (actually, Playboy's October 1974 centerfold) suggestively ladling honey into her mouth from a sticky jar. The most popular stories about the scream involved the cover model. It was said she'd been badly burned by the heated honey; when she burst into the recording session threatening to sue, the band's manager supposedly bumped her off.
The Players were well aware all this scandalous hearsay was good for business -- they clearly had been paying attention when the Beatles let the "Paul is dead" hoax play itself out. The funk soul brothers took a vow of silence, as drummer Jimmy "Diamond" Williams admitted years later. In truth, there was absolutely nothing to the rumors. The scream wasn't even a woman's. Keyboarist Billy Beck had simply let out a falsetto screech off-mic, "like Minnie Riperton did to reach her high note or Mariah Carey does to go octaves above."
Some careers thrive on controversy. On May 16, 1976, the mayor of Dayton declared it to be Ohio Players Day.