Beck’s Ohio Players will ‘Fire’ up festival

Billy Beck has been a touring musician for 50 years, since he was invited to join the Ohio Players in 1974.

Saturday might be the shortest trip he’s ever had to make to get to a gig.

Beck brings the Ohio Players to the Warren Community Amphitheatre, located a couple of miles from his home on the city’s northwest side, to perform as part of the Trumbull County African American Achievers Association Festival.

The keyboard and organ player got his start in the church, and he played his first gospel concert ever at the Warren amp three years ago, but this will be the Ohio Players’ first show at the venue.

The band played the Los Angeles County Fair last month and will perform at the Ohio State Fair in Columbus and the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre in Detroit in August.

“I feel so blessed, and it’s amazing those songs from the ’70s have stood the test of time,” Beck said. “Our music transcends color lines. It crosses over for all people — white, black, red, purple, whatever you may be, and all orientations. It’s danceable. It’s feel-good music. That’s what we like to do.”

Beck had just turned 20 when he joined the group, and it came at a time when the Dayton-based band was transitioning from a regional club act with some R&B airplay to major players in R&B / soul / funk with crossover success on the top 40 charts.

He co-wrote and performed on the soul / funk hits “Love Rollercoaster,” “Fire,” “Skin Tight,” “Jive Turkey” and many others, and he’s also worked with such artists as Zapp, Roger Troutman and Shirley Murdock.

Beck credited his classical training — he studied piano with Dana School of Music professor George Bretz — and his background with music theory and improvisation with helping to change the band’s musical dynamic.

“We’re carrying on Ohio funk, that’s our legacy,” Beck said. “Ohio has a brand of funk like no others. Look at the bands that have come out of Ohio — Roger Troutman and ZAPP, Lakeside, Isley Brothers started here. James Brown had his recording studio in Ohio back in the day. And the Ohio Players.”

When asked why the state was such a hotbed for that music, Beck answered, “Just be because all our parents worked in the steel mills. I’ve heard people say it must be in the water.

“We all had that spirit of not being defeated by circumstances. We deal with the circumstances and rise and press forward to the next higher marker.”

Beck and drummer James “Diamond” Williams are the only current members of the band who date back to those ’70s. Beck was the baby of the group when he joined in 1974, and most of his former bandmates from that era are deceased or are dealing with illness.

He has no plans to retire soon.

“I love to see the people, hear them sing along, see them — even in our age group — still get up and boogie,” Beck said.

If you go …

WHAT: Trumbull County African American Achievers Association Festival

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday

WHERE: Courthouse Square, West Market Street and North Park Avenue, Warren

HOW MUCH: Admission is free

ATTRACTIONS: This year’s festival includes a parade at 11 a.m. Saturday with Dr. Alisha Alls as grand marshal followed by live entertainment on the square, Zulu boxing on High Street NW and a concert by the Ohio Players at the Warren Community Amphitheatre at 6 p.m. (a $10 donation is requested). Sunday is gospel day with music and speakers, and food vendors and rides are offered all three days.


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