Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Eventphul Day in Philly

It seems that whenever I'm in Philadelphia, which is two or three times a summer, I encounter something that rattles the senses. A couple of years ago, while leaving the ballpark after a game, I saw a young woman punched in the jaw when she stepped in the middle of a drunken brawl involving her boyfriend. A year later, I saw a homeless woman collapse and die in front of the downtown Macy's. A couple of weeks ago, I witnessed a cruel mugging on the steps of City Hall in which a group of teenagers threw a homeless man to the sidewalk, punched him in the face, and left him bleeding as they ran off.

Then came my last trip in, when the City of Brotherly Love finally lived up to its name. By chance, I ended up on the same hotel elevator with several members of the Ohio Players, the 1970s funk outfit best known for their provocative album covers and song hits "Fire" and "Love Rollercoaster." They were in town for a concert of R&B and funk groups from the '70s.

As our rooms happened to be on the top floor of a high-rise hotel, I had just enough time to tell them my story. The Ohio Players were my first concert. It was the mid-70s, I was 15 or 16, and my buddies and I bought tickets. Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes were the warmup act.

Junie Morrison, the Ohio Players' leader and keyboardist, stood in one corner of the elevator, balanced on a fancy cane and nodding somberly at my story as we climbed to the top. I could tell he had heard it all before, some fan reminiscing about one of their long-ago shows.

But I knew what I was about to tell them would be something fresh, might give him a rise:

"I'm ashamed to admit this," I continued, "but my friends and I, thinking we might be the only whites at the show. were concerned for our personal safety. It was the South, and you have to understand that we weren't exposed to African-American culture where we lived and went to school. And so all of us decided -- out of sheer ignorance and not some deep-rooted belief -- to wear tennis shoes, just in case we had to make a run for it after the concert."

Well, Morrison and his bandmates received it as I hoped they would. They burst into such laughter that I thought the elevator cables would snap and we'd plummet the 30 some odd floors to the bottom.

I couldn't let them go, though, without asking them about the rumor going around at the time about "Love Rollercoaster." If you listen to this version of the song, you'll hear at the 2:33 mark a woman's scream in the background. The buzz in the hallways at high school was that a woman was stabbed to death during the recording of the song and that the engineers failed to dub out the unintended noise.

In fact, legend has it that the woman in question was the model who appeared on this album cover:

"That wasn't true, was it?" I asked Morrison just before we went our separate ways.

"Nah," he said, adding that the group didn't deny the rumor because it helped to sell records.


  1. You aren't making me want to go to Philly...well maybe this year, but....

  2. It's not my favorite city, that's for sure.


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