Ohio Express

Mansfield, Ohio

Records with Sonobeat in 1970
No commercial releases on Sonobeat label
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It's approaching the end of 1969, and Buddah Records' star teeny-bopper group, Ohio Express, notoriously famous for its late '60s top 40 radio hits Yummy Yummy Yummy and Chewy, Chewy, is ready for a serious musical change. In mid-'69, a new incarnation of Ohio Express organized by Doug Grassel and featuring Grassel, Scott Steelman, Bruce Knott, and Doug Wimmer come to Austin from the band's hometown of Mansfield, Ohio, to check out the music scene and quite literally to figure out "what's next". Buddah has just released what becomes the band's final hit single. Ironically, that single, Sausalito, hasn't even been recorded by any of the current members of Ohio Express (or, for that matter, by any former members of Ohio Express), but, instead, by a collaboration of studio session musicians and future members of the band 10cc. Nonetheless, Buddah credits the single to Ohio Express to capitalize on the band's name recognition.

In fact, the history of "Ohio Express" is complicated if not bizarre: the band is a construct of producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffrey Katz via their Super K Productions, which has a close alliance with national labels Cameo, Kama Sutra, and Buddah. Ohio Express' first credited hit, Beg, Borrow and Steal, is actually recorded and released in 1966 by New York band The Rare Breed but fails to chart nationally. It's then re-released in 1967 under the Ohio Express name even though there's no real band by that name; but that doesn't stop it from becoming a bona fide national hit. Next, Mansfield, Ohio-based Sir Timothy and the Royals is pressed into service by Super K (which also produces hot '60s top 40 acts Crazy Elephant, Music Explosion, 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Lemon Pipers, and Shadows of Knight) and renamed "Ohio Express". It's in this first actual version of the band, recording for Cameo Parkway Records, that Doug Grassel makes his appearance. Under Super K, Ohio Express cranks out one bubblegum hit after another, initially for Cameo Parkway and then for Buddah, but Super K constantly uses studio musicians and other bands to record the singles and albums that bear the "Ohio Express" name, much to the annoyance of those who remain from the band's origin as Sir Timothy, who have been touring North America on behalf of Super K. Under Grassel, a new incarnation of Ohio Express begins touring Canada, the midwest, and Texas out of an old school bus. This unit is operating independently of Super K and Buddah and sanctioned by neither. Eventually arriving in Austin in 1970, Grassel's Ohio Express plays a gig here, a gig there, and occasionally jams with local bands at many of Austin's hottest night clubs and music halls.

As it's been touring, Grassel's Ohio Express has been experimenting with a new musical direction, steering itself away from Super K's bubblegum groove. The band's new sound is a rock-jazz fusion with a touch of arena rock, a logical progression from the trendy pop rock the previous Ohio Expresses have pioneered for pre-teen and teen record-buyers.

Entering 1970, Sonobeat co-founders Bill Josey Sr. and Rim Kelley (Bill Josey Jr.) seem to bump into Ohio Express all around Austin, including downtown Austin's hippie music hall, Vulcan Gas Company. Eventually formal introductions are made. Hoping to produce a hit single with the nationally-established brand name Ohio Express, Bill Sr. offers to record the band, and Grassel agrees. According to Rim, the resulting sessions, which he produces with Bill Sr. and engineers, are magical, yielding three original songs: Sweet Genie, Beauty So Deep, and Greyhound Shuffle, all written by Grassel. Sweet Genie and Beauty So Deep are strong candidates for a Sonobeat stereo 45 RPM single release, but it turns out Super K and Buddah own the name "Ohio Express", so Sonobeat puts its tentative release plans on hold while Grassel discusses the situation with Buddah.

In March 1970, anticipating Grassel will sort things with Buddah and clear the way for a Sonobeat's release of the band's single, Rim creates a set of mono trial mixes. But soon it becomes clear Buddah won't agree to let Sonobeat release the recordings under the "Ohio Express" name, so Grassel and company consider renaming themselves "January". Eventually, though, the tracks are relegated to the vault, which is unfortunate, because this "new" incarnation of Ohio Express is a solid commercial experiment blending pop jazz with a strong base of power rock that's pretty, um, yummy.

Scott Steelman returns to Sonobeat in 1971 as a member of still another Ohio-based rock band, Synthesis. In 2013, after years of touring as Ohio Express, Doug Grassel succumbs at age 64 to fibrosis of the lungs.

Thank you!

Our thanks to Scott Steelman for recollections of the incarnation of "Ohio Express" that Sonobeat records and for passing along Bruce Knott's recollections, too. Thanks to Scott for identifying the musicians who perform on the Sonobeat sessions.

Sonobeat Tags

Ohio Express personnel

Doug Grassel: guitar
Bruce Knott: drums
Scott Steelman: bass
Doug Wimmer: Hammond organ and lead vocals

Unreleased Sonobeat recordings

Beauty So Deep (Doug Grassel) • 3:50
Greyhound Shuffle (Doug Grassel) • 5:15
Sweet Genie (Doug Grassel) • 5:54

Produced by Bill Josey Sr. and Rim Kelley
Engineered by Rim Kelley
Recorded at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studio, Austin, Texas, in January-March 1970
Final mix-downs at Sonobeat's Western Hills Drive studio, Austin, Texas, on March 8, 1970
Recording equipment: ElectroVoice 665 microphones, ElectroVoice Slimair 636 microphones, Sony ECM22 electret condenser microphones, Scully 280 half-inch 4-track tape deck, Stemco half-inch 4-track tape deck, Ampex AG350 and 354 tape decks, custom 10-channel suitcase stereo mixer, custom steel plate stereo reverb, Ampex 681 tape stock
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Ohio Express reboots its sound at Sonobeat studios in 1970