Ohio enjoyed a renaissance in the 1970s in that it produced some of the finest funk bands of the era: Ohio Players, Lakeside, Zapp featuring Roger Troutman, and Heatwave, to name just a few. Another outstanding example is Slave, the outfit that produced hits such as "Slide" and "Watching You." Their 1979 single "Just A Touch of Love" has endured, as its hypnotic bass line and thumping beat have been sampled in over 30 songs. Even more important, "Just A Touch of Love" represents a golden era of funk that crossed over onto dance floors.
The band formed in 1975, when trumpeter and Dayton native Steve Washington teamed with members of local bands the Young Mystics and Black Satin Soul. Vocalist Floyd Miller joined the group along with Tom Lockett Jr. (sax and keyboards), Charlie Bradley (keyboards), Mark Adams (bass, vocals, and percussion), Mark Hicks (lead guitar and vocals), Danny Webster (lead vocals and guitar), Orion Wilhoite (sax), Curt Jones (vocals), and Tim Dozier (drums). By 1977, Slave scored their first big hit: "Slide," a now classic funk workout. The next year, they added two new members: vocalists Steve Arrington and Starleana Young. Arrington would soon assume lead vocal duties, but left Slave in 1983 to form his own band Steve Arrington's Hall of Fame, with the single "Way Out" becoming a dance club favorite.
In comparison to the dirty funk of "Slide," "Just A Touch of Love" sounds smoother and more polished, a perfect fit for the waning days of disco. Yet Slave maintains their original spirit through Arrington's slightly nasal vocal, his voice gliding over lines such as "make me shine, just a little bit." Adams' bass pops throughout the track, with Dozier's steady beat stressing the song's danceability. Young's delicate voice provides the perfect counterpoint to Arrington's sensual delivery, with her repetition of the phrase "can we spend some time" suggesting a dialogue between the main narrator and the object of his affection.
Slave also proves adept at writing clever hooks, with songwriters Arrington, Hicks, Turner, and Webster adding a simple but memorable bridge. While the vocalists chant the title phrase, the driving rhythm imprints the words into the listener's memory. The lyrics describe a slow seduction, with Arrington crooning "I don't wanna rush you" and suggests that they "Relax by the fire with a bottle of wine / Yeah, and once again it will flow with time."
"Just A Touch of Love" performed well on the R&B charts, peaking at number nine; it also reached number 26 on the Dance Music/Club Play Singles charts. Even more impressively, other artists saluted the song by sampling it in their own music. De La Soul, Blackstreet, Mariah Carey, En Vogue, and Estelle are just a few examples of artists who have incorporated the hook and bass into their tracks.
The best-known Slave lineup would score one more hit with the 1980 single "Watching You," but two years later Arrington and other original members would depart the group. Most of the original lineup was set to reunite in 2011, but Adams and Hicks would die within months of each other that same year. Despite these setbacks, a reconfigured Slave continues touring, with Lockett, Webster, and Miller the only members remaining from the 1975 lineup.
The Ohio funk movement may have ended in the 1980s, but the music continues influencing contemporary R&B artists. "Just A Touch of Love" exemplifies the melding of funk and disco, and anticipated the smoother sound of R&B in the next decade.