The Bar-Kays are a 1967 formed soul, R&B and funk group that went through a major tragedy on their way to stardom in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. The band was formed in Memphis, Tennessee as a studio session musician group for Stax Records. From that they were chosen as the backing band for Otis Redding. On December 10, 1967 on a flight to Madison, WI the plane carrying Otis Redding and five of the six Bar-Kays crashed in Lake Monona. Otis and Bar-Kay band members Jimmy King (guitar), Ronnie Caldwell (electric organ), Phalon Jones (saxophone) and Carl Cunningham (drums) were killed in the crash. Ben Cauley (trumpet) survived the crash and James Alexander (bass) was on a different plane since the chartered plane held only seven passengers. The group had just had their biggest hit song “Soul Finger” which charted at #3 on the R&B singles and #17 on the Billboard Hot 100. After the tragedy Cauley and Alexander rebuilt the group. They brought in new members Harvey Henderson (saxophone), Michael Toles (guitar), Ronnie Gorden (organ), Willie Hall (drums), and Larry Dodson (lead vocals). Cauley left the group in 1971 after the group had little success. In 1973 the group changed its musical direction and began performing funk music. The new band consisted of Henderson, Dodson & Henderson along with Charles “Scoops” Allen (trumpet), Winston Stewart (keyboards) , Barry Wilkins (guitar) and Alvin Hunter (drums). The group left Stax and signed with Mercury Records and had many hit singles and albums that charted well on the Billboard R&B charts throughout the 70’s and 80’s. The band is still performing to this day with original member James Alexander. They last released a 2003 CD “The Real Thing” on Right Now Records. Bar-Kays Hit Songs: “The Slide”, “Give Everybody Some”, “Mega Mix”, “Son of Shaft”, “Old School Megamix”, “Knucklehead”, “Struck By You”, “Shake Your Rump To The Funk”, “Certified True”, “Too Hot to Stop”, “Banging the Walls”, “Spellbound”, “Your Place Or Mine”, “Let’s Have Some Fun”, “Dirty Dancer”, “Attitudes”, “Sexomatic”, “Holy Ghost”, “Freak Show on the Dance Floor”, “I’ll Dance”, “Body Fever”, “Are You Being Real”, “Boogie Body Land”, “Shine”, “Hit and Run”, “Move Your Boogie Body”, “Today is the Day”, Propositions” and “Do It”.
Bar-Kay’s Early Days
Once dominating the R&B/soul/funk scene from the 60s music to the 80s music scene, the instrumental soul combo Bar-Kays started as a group of studio musicians working for Stax Records, backing several of its major artists there.
The original line-up of the band consisted of Jimmie King (guitar), Ben Cauley (trumpeter), Ronnie Caldwell (organ), Phalon Jones (saxophone), James Alexander (bass) and Carl Cunningham (drums).
In 1967, the legendary singer-songwriter Otis Redding hired the Bar-Kays as his backing band. Redding also made himself as the band’s manager as well. Later that year, the band released their first single, “Soul Finger.” It eventually reached #3 on the Billboard R&B singles chart and #17 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was followed by another single “Knucklehead,” which became only a minor hit.
A painful tragedy, and the subsequent reformations of the Bar-Kays
An unexpected mishap happened on December 10, 1967. Redding and his manager, as well as Bar-Kays members King, Caldwell, Jones and Cunningham died in a plane crash while the band was on their way to Madison to play a series of concerts. Cauley survived the crash, while band mate Alexander was on another plane, as the ill-fated plane that only carried seven passengers.
After the tragedy, the Bar-Kays reformed along with newer members. The reformatted line-up consisted of Cauley and Alexander with newer members Harvey Henderson (saxophone), Michael Toles (guitar), Ronnie Gordner (organ), Willie Hall (drums) and Larry Dodson (lead vocals). Dodson also used to be a member of The Temprees, who were also contract artists at Stax. In late 1971 the group released “Son of Shaft” which reached #10 R&B and #53 pop early the following year.
In 1971 Cauley left the group, the band reformed for the second time. The new version of the Bar-Kays consisted of Barry Wilkins (guitar), Winston Stewart (keyboard), Charles “Scoops” Allen (trumpet) and Alvin Hunter (drums). The group released their fourth second album (overall) Black Rock in that same year.
The band changed their style to go with the funk music trend in 1973; they also added Lloyd Smith as a new member. After releasing two albums from Volt, the group switched to Mercury Records in late 1975. The following year The Bar-Kays was back in the recording studio and released their third effort Too Hot to Stop which included another big hit “Shake Your Rump to the Funk.” It reached #5 on the R&B Singles Chart. In 1977, The Bar-Kays released Flying High on Your Love album. One of the album’s tracks included, “Shut the Funk Up,” prominently featured Charles “Scoop” Allen’s “funky horn triumvirate.”
The Bar-Kays, after having had numerous shifts in their lineup, continued to have hits particularly on the R&B singles chart department throughout the 1970s and the 1980s: “Holy Ghost,” “Move Your Boogie Body,” “Boogie Body Land,” “Hit and Run,” “Do It (Let Me See You Shake),” “Certified True,” and several other Top 20 R&B hits.
Since reforming once again in 1991 (after having experienced a brief hiatus), Alexander has been the only original member present in the current lineup, along with newer members Larry Dodson, Archie Love, Bryan Smith, and Tony Gentry.