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Click below for a Bar-Kays sample:

Son of Shaft



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If there were an honorary award for longevity, the Bar-Kays would surely receive one for persevering through some very difficult times.  The Memphis band began as a backing band for Stax, and recorded their own hit "Soul Finger" in 1967.  Just as their career was beginning to take off, all of the Bar Kays except bassist James Alexander and trumpeter Ben Cauley were killed in the plane crash that claimed Otis Redding.

After a period of mourning, Alexander reformed the group and they supported Isaac Hayes on his classic Hot Buttered Soul, Shaft, Movement and To Be Continued LPs.  The high profile of the Hayes records assured the revival of their career, and they came back with "Son Of Shaft" in 1971, a top 10 hit.   Now consisting of Alexander with Willie Hall (drums), Winston Stewart (organ), Barry Wilkins (guitar), Vernon Burch (guitar), Harvey Henderson (sax) and vocalist Larry Dodson, the Bar- Kays developed a reputation as a fierce live outfit, which was briefly documented on the Wattstax concert. 

The rest of their tenure on Stax failed to produce any notable hits.   This was partly due to the organizational problems Stax was having, but also by the Bar-Kays' approach to music, which would include everything from pop covers ("Montego Bay") to guitar-driven funk ("Humpin") and what they called "black rock."

Once they were free to record for a new label, they quickly signed to Mercury.  "Shake Your Rump To The Funk" kicked off a long string of popularity for the band, reaching #5 in 1976.  For the rest of their career, they became expert stylists, doing their variation on whatever style was popular at the moment.   While that meant their LPs were less adventurous than before, it also guaranteed chart presence in the form of hit singles.  "Let's Have Some Fun," "Move Your Boogie Body," "Hit And Run," and "She Talks To Me With Her Body" took them from the disco era through the techno-funk of the early 80s.   In 1978, a forgotten session from Stax, "Holy Ghost," was released and became a funk classic, despite being completed nearly 4 years earlier.

They adapted to the advent of rap music with "Freakshow On the Dance Floor," a song from the Breakin' soundtrack that was their biggest hit, peaking at #2.  The jams kept coming: "Your Place Or Mine," "Certified True," and their stab at go-go, "Struck By You."  They kept touring but recorded less frequently in the 90s. Still, the band marches on, representing Memphis soul as they have for the past four decades.

Bar-Kays' Deepest Grooves

Soul Finger (Volt, 1967)

Gotta Groove (Volt, 1969)

Black Rock (Volt, 1971)

Do You See What I See (Volt, 1972)

Too Hot To Stop (Mercury, 1976)

Flying High On Your Love (Mercury, 1977)

Money Talks (Stax, 1978)

Light of Life (Mercury, 1978)

Injoy (Mercury, 1979)

As One (Mercury, 1980)

Nightcruising (Mercury, 1981)

Propositions (Mercury, 1982)

Dangerous (Mercury, 1984)

Banging The Wall (Mercury, 1985)

Contagious (Mercury, 1987)

Animal (Mercury, 1989)

Best Of (Polygram, 1993)

48 Hours (Basix, 1994)

Best Of Volume 2 (Polygram, 1996)

Ballads Collection (Polygram, 1998)

Copyright 2001 B.Graff.  All rights reserved.

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