Bar-Kays Biography

Formed in Memphis, Tennessee, USA by Jimmy King (1949, d. 10 December 1967; guitar), Ronnie Caldwell (b. 1948, d. 10 December 1967; organ), Phalon Jones (b. 1949, d. 10 December 1967; saxophone), Ben Cauley (trumpet), James Alexander (bass) and Carl Cunningham (b. 1949, d. 10 December 1967; drums) were originally known as the River Arrows. Signed to Stax Records, the Bar-Kays were groomed as that label’s second-string house band by Al Jackson, drummer in Booker T. And The MGs. They were employed as Otis Redding’s backing group on tour, and the tragic plane crash at Lake Monona, Madison, Wisconsin, USA in 1967 that took his life also claimed King, Caldwell, Jones and Cunningham. Alexander, who missed the flight, put together a new line-up with Cauley, the sole survivor of the accident, recruiting Harvey Henderson (saxophone), Ronnie Gordon (keyboards), Michael Toles (guitar), Willie Hall (drums) and Roy Cunningham (drums). By 1970 Cunningham and Gordon had left the band, with Winston Stewart replacing the latter. Primarily a session group, the Bar-Kays provided the backing on many releases, including Isaac Hayes’ Shaft and several of Albert King’s 70s recordings.

The group pursued a funk-based direction on their own releases with the addition of vocalist Larry Dodson, who was first featured on the excellent Black Rock album. Further personnel upheaval saw Cauley and Toles replaced by Charles Allen and Vernon Burch respectively. Although ‘Son Of Shaft’ reached the US R&B Top 10 in 1972, consistent success was only secured on their move to Mercury Records. Later singles, including ‘Shake Your Rump To The Funk’ (1976), ‘Move Your Boogie Body’ (1979) and ‘Freakshow On The Dancefloor’ (1984), were aimed squarely at the disco market. The stable line-up during this period featured Alexander, Allen, Dodson, Henderson, Stewart, Lloyd Smith (guitar), Frank Thompson (trombone) and Michael Beard (drums), with Sherman Guy (percussion, vocals) and Mark Bynum (keyboards) recruited following the release of the successful Flying High On Your Love. Guy and Allen left in 1983 as the band’s fortunes began to wane, and on 1987’s Contagious the line-up was reduced to Dodson, Henderson and Stewart. The latter two called it a day in 1993, leaving Dodson to carry on with original member James Alexander and several new recruits.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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