The Bar-Kays

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Not to be confused with The Mar-Keys, a 1950s/1960s studio session band.
The Bar-Kays
Origin Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Genres R&B, soul, funk
Years active 1966–1989, 1991–present
Labels Stax, Mercury, Rhino, Island Records
Associated acts Otis Redding, Albert King
Members James Alexander
Larry Dodson
Past members Ben Cauley
Ronnie Caldwell
Carl Cunningham
Phalon Jones
Jimmie King
Harvey Henderson
Ronnie Gorden
Willie Hall
Michael Toles
Winston Stewart
Charles "Scoops" Allen
Alvin Hunter
Barry Wilkins
Lloyd Smith
Mike Beard
Frank Thompson
Sherman Guy
Larry "LJ" Johnson
Marcus Price
Tony Gentry
Archie Love
Bryan Smith

The Bar-Kays are an American soul, R&B, and funk group formed in 1966. The group had dozens of charting singles from the 1960s to the 1980s, including "Soul Finger" (US Billboard Hot 100 number 17, R&B number 3) in 1967, "Son of Shaft" (R&B number 10) in 1972, and "Boogie Body Land" (R&B number 7) in 1980.


The Bar-Kays began in Memphis, Tennessee as a studio session musician group, backing major artists at Stax Records. They were chosen in 1967 by Otis Redding to play as his backing band and tutored to do so by Al Jackson, Jr., Booker T. Jones, and the other members of the M.G.'s.[1] Their first single, "Soul Finger", was issued on April 14, 1967, reaching #3 on the US Billboard R&B Singles chart and #17 on the Billboard Hot 100. On December 10, 1967, Redding, his manager, and band members Jimmie King (born June 8, 1949; guitar), Ronnie Caldwell (born 1948; electric organ), Phalon Jones (born 1949; saxophone), and Carl Cunningham (born 1949; drums) died when their airplane plunged into Lake Monona while attempting to land at Truax Field, both near Madison, Wisconsin. Redding and the band were scheduled to play their next concerts in Madison. Trumpeter Ben Cauley survived the crash. Bassist James Alexander was on another plane, as the plane only held seven passengers. Cauley and Alexander rebuilt the group.

The re-formed band consisted of Cauley; Alexander; Harvey Henderson, saxophone; Michael Toles, guitar; Ronnie Gorden, organ; Willie Hall, drums and later Larry Dodson (formerly of fellow Stax act The Temprees), lead vocals. The group backed dozens of major Stax artists on recordings afterwards, including Isaac Hayes's Hot Buttered Soul.

Cauley left the group in 1971, leaving Alexander, Dodson (vocals, vibes), Barry Wilkins (guitar), Winston Stewart (keyboards), Henderson (tenor sax, flute), Charles "Scoops" Allen (trumpet), and Alvin Hunter (drums) to create the album Black Rock.[2] Lloyd Smith joined in 1973 and the band changed musical direction during that decade to have a successful funk music career. With the Stax/Volt label folding in 1975, the group signed with Mercury Records.[3] In 1976, Dodson (vocals), Alexander (bass), Lloyd Smith (guitar), Allen (trumpet), Henderson (saxophone), Frank Thompson (Trombone), Stewart (keyboards), and Mike Beard (drums) brought their "Shake Your Rump to the Funk" track into the R&B Top Five.[3] In autumn 1977, the group came out with Flying High on Your Love, an album that featured "Shut The Funk Up" as a "near-perfect disco song punctuated by the funky horn triumvirate of Charles "Scoop" Allen."[4]

In 1983, Sherman Guy left the group and Larry (LJ) Johnson took his place on vocals and percussion. Charles Allen left the group just before the group took a more commercial direction.[5] Nonetheless, the Bar-Kays continued to have hits on R&B charts well into the 1980s. Marcus Price was also a member of the Bar-Kays, until he was murdered coming from rehearsal in 1984, a crime never solved by the Memphis police. The band took a hiatus in the late 1980s, but regrouped in 1991, with Alexander once again being the only original member involved. Since 1991, Larry Dodson, Archie Love, Bryan Smith, and Tony Gentry have been added to the group.

Alexander's son is the award-winning rapper and record producer, Phalon "Jazze Pha" Alexander, who was named after deceased band-member Phalon Jones. Jazze Pha produced the most recent effort by the group, "Grown Folks", released in 2012.[citation needed] In 2013, the Bar-Kays were inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame.[6] On June 6, 2015 the Bar-Kays were inducted into the Official Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Trumpeter Ben Cauley died in Memphis Sept. 24, 2015 at the age of 67.[7]




  • 1967 – "Soul Finger" (number 17 pop, number 3 R&B, number 13 Canada)
  • 1967 – "Knucklehead" (number 76 pop, number 28 R&B)
  • 1967 – "Give Everybody Some" (number 91 pop, number 36 R&B)
  • 1972 – "Son of Shaft" (number 53 pop, number 10 R&B)
  • 1976 – "Shake Your Rump to the Funk" (number 23 pop, number 5 R&B)
  • 1977 – "Too Hot to Stop" (number 74 pop, number 8 R&B)
  • 1977 – "Spellbound" (number 29 R&B)
  • 1978 – "Let's Have Some Fun" (number 11 R&B)
  • 1978 – "Attitudes" (number 22 R&B)
  • 1979 – "Holy Ghost" (number 9 R&B)
  • 1979 – "I'll Dance" (number 26 R&B)
  • 1979 – "Are You Being Real" (number 61 R&B)
  • 1979 – "Shine" (number 14 R&B)
  • 1979 – "Move Your Boogie Body" (number 53 pop, number 90 dance, number 3 R&B)
  • 1980 – "Today is the Day" (number 60 pop, number 25 R&B)
  • 1981 – "Hit & Run" (number 5 R&B)
  • 1981 – "Boogie Body Land" (number 73 dance, number 7 R&B)
  • 1981 – "Body Fever" (number 42 R&B)
  • 1982 – "Freaky Behavior" (number 60 dance, number 27 R&B)
  • 1982 – "Hit & Run/Freaky Behavior" (number 49 dance)
  • 1982 – "Do It"
  • 1982 – "Propositions"
  • 1983 – "She Talks to Me With Her Body" (number 62 dance, number 13 R&B)
  • 1984 – "Freak Show on the Dance Floor" (number 73 pop, number 2 R&B)
  • 1984 – "Sexomatic" (number 12 R&B)
  • 1984 – "Dirty Dancer" (number 17 R&B)
  • 1985 – "Your Place or Mine" (number 44 dance, number 12 R&B)
  • 1985 – "Banging the Walls" (number 67 R&B)
  • 1987 – "Certified True" (number 9 R&B)
  • 1989 – "Struck By You" (number 11 R&B)
  • 1994 – "Old School Megamix" (number 44 rap)
  • 1995 – "Mega Mix" (number 96 R&B)
  • 1995 – "The Slide" (number 82 R&B)

In popular culture[edit]

The Bar-Kays appear in the 1973 film documentary, Wattstax.

In the 1985 movie Spies Like Us, starring Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase, The Bar-Kays' hit "Soul Finger" was being played by the crew of a Soviet mobile ICBM platform on patrol in the Tajik S.S.R. Their songs "Too Hot To Stop" and "Soul Finger" are featured in the 2007 comedy film, Superbad. "Soul Finger" is also featured in the 2012 remake of "Sparkle".


External links[edit]