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The Bar-Kays Biography

Home > Music > B > Bar-Kays, The > Biography

Birth Place: Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
Years Active: 1966–1988, 1991–present
Genres: R&B, Soul, Funk

The Bar-Kays are a soul, R&B, and funk group who formed in Memphis, Tennessee in 1966. The band continues to perform today, although with only one original member. They originally consisted of Jimmy King on guitar, Ronnie Caldwell on organ, Phalon Jones on saxophone, Carl Cunningham on drums, Ben Cauley on trumpet and James Alexander on bass

The Bar-Kays began as a session musicians backing major artists at Stax Records. Their break came in 1967 when Otis Redding asked them to be his backing band. Tragedy struck on December 10, 1967 when band members King, Caldwell, Jones, and Cunningham along with Redding, died in a plane crash in Lake Monona while on their way to a performance in Madison, Wisconsin. Cauley survived the crash and Alexander was on another plane, since there were eight members in Redding's party and the chartered plane could only hold seven.

Cauley and Alexander went on to rebuild the group, with Harvey Henderson on saxophone, Michael Toles on guitar, Ronnie Gorden on organ, Willie Hall on drums and later Larry Dodson on lead vocals. The group went on to back dozens of major Stax artists on studio recordings.

Cauley left the group in 1971 leaving Alexander, Dodson, Henderson, guitarist Barry Wilkins, keyboardist Winston Stewart, trumpeter Charles "Scoops" Allen and drummer Alvin Hunter to create the 1971 “Black Rock” album. Lloyd Smith joined in 1973 and the band changed musical direction during that decade to have a successful funk music career.

1975 saw the Stax/Volt label fold and The Bar-Kays sign with Mercury Records. 1977 marked the release of the successful, “Flying High on Your Love,” album which featured more of a disco/funk sound.

In 1983 the band moved into a more commercial musical direction that would help them to cross over to mainstream pop audiences while still appealing to their core R&B and soul fans. The band embarked on a hiatus in the late 1980s, but regrouped in 1991, with Alexander remaining the only original member involved.