The Bar-Kays

The Bar-Kays were an American soul-funk band from Memphis that released the album Soul Finger on Volt in 1967. Following a plane crash that claimed four of the original six members, survivors Ben Cauley and James Alexander formed a second lineup of the band. Four further albums appeared on Volt between 1969 and 1974, after which the band released 11 albums on Mercury between 1976 and 1989.

Members: James Alexander (bass, 1966-86, 1991-present), Ben Cauley (trumpet, 1966-71), Jimmy King (guitar, 1966-67), Ronnie Caldwell (organ, 1966-67), Phalon Jones (saxophone, 1966-67), Carl Cunningham (drums, 1966-67), Harvey Henderson (saxophone, 1968-89), Michael Toles (guitar, 1968-71), Willie Hall (drums, 1968-71), Ronnie Gordon (organ, 1968-70), Larry Dodson (lead vocals, 1970-89, 1991-present), Winston Stewart (keyboards, 1970-89), Barry Wilkins (guitar, 1971-72), Alvin Hunter (drums, 1971-72), Charles Allen (trumpet, 1972-83), Vernon Burch (guitar, 1972-73), Lloyd Smith (guitar, 1973-86), Frank Thompson (trombone, 1973-86), Michael Beard (drums, 1973-77), Mark Bynum (keyboards, vocals, 1978-86), Sherman Guy (drums, 1978-83)

The Bar-Kays formed in 1966 as a Memphis session group comprised of six teenage musicians: bassist James Alexander, trumpeter Ben Cauley, guitarist Jimmy King, organist Ronnie Caldwell, saxophonist Phalon Jones, and drummer Carl Cunningham. They were initially mentored by Booker T. & the M.G.’s. In 1967, Otis Redding selected the Bar-Kays as his backing band.

As a recording outfit in their own right, the Bar-Kays scored a hit in April 1967 with the instrumental “Soul Finger” (R&B #3, Pop #17). It was followed in July by an album of the same name, released on the Volt subsidiary of Stax and produced by label co-founder Jim Stewart. The album features 11 songs, including four group-composed originals: “Bar-Kay’s Boogaloo,” “House Shoes”, “Don’t Do That,” and the brassy title-track. Other tracks include co-writes by Isaac Hayes (“Pearl High”) and Booker T. Jones (“Knucklehead”).

Soul Finger sports a cartoon-psych cover with color-clad partygoers cavorting around rainbow rings. It was designed by graphic illustrator Loring Eutemey, who did similar artwork for albums by Archie Bell & the Drells, The Young Rascals, and The Last Words. An alternate cover, on French Atco, shows a closeup of the brass instruments with gold overlay.

Later in 1967, the Bar-Kays were back with another Volt single, the brass rave-up “Give Everybody Some,” co-written between the band and Stax staff-writer David Porter. They embarked on a string of live shows and TV appearances with Redding.

Tragedy struck on December 10, 1967, when five Bar-Kays boarded Redding’s Beechcraft H18 aircraft with associate Matthew Kelly. Since it was only designed for seven passengers, Alexander flew in a separate plane. Under heavy weather, en route from Cleveland to Madison, Wisc., Redding’s plane crashed into Lake Monona, killing everyone on board except Cauley.


  • Soul Finger (1967 • Bar-Kays)
  • Gotta Groove (1969)
  • Black Rock (1971 • Bar-Kays)
  • Do You See What I See? (1972)
  • Cold Blooded (1974)
  • Too Hot to Stop (1976)
  • Flying High on Your Love (1977 • Bar-Kays)
  • Light of Life (1978 • Bar-Kays)
  • Money Talks (1978)
  • Injoy (1979 • Bar-Kays)
  • As One (1980)
  • Nightcruising (1981 • Bar-Kays)
  • Propositions (1982 • Bar-Kays)
  • Dangerous (1984)
  • Banging the Wall (1985 • Bar-Kays)
  • Contagious (1987)
  • Animal (1989)


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