Getty Images Ray Manzarek of the legendary rock band The Doors has died at the age…
- Posted on Oct 22nd 2010 4:30PM by James Sullivan
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With a name inspired by a Bacardi rum billboard in their native Memphis, the six members of the Bar-Kays were determined to record for their hometown label. But they were turned away more than once by Stax musician and A&R man Steve Cropper. Finally, Stax co-founder Jim Stewart advised the group to come back on Cropper's day off.
The Bar-Kays' first single, 'Soul Finger,' became a Top 20 US hit in the summer of 1967. The song featured a group of schoolchildren brought in from the street outside the studio to chant the title phrase. The kids were paid in Cokes.
Four members of the group – guitarist Jimmy King, organist Ronnie Caldwell, sax player Phalon Jones and drummer Carl Cunningham – died alongside Redding, his manager and the pilot when Redding's Beechcraft 18 went down in a lake near Madison, Wisc. Trumpeter Ben Cauley, the only member of the group who couldn't swim, was catapulted from the plane on his seat cushion, which kept him afloat. He was the only survivor.
The sixth member of the original Bar-Kays, bassist James Alexander, was not with the band at the time. It had been his turn to fly a commercial airline: Because the plane seated seven (besides the pilot), one of the Bar-Kays had to travel alone on each trip.
(Recorded One Day Before the Fatal Plane Crash)
After a hiatus, Alexander re-formed the Bar-Kays with all new members. Though guitarist Michael Toles and drummer Willie "Too Big" Hall left the group by 1971, they and Alexander continued to operate for several years as Stax's house band. (Hall later played with Cropper and Donald "Duck" Dunn in the Blues Brothers band.)
Backing up many Stax acts, the Bar-Kays came to prominence behind Isaac Hayes, playing on his 'Hot Buttered Soul' and 'Shaft' albums. They had an R&B hit of their own in 1971 with 'Son of Shaft,' and they were featured at the Wattstax concert the following year. According to 'Soulsville, USA,' Rob Bowman's history of Stax, the band's song 'Holy Ghost' may have been the last single ever released by the financially troubled label, in 1975. 'Holy Ghost' was reissued a few years later and has since become a heavy-funk classic.
With the addition of vocalist Larry Dodson, the Bar-Kays changed labels and established themselves as an enduring touring band, scoring a rash of R&B hits including 'Shake Your Rump to the Funk,' 'Too Hot to Stop' (later heard over the opening credits of the comedy 'Superbad') and, from the 'Breakin'' soundtrack, 'Freakshow on the Dance Floor.'
By that year, 1984, the band's decade-long run of success was beginning to wind down. The fragility of stardom became all too apparent when tragedy struck the band a second time: A young recruit, 19-year-old Marcus Price, was shot in a mugging in Memphis, as three assailants tried to steal his radio. Police never identified the murderers.