Spotlight: The Bar-Kays
1am, Dirty Dog Bar
As the sole original member of the Bar-Kays, bassist James Alexander has lived through more than a few pivotal moments in R&B history. He was 16 in 1966, when the Memphis-bred instrumental soul institution got started. Hired by Stax Records co-founder Jim Stewart ("Steve Cropper was the A&R man, and he turned us down," Alexander reveals), the Bar-Kays scored its first hit with 1967's "Soul Finger" while backing Otis Redding. The tour ended tragically with the Dec. 10, 1967, plane crash near Madison, Wis., that killed Redding and five of the Bar-Kays. Trumpeter Ben Cauley survived the crash; Alexander was on another plane.
"With the plane that we traveled on, which was Otis' plane, it was always understood that two people had to fly commercial, because the plane could only carry a certain amount of people and it was always two over," Alexander says. "There was no set rhythm or reason to who those two people would be. It was first come, first served.
"The way it went down that particular day, I said I'd take the commercial flight, and [then-vocalist] Carl Sims went with me. Any other time, we would've been on the plane."
Alexander and Cauley reformed the Bar-Kays after the crash. They were Isaac Hayes' backing band on Hot Buttered Soul, and Alexander played the emblematic bassline on "Theme From Shaft."
After leaving Stax for Mercury in 1976, the Bar-Kays had a long run of R&B chart hits such as "Too Hot to Stop" with python-brandishing vocalist Larry Dodson. More recently, Alexander (whose son is hip-hop producer Jazze Pha) and Dodson performed for the troops in Iraq with a funk supergroup that included members of Con Funk Shun and Dazz Band.
"When we hit the stage, even now, 40 years later, we aim to please, not to tease," Alexander asserts. "We come to turn it out."