Spotlight: The Bar-Kays

1am, Dirty Dog Bar

Spotlight: The Bar-Kays

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."

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw. Sign up for our South By-specific newsletter at austinchronicle.com/newsletters for news, reviews, and previews delivered to your inbox every day of the Fest. And for the latest tweets, follow @ChronSXSW.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
Friday Picks & Sleepers
Friday Picks & Sleepers
Obvious Picks and loads of not-so-obvious Sleepers!

March 20, 2015

Thursday Showcases
Thursday Showcases
International hip-hop, or domestic, Modern Outsider sounds?

March 20, 2015

More by Greg Beets
Our Music Critics Pick Their Top 10 Austin Albums of 2018
Our Music Critics Pick Their Top 10 Austin Albums of 2018
80 local picks from Molly Burch to Brownout

Dec. 28, 2018

Our Music Critics Pick Their Top 10 Austin Albums of 2018
Our Music Critics Pick Their Top 10 Austin Albums of 2018
80 local picks from Molly Burch to Brownout

Dec. 28, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

The Bar-Kays

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle