As the former back-up band for Otis Redding and the sound behind Isaac Hayes' Hot Buttered Soul, Memphis-based soul/funk group the Bar-Kays boast quite a resume.
Earlier this month, the group added a new accomplishment to their list when they spent a week entertaining about 4,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Kuwait. The Bar-Kays, joined by the Dazz Band and Con Funk Shun, played as a "super-group" known as Legends of Funk during five separate shows in Middle Eastern cities.
The Bar-Kays returned to Memphis last week, and bassist James Alexander, the only original member of the Bar-Kays, stopped by the Flyer office to recount the details of their trip. — Bianca Phillips
Flyer: How did the troops react to your performance? Alexander: A couple of guys came up and said that because we were there, they could get through the hard times. The average tour of duty in a war zone is 15 months. Some of them go out fighting six days a week. They're under a lot of stress.
Did you experience culture shock? After going over there, I'll never complain again. We take a lot of things for granted, such as running water. You can't go to a faucet and drink the water over there. That's a no-no. Everybody drinks bottled water.
Where did you stay?
There are no hotels. You have to stay where [the troops] stay. Sometimes you can get your own room, but there's no TV, no restroom, no shower. It's like being in college. You have to go down the hall to use the bathroom or the phone. In the remote areas, we stayed in places that held six people to a room.
You were in a war zone. Was your life in danger?
We only ran into a couple of problems. We had some mortar attacks, and we had to run for cover.
Under normal circumstances, each area has three or four bunkers where you go to take cover. If you're not close to a bunker, you get as low to the ground as you can. One time, we were close to a bunker, and the other time, we just had to get real low. No one was hurt.
How did you travel to each show?
The bases that we played were maybe less than 200 miles apart. But we went to every city by C-130 [aircraft]. It's too dangerous to travel through the towns on the ground. We had to wear bulletproof vests and helmets on the planes as we traveled from base to base.
Was anyone in the group apprehensive about doing this? No one had a problem with it. It was a life-changing experience to visit the hospitals, to do the shows, and to see the reaction of the troops. We visited the wounded soldiers and wounded Iraqi civilians.
What do shows like yours do for troop morale? Most of the concerts they've been having over there have been comedians and country music. So this was really exciting for them. They'd never had this type of show over there. Our music is fun, feel-good dance music. They really enjoyed it.