When the Bar-Kays take the stage at the Cannon Center this Friday night, June 16th, their show will mark the closing chapter of lead singer Larry Dodson's career: his last hometown performance.
"This is something my wife and I planned long ago, when we first got married," says Dodson. "People don't realize I've been in front of the microphone 47 years. That's more time than a lot of our younger fans are old. I joined the band in March of 1970 and I got married to my wife Marie in August of 1970, and she's worked all of her life. We said from the very beginning we weren't going to work ourselves to death."
So after this year's schedule is wrapped, Dodson will be focusing his time on his wife and his daughter Precious, now 46, who was born with Down syndrome. "There are a lot of places that she wants to see, and we just want to be a loving family while we're all healthy. My family had to play second fiddle to me, and I don't like that."
One would be hard-pressed to name a band exemplifying the Memphis music spirit more than the Bar-Kays. The original lineup began as teenagers hanging around the Stax studio and performing at Booker T. Washington High School, ultimately growing into a road band for Stax artists and having hits of their own. In 1967, the same year their "Soul Finger" single broke, a plane crash took the life of Otis Redding and every other member of the Bar-Kays aboard except trumpeter Ben Cauley. Bassist James Alexander, traveling on another flight, also survived. Ultimately, he and Cauley reformed and reinvented the band, leading them into funk stardom in the 1970s and beyond. Dodson, already a Stax artist with the Temprees, was recruited at that time.
- Larry Dodson
They backed Isaac Hayes on his breakthrough "Hot Buttered Soul," racked up more hit singles of their own, and wowed audiences at the label's Wattstax extravaganza in 1972.
As the decade closed, the Bar-Kays sold out the Mid-South Coliseum in April 1979. As Dodson remembers it, "We broke Elvis' record, Al Green broke ours, and Rick James broke them all, later." He gives much credit for this early success to manager/producer Allen Jones. "A baaad man. So visionary. He turned me into the guy I am today."
For his part, Alexander plans to soldier on after Dodson's departure. There will be auditions for a new lead singer after this year's confirmed dates are a wrap. "He says I'll retire on stage, and he'll expire on stage," Dodson laughs. "I know it's going to be hard on him not seeing me there."
But the Bar-Kays are not limping into the twilight of their careers. Alexander's son Phalon, a.k.a. "Jazze Pha," a producer based in Atlanta, cut a 2012 hit for them, "Grown Folks."
"We knew we had a good record, but we were surprised at how big the record was. Earth, Wind and Fire, the Commodores, Kool and the Gang, and a lot of the funk bands were putting out [new] records, but they couldn't get arrested, and 'Grown Folks' went straight Top 10. And it wasn't just our older fans, but younger ones outside of our fan base. He really produced the 'shut yo' mouth' out of the record.
"The ironic part is that we did it in one day," says Dodson. "We did not have one line written."
The Bar-Kays play the Cannon Center on Friday, June 16th; ConFunkShun will open the show.