Few groups in the history of R&B have been as long-lived, or as chameleonic, as the Bar-Kays. The Memphis group got their start in the mid-’60s as a session band for Stax Records, with songs like 1967’s “Soul Finger” fitting squarely into the label’s signature sound. At the turn of the decade, like many other soul groups, they went psychedelic, backing Isaac Hayes on his epochal 1969 album Hot Buttered Soul, then recording their own Black Rock. In the ’70s, they were pure funk. So it should come as no surprise that the Bar-Kays were among the first groups of their vintage to recognize the wind change in the early 1980s and embrace the style we at Dystopian Dance Party like to call Jheri Curl Music.
Like last year’s Jheri Curl June alums Ebonee Webb–who shared with the Bar-Kays a manager and producer, Allen A. Jones–the main frame of reference was Prince, with whining Minneapolis-style keyboards taking the place of traditional Memphis-soul horns (and no, that horn section miming in the Soul Train video above isn’t fooling anyone). But there’s also more than a touch of Zapp in the band’s 1982 single “She Talks to Me with Her Body,” from the short snatches of talkbox to that “More Bounce to the Ounce” bass. In fact–and ironically–the only thing that wasn’t Jheri Curl about the Bar-Kays in 1982 was lead singer Larry Dodson’s hair, which appears to be the same heavily-processed dome he wore to Wattstax in 1973, looking a little worse for wear. C’mon man, get some activator at least!