Category Archives: The Bar Kays

Dystopian Dance Party presents Jheri Curl June: The Bar-Kays’ “She Talks to Me with Her Body”

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!

Like I said last Saturday, I’ll be posting highlights from this year’s Jheri Curl June for the rest of the month. For more, check out Dystopian Dance Party every weekday!

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Filed under Isaac Hayes, Soul Train, Stax Records, The Bar Kays

Grooves On Wax: Funk On The 4th Of July

Soul Survivors

These Philly one hit wonders made a big splash with “Expressway To Your Heart” from this 1967 album. It always reminded me of the Young Rascals. And most of this album does too. They do have some amazing Hammond B-3 organ work here,especially on a version of James Brown’s “Please Please Please”. Where the album gets most interesting is when the Indian classical and psychedelic soul influences come in.

Key Jams “Expressway (To Your Heart” and “Taboo-India”

Jackie Wilson

Jackie Wilson’s 1968 album reminds me of how close the musical flavors were between windy city soul and the Motown sound. Jackie was the link between the two as Berry Gordy wrote a lot of his big hits of the 1950’s. This represents his most uptempo soul oriented album (with only two show tune styled ballads) of his late 60’s comeback. And the Motown connection even begins the album with a version of “You Keep Me Hanging On”.

Key Jams: “I Get The Sweetest Feeling”,“You Brought About A Change In Me” and “Nothing But Blue Skies”

Rainbow Bridge

Hendrix was near the end of his tragically short life and career when he appeared in this film. I actually liked the story of a young woman’s journey to Hendrix’s music through a political awakening. The soundtrack showcases how he and the Band Of Gypsies (Billy Cox and Buddy Miles) were about to change the game on the funk/rock sound the same way Hendrix and the Experience had a couple years earlier with psychedelia.

Key Jams: “Dolly Dagger”,”Earth Blues” and “Star Spangled Banner”

Supremes_1970s_Touch

This beautifully arranged 1971 album by the post Diana Ross Supremes has some very loving liner notes from the now Sir Elton John. It actually showcases the revived trio’s sound as focusing their mid tempo cinematic soul sound more towards an album than a singles focus as well.

Key Jams: “Nathan Jones” and “Happy (Is A Bumpy Road)”

Ahmad Jamal

This Ahmad Jamal 2 LP collection came borrowed from my father,who loaned it to me. It’s a rare 1973 collection of Jamal’s not entirely common three Impulse albums such as 1968’s Tranquility and 1972’s Outertimeinnerspace. A lot of these songs have an Afro Cuban/ Caribbean vibe with a does of soul jazz thrown in with Jamal’s trademark cool,light piano touch. He even pulls out the electric piano on one occasion with amazing results.

Key Jam: “Bogota”

Bar Kays Coldblooded

The Bar-Kays third and final album for Stax in 1974 was probably their most funkified overall thus far. They still had a lot of the psychedelic soul/rock touches that had them freaking out hard on their earlier albums. Yet the wah wah continued to let go big time on the title song,and the influence of Sly Stone and their penchant for funky impersonation started to show up on “Fightin’ Fire With Fire” as well.

Key Jams: “Coldblooded”,“Smiling,Styling And Profiling” and “Be Yourself”

Bell & James

Leroy Bell’s career arc from success to obscurity and back reads almost like fiction,as it turns out. In partnership with Casey James,the multi instrumentalist duo served up this 1979 album that didn’t provide as big a commercial as they did on the hit “Livin’ It Up (Friday Night)”,but did really get down with some sleek Westlake studio sounding disco/pop/funk/soul straight out of the Off The Wall vibe. And with a lot of the same musicians playing on it as well.

Key Jams: “Shakedown”,“Laughing In The Face Of Love” and “Fare Thee Well”

stephaniemills-stephanie(1)

Stephanie Mills 1981 album is one of those boogie funk classics where every song,especially the uptempo ones,stand on just about equal footing in terms of success potential. Reggie Lucus and James Mtume’s writing and production help a lot in this degree. Even though it has it’s predictable aspects,the strong sound and Mills’ gospel/soul vocal chops really give this album quite a workout.

Key Jams: “Two Hearts” and “Top Of My List”

spinners-labor_of_love

One thing I really admire about The Spinners is that they kept up with uptempo boogie and electro funk sounds even after the disco era-rather than focusing solely on slow ballads.  This 1981 album,one of records very funky albums they put out that year,has perhaps even more harder driving funk material than their 70’s hit period with Thom Bell. One of it’s few ballads,”A Man Just Don’t Know What A Woman Goes Through” even focuses on male sensitivity to the opposite sex when it comes to aging. Not to even mention closing with a good attempt at an early rap/funk hybrid.

Key Jams: “Long Live Soul Music” and “The Deacon”Let There Be Sun

Sun were among the handful of iconic Dayton,Ohio funk bands who came out of the late 70’s. Each of these bands had their special qualities. This 1982 release being their next to last albums is actually the first Sun I’ve ever heard thus far. And want to hear more considering their own distinct approach to the P-Funk vibe they seem to have here.

Key Jams: “Slam Dunk The Funk” and “Super Duper Super Star”

Tyka Nelson

Yes,this 1988 album was presented to me on the selling point that Tyka Nelson was Prince’s sister. I knew all about Tyka before this,but not that she ever had a musical career. The overall vibe of this album is very much of a mid-tempo dance and ballad urban contemporary album of it’s day. Tyka’s soft,melodic voice actually carries these sleek numbers quite well.

Key Jams: “No Promises” and “Marc Anthony’s Tune”

 

 

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, Ahmad Jamal, Bell & James, Boogie Funk, Chicago, Funk, funk rock, Jackie Wilson, Jazz, Soul, Soul Survivors, Stephanie Mills, Sun, The Bar Kays, The Spinners, The Supremes, Tyka Nelson, Vinyl

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Bang Bang (Stick Em Up)” by The Bar Kays

The Bar Kays have and will probably always continue to funk’s most enduring band for two important reasons. One is that they’ve continually recorded for nearly half a century at this point-always re-imagining the new sounds and grooves of each new time period. Another is that they survived all but two of their original members dying in the same plane crash that killed the singer they backed up: Otis Redding. James Alexander is the only one of these two still in the band. But these Memphis soul survivors have never failed in some way to give up the funk with verve and vitality. And the 70′ were a huge breeding ground for their burgeoning search of the perfect groove.

After 1975  the reformed band,who’d modeled themselves into something of a Southern version of Funkadelic,their original label Stax folded. This put them into a position of having to sign with Mercury Records. Since that was the home of fellow funkateers Ohio Players at the time? It was an excellent move. The Bar Kays first album for the label entitled Too Hot To Stop came out in 1976. There was no shortage of strong funk within it’s eight songs. And it was kind of hard to pick which one to talk about in all honesty. But there was one leaped out at me. One that carried a sound I’d never really heard come from any of their grooves before. It is called “Bang Bang (Strike Em Dead)”.

The band are calling out to each other in rough Spanish or Portuguese from the sound of it over the kinetic Brazilian drums of the intro-just before the Afrocentric percussion comes into play. On the main groove an acoustic piano,Clavinet and a bopping bass are all having one serious conversation as the horn section rises from below into the mix. On the choruses? There is a big descending synthesizer melody along with the wordless, harmonized vocalese of the band members. As the song progresses,the horns begin to take faster and more elaborate solos as the vocal chants and calls of the group members become a total instrumental element all their own.

Somehow the Bar Kays heavy Southern fried funk took on a whole different groove on this song. The thrust of this rhythmically is an Afro-Brazilian groove with somewhat jazzier flavors to the melodic construction,and the nature of the vocals. One thing it continues to carry over from the bands signature sound is it’s extremely high energy and fast tempo. And that’s one thing I’ll say about the Bar Kays. While normally a slower tempo music when you listen to it? The funk this band often came out with was very uptempo and fast paced. And the strong musical Afrocentrism of this percussion based jam really helped to calcify this bands way with strong,thick uptempo funk.

 

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Filed under 1970's, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Funk, Funkadelic, horns, Memphis Soul, Mercury Records, Ohio Players, percussion, Stax, synthesizers, The Bar Kays