TIR 41: Dodson Details How Bar-Kays Moved Boogie Bodies for 50 Years

Larry Dodson (left) with longtime Bar-Kays collaborator and bassist James Alexander.


Brought to you by FUNKNSTUFF.NET and hosted by Scott Goldfine — musicologist and author of “Everything Is on THE ONE: The First Guide of Funk” ― “TRUTH IN RHYTHM” is the interview show that gets DEEP into the pocket with contemporary music’s foremost masters of the groove.

Featured in this 2-part series: Larry Dodson, who up until hanging up the microphone and retiring this past December had since 1971 served as the lead singer of the Bar-Kays. For almost a half-century his gritty and gutsy vocals were one of the most distinctive elements of this fiercely funky band, which enjoyed uncommon longevity with a string of 16 U.S. Top 20 R&B singles with Mercury Records between 1976 and 1989.

The Memphis, Tenn.-based group also had two prior U.S. Top 10 R&B hits with Stax Records dating back to 1967. Dodson was among those brought in to help the Bar-Kays carry onward after all but two members of the group perished in the December 1967 plane crash that also claimed the life of soul singer Otis Redding.

The Bar-Kays’ mid-1970s to late-1980s run included seven U.S. Top 10 R&B albums, plus another five that made the Top 40. Among the dancefloor gems contained on those records were: “Shake Your Rump to the Funk,” “Too Hot to Stop”; “Let’s Have Some Fun”; “Holy Ghost,” “I’ll Dance”; “Move Your Boogie Body”; “Hit and Run”; “Traffic Jammer”; “Freakshow on the Dancefloor”; “Sex O Matic”; “Your Place or Mine”; and “Certified True.” Although it was mostly the uptempo material that charted, they also delivered many memorable mid-tempo numbers and ballads, including “Attitudes,” “Anticipation,” “Running in and Out of My Life” and “You Can’t Run Away.”

Even years later the Bar-Kays unleashed one of the strongest funk albums of the 1990s called 48 hours, which contained the compelling closing track, “Master.” As recent as 2012, the Bar-Kays notched yet another hit with “Grown Folks.” Along the journey the band gained new fans and renewed momentum by having songs prominently placed in hit movies such as “Spies Like Us” in the 1980s with “Soul Finger,” and “Superbad” in 2007 with “Too Hot to Stop.”

Heavily influenced through the years by contemporaries like the Ohio Players, Earth, Wind and Fire, Rick James and Prince, the group was not always the most original or groundbreaking recording act, but they were the model of consistency with just enough of their own flavor to make it unmistakably the Bar-Kays. And exceedingly importantly, they never ceased bringing the real, down-and-dirty, authentic funk.

Dodson has spent the better part of the past year on a retirement tour with the band as they searched for and named his successor. Throughout his career, there have been two critical constants, his wife of all 47 of those years, and bandmate, bass player and brother in funk James Alexander. This interview finds Dodson hanging out at his Memphis home on his birthday. He shares stories of his colorful career, including how he was mentored by producer Allen Jones, how George Clinton helped the group get ahead and what went into many of those unforgettable hit songs.

Recorded January 2018