The Bar-Kays — Black Rock (1971)

This was an unexpected blast of rare funk courtesy of my friend Charlie from Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound. We’ve been trading stanky jams and fuzzy cookies since I got What It Is! Funky Soul And Rare Grooves (1967-1977) for Christmas last year. He must have been holding out on this one.

This is the reformed Bar-Kays, four years after the plane crash that took Otis Redding almost wiped them out as well. Surviving trumpet player Ben Cauley, along with bassist James Alexander (who wasn’t on the fated flight) drafted singer Larry Dodson and lysergically-enhanced guitarist Micheal Toles for their take on what Parliament/Funkadelic maestro George Clinton and his crew had been up to.

For all of Black Rock’s psychedelic posturing, it is Alexander’s incredibly solid bass lines that anchor the craziness to the ground. If you happen to own a bass, I defy you not to jump up and groove along. To show how hot the Bar-Kays were in 1971, self-styled “Black Moses” Isaac Hayes took the funk juggernaut and recorded the all-time classic Shaft album later that same year.

The Bar-Kays would later be all but folded up into the mad P-Funk circus tent while opening for the menagerie in the mid-’70s, but these early experimental-yet-earthy tracks beg the question: who influenced whom?


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