The Bar-Kays — “Street Walker”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — April 16, 2022

416) The Bar-Kays — “Street Walker”

Ah, the Bar-Kays, like a phoenix rising.

Jason Ankeny calls Gotta Groove, the reconstituted band’s first album after the tragic plane crash that took the lives of Otis Redding, four members of the Bar-Kays, and two others “a celebration of life and music that ranks among the funkiest, hardest-driving LPs ever released under the Stax aegis”, and he calls the album’s track “Street Walker” “[e]ven further out . . . blistering . . . with its shrieking guitar licks and organ fills.” ( Nathan Bush calls “Street Walker” “tough, lunging funk with wailing harmonica, screaming guitar, and organ stabs.” ( In the words of Buster Poindexter, I call it Hot, Hot, Hot.

Steve Huey:

The Bar-Kays were formed in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1966, growing out of a local group dubbed the Imperials [and m]odeled on classic Memphis soul instrumental outfits like the Mar-Keys and Booker T. & the MG’s, the Bar-Kays . . . . [T]he band . . . caught the attention of Stax/Volt, which signed the sextet in early 1967. [T]he label began grooming [them] as a second studio backing group that would spell Booker R. & the MG’s on occasion. . . . “Soul Finger,” a playful, party-hearty instrumental punctuated by a group of neighborhood children shouting the title[,] reached the pop Top 20 and went all the way to number three on the R&B chart, establishing the Bar-Kays in the public eye . . . . Otis Redding chose them as his regular backing band that summer.

[D]isaster struck on December 10, 1967. En route to a gig in Madison, Wisconsin, Redding’s plane crashed into frozen Lake Monona. He, his road manager and four members of the Bar-Kay’s were killed. Trumpeter Ben Cayley survived the crash, and bassist James Alexander had not been on the flight; they soon assumed the heavy task of rebuilding the group. . . . [T]hey were used as the house band on numerous Stax/Volt recording sessions; they also backed Isaac Hayes on his groundbreaking 1969 opus Hot Buttered Soul. Still, they were unable to land a hit of their own [until the ’70’s, when they took off].

Paul Sexton writes that:

[T]he Bar-Kays entered the US R&B chart [in ’69] with . . . Gotta Groove, the sound of which was very much up the same soul-rock alley as that of Sly and the Family Stone. It provided a taster for the burgeoning funk sound, but retained elements of . . . psychedelia on tracks such as ‘Street Walker.’ Gotta Groove failed to cross over to the pop album chart, but spent four weeks on the R&B list and reached No. 40. It would be more than two years further down the line before the latter-day Bar-Kays established themselves as a chart force to be reckoned with, hitting the R&B top ten with ‘Son Of Shaft,’ and then another long gap before they emerged once again with the disco-funk of their most consistently successful sales period of the mid-1970s to the mid-’80s.

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