The Bar-Kays — “Yesterday”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — December 14, 2022


670) The Bar-Kays — “Yesterday”

Like a phoenix, the post-disaster Bar-Kays rose and soared and released the phenomenal Gotta Groove album (see #416). Jason Ankeny calls it, 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” ( Andrew Winistorfer says that they “hit the ground running [OK, not the best metaphor, all considering] with this funky instrumental album that imagines Funkadelic if they never had anyone who could sing. Come for the funk, stay for the delirious cover of the Beatles’ “Yesterday” that, given the album’s context, feels like a funeral processional.” ( Well, it starts off like one, but this “Yesterday” then begins to party like a New Orleans funeral procession, and even brings in an Ennio Morricone-style horn blast. Tower Records Japan says that the Bar-Kays’ version “featuring Ben Cauley’s smooth trumpet work, is decidedly reminiscent of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.” ( Yeah, that too. Hank Cherry opines that “’Yesterday,’ a delicacy in the hands of its writers, here is stewed into a greasy requiem, [the] stop-ground organ holding court until a middle eight eruption by the rest of the band dances along for a few bars before disappearing quick as it came.” (

Though party-pooper Nathan Bush says “the Bar-Kays rework two Beatles’ ballads, sounding like a mediocre covers act on stiff takes on ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Hey Jude’ that hardly belong on the collection”(, this stiff would be honored with such a requiem!

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 . . . .  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.

For some history, Steve Huey tells us that:

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].

And Hank Cherry provides a marvelous summation of the album’s vibe:

Most other bands would have quit, started new bands, or given music a rest. Cauley and Alexander realized early after the crash that the only cure for the pain in their hearts was music, specifically the music of the Bar-Kays. With the jive kicking bravado of their youthful band still ringing in their heads, the two jumpstarted a new version of the band that first brought them fame. . . . Undeterred by the psychic wounds brought by Redding and [Martin Luther] King’s shocking deaths, perhaps even inspired by them, Cauley and Alexander headed into the studio with a new band. . . . Odds against them, the Bar-Kays made a record commensurate to or better than their first. . . . When Gotta Groove didn’t score the success of the Bar-Kay’s debut sending them out on an endless tour, Isaac Hayes employed the band to record his Hot Buttered Soul. . . . [which] is often considered the bench mark for soul music, and it gave the Bar-Kays their first number one hit, if only as the backing band. . . . [But] Gotta Groove’s innards deliver just as urgent a funk as Hayes’s issue, maybe more so. . . . Gotta Groove offers some of the best music the Bar-Kays ever made, new era funk abstractions layered right over top of their wound tight soul beginnings, providing categorically undeniable ass-wiggling goodness that’s all at once tender, compassionate and furious.

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