‘Today Is The Day…’

Tony Jones, Special to The New Tri-State Defender | 6/15/2017, 11:41 a.m.
The Bar-Kays’ lead singer Larry Dodson set for Memphis farewell.
Lead singer Larry Dodson joined The Bar-Kays in March 1970, bringing scope and daring to the group’s sound. (Courtesy photo)

Fans of The Bar-Kays will certainly recognize that the headline for this column comes from one of their best-known ballads, “Today Is The Day.”

Released on their 1979 “Injoy” album, the title appropriately fits what will be a very special night in Memphis music history. Friday, June 16 is the day that Larry Dodson – The Bar-Kays renowned lead singer – is scheduled to make his final appearance on a Memphis stage. He will perform through the end of the year, and the group will audition for a new lead singer.

Presented by Next Millennium Entertainment, the concert is being billed as part of the Juneteenth Urban Music Festival’s 25th Anniversary Celebration. With the Cannon Center for Performing Arts as the venue, the concert will mark the end of an era.

Forty-seven years after joining The Bar-Kays, Dodson looked back and in an recent interview with The New Tri-State Defender said it’s been fun to be “Larry Dodson.” Now, however, he wants to enjoy more time being “Mr. Dodson,” husband to wife Marie and father to daughter Precious.

Dodson’s son Larry Jr. works as a manager for the group and their self-owned booking agency. Born with Down’s Syndrome, Precious is 45 and Dodson and his wife are planning a sightseeing trip with her.

“There’s so many places she’s expressed that she wants to see, and I want to be there with her,” Dodson said.

“It’s time. And we have a house in Florida where we will spend most of the winters. We just want to spend our remaining time as a loving family. It’s been our plan from the beginning. I joined The Bar-Kays in March, 1970 and I married Marie in August, 1970.”

The Bar-Kays were formed as a house band at the old Stax Records while the group’s original members still were in high school. Most of the group’s original line-up was killed in a horrific plane crash that also took the life of soul legend Otis Redding.

Two members remained, bassist James Alexander and trumpet player Ben Cauley, who moved on from the group after the tragedy. Alexander decided to forge ahead with reforming the group, which had established itself with the smash “Soulfinger.” Dodson’s addition as lead vocalist brought scope and daring to the group’s sound.

The new band made a daring debut in the pioneering “Wattstax” movie playing “Son Of Shaft,” hoping to latch on to the coattails of the title single from Isaac Hayes’s Oscar winning movie soundtrack. However, before The Bar-Kays could regain their momentum, Stax was shut down.

Yet, the group would arise again, with its ascension personified in two words – “Hey! Hey! – the coda to their early underground hit “Holy Ghost.” To this very day it is one of the most beloved songs of the funk era. Recorded on their obscure Stax debut LP “Black Rock,” the song went nowhere at first, but Dodson’s feral vocals had established the group’s new sound.

From there, The Bar-Kays parked at the Family Affair nightclub on Vance St., where they polished a group ethic that became the town ticket. Pretty soon in common terms and seemingly forever when you have to split club play among nearly a dozen members, label reps started noticing and The Bar-Kays were picked up by Mercury Records.