Friday, March 20, 2009

Chariots of Funk

I finished the second night of SXSW watching the Bar-Kays funk it up at the Memphis music showcase. They covered everything from "Soul Finger" through "Freakshow on the Dance Floor" before I ducked out to beat the drunks home. It was an altogether solid revue, though I missed hearing "Son of Shaft."

Speaking of, here's a related aside from a short interview I did with original Bar-Kays bassist James Alexander that ran in Thursday's Chron SXSW daily edition. By the time I got done covering the 1967 plane crash that killed Otis Redding and four members of the Bar-Kays, I knew I wouldn't have room for this. I still think it's a great story, though:.

As Isaac Hayes’ longtime backing band, it makes perfect sense that the Bar-Kays first significant hit after “Soul Finger” was “Son of Shaft.” The mostly-instrumental “answer” record was a Top 10 R&B hit in 1972. Their elongated performance of the song was a highlight of 1972’s Wattstax festival.

If the Bar-Kays had their way, though, that performance in front of over 100,000 at L.A. Memorial Coliseum would’ve been even more spectacular.

“We were like little bad kids,” says bassist James Alexander. “We always wanted to do something dramatic to draw attention to us rather than other people. So we wanted to ride out on the field with some horses and chariots. You know, like Chariots of Fire or something like that.”

According to the liner notes of 2007’s Wattstax box set, Bar-Kays producer Allen Jones went so far as to call a movie studio to arrange for the rental of horses and chariots.

“To be quite honest with you, Isaac Hayes found out about it and then said we couldn’t do that,” Alexander laughs. “Because that would’ve upstaged everybody. Nobody would’ve been able to come in behind that.

“We’re coming out there with all this white on and on some chariots? And then we run up on the stage and turn it out?”

As it was, you’d be hard-pressed to pick a more electric single moment in the Wattstax film than when Bar-Kays vocalist Larry Dodson stoically approaches the microphone, raises his fringe-draped arms and screams, “I’m the son of a baaad…!”

If you've never seen this clip before, watch it now:


ALittleGuitar said...

greg -- greetings and forgive me posting this so out of context but i couldnt find an email address for you.

anyhow, saw your brief austin chronitem about the doug sahm mendicino. man, i would have loved to have been there for that and was wondering if you are aware of any youtube videos or podcasts of it. (i couldnt find anything.)

also, i assume that's shawn sahm on the right in the chronicle's picture of the panel. the resemblance is eerie!
thanks much.

ALittleGuitar said...

ps/ you can email a response to