We’ve just had the longest day beginning with a 1:00am drive to Toronto to catch a 5:00am flight to Varadero, Cuba. Fast forward what felt like forever and we arrive at our destination hot, hungry and ready to nap. Which we did…big time. Eventually we managed to drag ourselves out of bed for, well, let’s call it “dinner” for the time being and when Kelly went back to the room to unpack I went to the Grand Memories Concourse to take in the ambiance with a couple of pina colada’s and the ‘Soul Finger‘ album by the Bar-Kay’s.
I’d just finished ‘Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion‘ (Robert Gordon) on the flight over and before I actually settle into a more Cuban frame of mind this week, I thought I’d listen to something I’ve been reading about for the past month or so, this album being one of them.
The Bar-Kays were an aggregate born of the same inspiration behind Booker T. & the MG’s – performing the double-duty of being a backing combo for the significant canon of vocalists on the Memphis-based Stax and Volt labels, as well as a self-contained unit. The original lineup of James Alexander (bass), Jimmy King (guitar), Ronnie Caldwell (organ), Phalon Jones (sax), Carl Cunningham (drums), and Ben Cauley (trumpet) were only together long enough to have issued this album prior to the tragic loss of everyone sans Alexander and Cauley in the December ’67 plane crash that also claimed the life of Otis Redding.
‘Soul Finger‘, released in 1967 commences with the title track, which quickly became a Top 20 crossover pop hit in addition to one of the band’s best-known works, not to mention a certifiable ‘feel good’ party anthem. The remainder of the platter follows suit offering up ten further instrumentals that stay true to the precedent that had guided Booker T. & the MG’s, blending fun upbeat numbers with the occasional slower-tempo side complementing the otherwise teen-oriented and definitely danceable selections. Here, the cover of the Mad Lads’ ‘I Want Someone’ – co-written by Stax co-founder Estelle Axton aptly fits the bill, with Caldwell providing a lovely and effective lead over the languid, melodic ballad. ‘Theme From Hells Angels‘ is interesting as there is no designation given to either the song’s author or precisely what Hells Angels refers to. A movie? The infamous biker club? Who the hell knows and damn! these pina colada’s are strong!
Anyway, another highlight is the ‘Bar-Kays Boogaloo‘, while definitely a product of its time, it exemplifies the unit’s cohesion as purveyors of the unmistakably swinging Stax/Volt sound. It’s definitely got that funky party vibe – in 30 minutes or less no less – and that sure seems to fit the current mood here as everyone mills around the bar in their loud beach shirts and teeny-tiny fedora’s sipping on froofy fruit drinks.