Updated: Feb 15
photos courtesy of Larry D. Dodson
Super Funk legend, Larry "D" Dodson of, "The Bar-kays" is showing no signs of slowing down. With numerous hit albums that span from the 1960s to the present, Larry clearly has what it takes to sustain not only his musical excellence but his loyal following. Just the fact that he's still going strong, speaks for itself. Larry was a joy to interview. He has a big heart and is always looking for opportunities to not only entertain his fans but to help others. Here's what we talked about.
Hi Larry, how are you?
I am well. In fact, right before you called, I just finished a radio interview.
Well. First and foremost, thank you for allowing me to interview you.
Larry, I love your music! I love the Bar-kays!
Now Larry, I must tell you, I am a fan of yours, but I became an even bigger fan after reading about your accomplishments and what you do for charity. I think that’s phenomenal! Before even speaking with you, I already can tell that you have a heart for helping people. You have a big heart!
I'm a heart person.
We have a lot in common. Giving back is all part of my DNA. I consider myself a team player. I don't like to do anything alone. One of my foundational beliefs is this, “You don't catch an elevator to go to the top and not send the elevator back down to help somebody else get to the top.” Let them ride up too. That's my motto.
OK Larry let's start with the easy stuff. How did it all begin for you?
I was born and raised in Memphis, and I've been here all my life. Because of my dad's love for jazz, I grew up being exposed to a lot of great jazz musicians. Now Ray Charles, he is my favorite artist. I had great admiration for his artistry. I also loved artists like Sarah Vaughan and Count Basie. But, as much as I love those jazz artists, I gravitated more towards R&B and soul music. So, Soul in R&B music became my resting place and became the vehicle that landed me where I am today.
That’s awesome! Tell me about your teen years?
Well, I started a doo-wop group when I was in high school called the “Temprees.” We had a similar style to the temptations. At that time, we weren't doing anything professionally but, because everyone in the group had such great voices, our popularity grew and we became extremely well known around Memphis, TN.
I continued performing with the Temprees until I was asked to be the frontman in the Bar-Kays. This was in the 1970s. What was interesting about that situation was, I didn't think the Bar-kays would ever entertain the thought of having a lead singer in their band because they were an instrumental group. See, back in the 1970s, instrumental groups were hot! At that time, they had a huge single out called, “Soul Finger.” Not only was it number one in Memphis, but it was number one in multiple cities across the nation (USA) and across the world.
“Soul Finger” was an iconic instrumental song. What was even more interesting, these kids were between 14 and 16 years old when that song became a hit. That was the very first song they recorded.
So, tell me about when you joined the Bar-Kays for the first time?
I joined the Bar-Kays in March of 1970. At the time, they were working on a new album. So, they pulled me into an album that they were preparing to record. The only drawback was that they did not have a lead singer. So, bringing me aboard proved to be a major success for the entire band. The first record I recorded with the Bar-Kays was called “Black Rock.” That album was released in 1971.
That album became an iconic Black Rock album! In fact, it was probably one of the best albums. In fact, it was probably one of the best albums that ever had the pleasure of recording with the Bar-kays. At the time we were signed to, “Stax Records”, and they didn’t know what to do with us. It was hard for them to place us in one particular genre because our album embodied multi-genre styles. It was a mixture of funk, rock, and soul.
Stax Records was a primary R&B and soul label, so they didn't quite know what to do with our multi-genre music. On top of our music being the polar opposite to our labelmates, we were known as the outlandishly dressed bad boys’ band with the way out of their stage show! But overall, we had a good tenure there!
They had to learn how to respect the Bar-Kays because our band recorded over 50% of all the music that came out of Stax Records.
Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Otis Redding, Johnny Taylor, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, (All five of his albums). We played on all their albums when Booker T and the MG’S stopped playing and being the house band.
I remember when Otis Redding came to Memphis to see us. He called out a song one night. He said, “do you guys know this song?” Not only did they know it, but they really knew it. So, he fell in love with the band. tragically that marriage was short-lived because four of the members of the Bar-Kays were killed in a plane crash.
Yes, I read that the airplane owned by Otis Redding was a Beechcraft H-18. They took off from Cleveland, OH headed towards Madison, WI. And Otis was supposed to perform at a place called “The Factory” in Madison. Am I correct?
Yes, it was Otis's private plane that's correct.
I also read that only one person survived that crash, Ben Cauley the trumpet player.
Yes, Ben went down with the plane and survived. That's miraculous! James Alexander, the bass player, survived because he never got on the airplane. He stayed behind and flew commercial. The aircraft had a capacity limit. So, Guitarist Jimmy King, organist Ronnie Caldwell, drummer Carl Cunningham, and saxist Phalon Jones died along with Otis Redding that day. There were only two members from the original Bar-Kays left to reform the band. The trumpeter, Ben Cauley, and the bass player, James Alexander. After that, they got me, and that was 30 albums ago.
That's so sad because Otis Redding before the crash recorded his biggest hits sitting on the dock of the Bay. I learned that the whistling at the end was because he was going to write lyrics for that part, but never got a chance to record it because he died in the plane crash. Very sad.
You know something people don't know is that at the time when Otis died, he was only 26 years old. That's young.
Wow, what a tragedy. So, what happened from there?
Well, with Stax until the doors closed. Stax got into some financial trouble, but we were faithful to that label. In fact, the Bar-Kays and The Staple Singers were the last two bands to leave the label. But all is not lost because we ended up signing a multi-million-dollar deal in 1976 with Mercury Records.
How many Albums Mercury Records?
We gave Mercury five gold albums and one platinum. Throughout our career, we had 20 top ten records. All in all, I will say that we've done well throughout the five decades of recording music. We've had 10 records in every decade for the last 50 years. Now that's crazy!
Wow! That's awesome! How Were you able to successfully juggle marriage, family, and travel while creating such a successful career?
Just to recap, I joined the bar Kays in the 70's. That same year in August, I got married. That makes 51 years of marriage.
What a blessing!
You're absolutely right! Has been there for every peak in the Valley of my career. I'll never forget what my housekeeper told me. She said, “don’t worry about the fact that you cannot be there with your family”. She went on to say that she knew that I would have preferred to have them on the road with me, but she reminded me that the hellos and the goodbyes are some of the most passionate moments in a relationship. This gives the relationship breathing room. Not that you need to go away to have a successful marriage but, it's something about not being there every day and having the chance to miss one another. That's quite romantic. We said that after 25 years, we're going to get married again and we did. The wedding was incredible! People are still talking about it to this day! But yes, I traveled mostly all my life.
Praise God for a blessed marriage!
Yes! My wife is the glue. She's been there for me through thick and thin. We're also business partners. We own a booking agency and record label together with my son. We started the booking agency in 1999 called, LaMarie's Entertainment Complex, The La is from mine and my son's initials And Marie is my wife's name. What's even cooler is that my son got married on the same day. My wife and I did. So, we share the same wedding anniversary. We're a very close-knit family.
Describe what you felt like the first moment you realized that you made it?
Well, it's hard to say because we spent so much time on the road because, at the time, we were in high demand. When you're touring and performing, you don't really realize how your music has impacted the world. You're making the music and you're going out and performing it, but you don't really have the time to bask in the moment of it.
I think it just sort of happens. And when it does, it's an incredible feeling! And when we received our goal in Platinum albums, we were extremely grateful because we realized that making it to that level of achievement was something that many artists work so hard for but never realize that dream. In fact, some artists have never and won’t ever achieve that goal in their entire careers.
So, we were blessed to have many moments, such as that. The list goes on. Our costumes are also in the Smithsonian Institute, we have a note on Beale Street (Memphis TN) we’ve been inducted into the R&B hall of fame and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. I even have a street named after me here in Memphis. It's crazy! To be well known and respected is a great feeling.
That’s wonderful! Back to a conversation that we had earlier about the Bar-Kays being known for their outlandish shows and style, you know, I saw some of the pictures from the album cover shots taken of the band in the 70’s and was like woo! These guys are unique! I loved the album covers! Very creative!
You’re welcome. I’m a bit younger than you but old enough to remember the amazing 70’s bands. Anyone who knows me knows that I love funk music and I am obsessed with the 70s era. And I'm even more obsessed with the dress. My closet is chucked full of 70s style attire.
Oh yes, I love it. Now, The Bar-Kays uniqueness reminds me of the bands Funkadelic & Sly and The Family Stone. So, my question to you is, did you guys set out to purposely be different or was it the collective personalities of the band members that caused the entire flavor of the band to take on its own unique style?
I would say, it was a little bit of both. I must give major credit to our producer, Alan Jones. He was the visionary. We loved Sly and the family stone! Therefore, sly and the family Stone’s style had a major influence on our outward appearance. The good thing was that our producer, Alan Jones, always viewed us as individually different.
Alan Jones was the person responsible for picking me to be in the band and getting the band to accept me.
Alan hired the best designers out there to make our costumes. Also, Alan made sure that everyone was uniquely different, but he never forced us to wear anything that we weren’t comfortable with. He had a slogan that he would say, and that is, “when you're there and you think you've gone too far, then you're halfway there.”
We called him, “the idol maker” because he reminded us of the guy in this 1980’s movie called, “The Idolmaker” (starring Ray Sharkley, Tovah Feldshuh & Peter Gallagher). Alan was all about show business.
In our stage show, we will put on huge productions. We would use fire, smoke bombs, snakes, and everything! Our shows were always big and outlandish! Our shows were always big and outlandish! We were extremely popular. People would say, “The Bar-Kays are coming into town, let's go to see what they're going to do next!” pretty much the temperature of our entire career. It was a really good time for us.
When did it all change for you?
In 2017, I decided to completely retire. James and I, run the band. So, it took about seven months for us to find a suitable replacement for me. I wasn't tired of music, it's just that being married for so long and being 70 years old.
70? Is that all? You're still a baby!
Yes, 70. But I found that out!
Yes, the long of the short is that after a year and a half, I miss music so much that I said to myself, I've got to get back to what I love doing.
Because there was already a replacement for my part in the bar-kays, I started another label with my son and wife called, “Music Moves Records”. I put my first single out, called, “I’m good” and we landed in the top 30 on the Billboard charts. This year I released my new single called, “Just We”. I cast my wife alongside me in the music video. It's a very romantic single. So, I decided to rebrand myself as, “Larry D, The original singer of the Bar-kays.” I even put together a new band. I thought it was a good idea to put that tag on my name so that people would be able to identify who I am.
When I travel, I do a collection of the music that I've done over the years with the Bar-Kays along with my new music. Because everything was shut down for the last two years due to the pandemic, I did a few virtual shows. But I'm happy to say that we started back with our regular performances on the 27th of November, Thanksgiving weekend. That concert was in Miami and that was the second concert I played within two years. Despite the pandemic bringing the world to a screeching halt, I'm having a great career as Larry D. I'm also on the radio now. I do a show on (104.1 FM & 1240 AM, The Trend) that airs every Saturday 10 am-12pm (CST), it's called the Larry “D” Dodson show. I play classic R&B. They called me because they were a new radio station, and they needed a celebrity host, and I was happy to do it. Hosting on Saturdays has made their show very popular.
Another thing that I did during a pandemic is I wrote a book about my life called, “The band Plays On.” The books are selling like hotcakes, can't keep them on the shelves! It's about my own life. It's a backstage pass into the intricate world of the Bar-kays. The book is a great read!
It touches on a little bit of how we made music before I joined the Bar-Kays and after I left. It's not a tell-all book, but it does expose the intimate details of my whole life, the good and the bad.
I'll have to check your book out. It sounds like it's a good read.
So, tell me something I've always wondered what happens to the iconic band costumes years later? Do you keep them? Are they auctioned for charitable purposes, or do you donate them to a museum?
The Smithsonian Museum has some. The Stax Museum here in Memphis has some, there’s a museum in Nashville that also has some, and we've donated some of our costumes to the Hard Rock Cafe. We’re such an iconic group that they wanted to display our costumes. We were well known for our well managed costumes. The best costumes are in Smithsonian, Stax, Hard Rock, and Soulsville, down here in Memphis.
I do have a few here with me, not that I can fit them anymore, but I have some.
Do you kind of laugh sometimes when you look back and see how thin you were?
Yes, I was 120 pounds soaking wet. Like right now talking to you. I'm sitting in my office, looking at all these pictures of myself in The Bar-Kays years ago and saying to myself, “I was so small!”
Believe me, I can relate!
This is a bit off the subject but, even during the pandemic, I told my son that this glass isn't half empty it's half full. We've managed to create a record label. My album that will soon be finished is called, “Yours Truly Larry D”, and has two singles out. All of this was done during the pandemic. During the pandemic, we had to shut our booking agency down and concerts were canceled, but we decided not to let the pandemic kill our dreams. We decided to do something about it and become proactive. All that we're doing today is a result of our refusal to allow negative circumstances to knock us out of the box. So, we used our time very wisely.
Because we are very supportive of the HBC’s we set up a foundation with a scholarship fund that sponsors between three to five kids yearly so that they could have the opportunity to attend college here in Memphis. My son even holds a college fair twice a year. He has 40 schools come to help them apply for grants to get a scholarship. We love giving back and helping others. That means everything to us!
I love your heart! I wish more people were like that. Life is not solely about what you yourself can achieve, but it’s about giving back and helping others. I think if the world can adopt that concept, we can live a more fulfilling life. It's better to give than to receive. That's for sure! Now, have you ever experienced an embarrassing moment while performing?
It's funny you ask that question because on my radio show I carve out at least 5 minutes to share little stories, it’s called. backstage pass. In fact, I'm going to tell you one now. I remember a time when I was in concert playing in a sold-out show in Philadelphia. So, because there was a lot of fog on the stage, I went too close to the edge and slipped off the stage. This young lady came, and she snatched every chain and necklace I had on off of my neck.
Are you kidding me? That's insane!
No, I'm not kidding. She just pulled it off! It was nothing. I really could do so security pulled me up, got me back on stage, and I continued with my show. So, Fast forward to the end of the night. We had already changed out of our costumes, had on our street clothes, and were getting ready to go when I spotted a lady standing in the hallway. I approached her and asked her who she was waiting for? She said you. She opened her hand and handed me the chain that she had snatched from my neck. I mean she gave me back every one of the chains. She apologized for what she had done.
That was the Lord tugging on her heart to do what was right. God convicted her spirit. You can't convince me God is not real!
You better know it! And I mean every one of them she returned to me. I think she got caught up in the moment because she appeared to be very shy to me. That was amazing though. I'll tell you one other thing that happened.
This is not embarrassing, but this is a moment that really sticks out in my mind and that is when Haiti had that bad hurricane. Well, I did a concert with about 100 people in attendance to raise money for an orphanage in Haiti. So, I was given a phone number of a young lady that was down in Haiti that ran an orphanage, so I gave her a call and told her that I knew that they were having a hard time down there and I wanted to give her some money to help. She burst out crying.
I asked her what was wrong? She said that they were going to close her orphanage down in two days if we couldn’t provide the amount of money needed to keep them open. Well, I looked at the check that I had, and it was for the exact amount that she needed.
Wow, are you kidding me? That's a blessing! So, tell me, what type of personal adjustments did you have to make from coming off the road all the time to being at home full time as a family man?
Really none because I've always kept my musical career in my family life separate. Home is home and the road is the road. I don't bring business home. I like to speak of myself in the third person sometimes so, I call myself that guy. What people find hard to believe about me because I have such a wild personality is that I'm a Family Guy. I've been married for most of my life. My wife and I grew up together. We went to the same grammar school and high school together. We even lived around the corner from each other.
It’s like a fairy tale we've been together all our lives. So, I would say I'm equally a homebody and a team player. As I stated earlier, I don't like doing anything alone. I always like to make sure that I'm giving back, and God has blessed me in a mighty way! I can honestly say that I've never wanted for anything. We are very well off. God is the center of my life and has been for many years.
So, it was easy for you to migrate into home life after retirement because you’ve always been a homebody man. Whether absent or present, your hearts were knitted together. What a beautiful story.
What song do you love to perform, and which song was your biggest hit?
I think our biggest hit was probably, “Freak Show on the Dance Floor.” an epic record for us. Of course, we had major success with a lot of our other hit singles, but I would have to say overall, Freak Show was probably the most successful. I do have to say it wasn't my favorite record. My favorite record was "Holy Ghost."
Yes, before this interview my husband mentioned that song to me.
Yes, that was my favorite. But I'm really enjoying my solo career. I'm putting together some good music. Is interesting. When you're used to being in a band for so many years, and then you go solo. It's like you're all out here by yourself. Sometimes, while I'm performing, I look around for my bandmates, but they're not there. Now that I'm out there on my own, I have a greater understanding of how Charlie Wilson, Lionel Richie, Jeffrey Osborne felt when they left their bands.
Now I understand how they felt making that transition. It is indeed quite different. Another thing that I realize is that when you are a solo artist, you must keep yourself relevant so that people will take you seriously.
Keep in mind, I was known as Larry D.,” The funkmaster”. Now I'm releasing music that's a little different from my norm. It's a lot more romantic.
So, Larry, you've had a very exciting career in closing. I want to know if you can share a little bit about what's going on with you now. Do you have any upcoming tours? I've also read that you're an author. I would love to know about that as well.
My daughter has Down syndrome. She's a huge success story because most children who are diagnosed with down syndrome don't live that long. But I'm happy to say that she will be celebrating her 50th birthday soon. She's worked for 28 years. So, our book is called, “Keep looking up when it's down.”
Thank you for sharing this story with me. It's so heartwarming. Your story is saturated with opportunities to praise and thank God for His goodness!
Yes, the book is going to be very inspirational for people who are raising physically challenged children. Our publisher can't wait for us to finish this book. We feel that this book is going to be extremely therapeutic for those who are going through these types of situations. We can't wait to publish it! We can't wait to finish it. This book will also show you that if you keep God the center of your life that he will show you but there's more to kids than what you think. Your kids can make it! Whether it's your spouse or someone in your family, don't just give up on them or throw them away. So, that's something that I'm looking forward to.
Of course, the album as well. I’m going to take a break around Christmas time and then start back up performing again in the spring. I'll start my tour in Savannah, GA then Memphis, Jackson Mississippi, Nashville, and so on. We're hoping by the spring things will be a little bit back to some form of normal so that we can continue to tour.
Are you planning on touring in the UK?
I'm planning on taking my wife to Paris, Venice, and Rome. Whenever I go abroad, I take her with me to all those romantic places. I'm planning on doing that in the summer. We're enjoying our lives. I'm in what they call the last quarter of my career. I'm finally doing things that I want to do, and not that I have to do. Having my own record label gives me the freedom to do that. I could put a record out every month if I wanted to.
Do you produce your own music?
Oh yes! Produce a lot of music over the years. But I'm also producible. Sometimes I get calls from big name producers that say they want to produce a song for me, and I let them do that. I don't want to be stuck on any one thing. I like to stay relevant and radio ready. A lot of these younger producers like to do things in a different kind of way. That’s cool as long as they respect me and understand me as an artist.
Some producers are quite shocked that I'm so producible. They tell me that they thought that I would get offended if they asked me to do it over multiple times. But that doesn't bother me. The way I see it is that if you have to do it 000 times just to get it right, then let's do it. It will be worth it in the end. So yes, I have a very good reputation for being produced as an OG. That's what they call me.
Any words of wisdom?
First and foremost, be true to your craft. When you write, do it for generational wealth. Don't just seek to be the flavor of the day but write and record the type of songs that people will enjoy 10 years from now. Make sure that the songs that you write have substance. Don't just try to be somebody for a short period of time.
And another thing that I would say is that you surround yourself with people who know more than you. This way you can always hear the truth about what you're doing. Also, make sure that you're well represented and protected. Keep in mind The way the industry is set up today, you're not going to get rich quick.
And I'm going to close with this one. It’s very hard to get tripped up if you stand to your knees. Keep God first and the rest. He'll do it for you.