top of page

Funk Icon, Larry "D" Dodson & Former Lead Singer of The Bar-kays Still Going Strong!

Updated: Feb 15, 2022


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.

That’s Awesome!

Yes

Well. First and foremost, thank you for allowing me to interview you.

No problem

Larry, I love your music! I love the Bar-kays!

Thank you

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!


Absolutely.

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!