A key figure in funk's early Memphis roots and a surviving member of Otis Redding's backup band performed Saturday night at Vibe Night Club in Morongo Casino Resort & Spa.
Bassist James Alexander, 63, flew Saturday into Ontario International Airport and he enjoyed the drive to the San Gorgonio Pass, he said in a brief interview outside Vibe after the show.
Alexander is an original and founding member of the Bar-Kays. Before Saturday night's show he said he was 16 years old when he started playing music professionally.
The six-member Bar-Kays began as a studio session band in 1966 with Stax Records in Memphis, and their first single "Soul Finger" was a hit on pop and R&B charts in the spring of 1967.
It was the same year Stax-based Redding performed for the first time in front of a large, predominantly white audience at the Monterey Pop Festival, and later that year Redding asked the Bar-Kays to tour with him.
On Dec. 10, 1967, Redding, his manager, four members of the Bar-Kays, and a pilot were killed when Redding's Beechcraft crashed in Lake Monona en route to a gig in Madison, Wisconsin.
Alexander was on a different plane, and trumpeter Ben Cauley was the only survivor of the plane crash.
Alexander and Cauley rebuilt the Bar-Kays and continued backing Stax artists, including Isaac Hayes. The new band's tight, blues-funk rhythms featured on Hayes' ground-breaking 1969 platinum-selling LP "Hot Buttered Soul."
Alexander played bass on Hayes' Oscar-winning theme for the 1971 film "Shaft," and the Bar-Kays scored a later R&B hit with "Son of Shaft."
Cauley left the Bar-Kays in the early 1970s, but Alexander and the Bar-Kays continued cutting new ground in the funk era, scoring with singles and albums on the pop and R&B charts over the past four decades. The band took a break in the late 1980s, and Alexander rebuilt the group again in the early 1990s.
To this day, the Bar-Kays are considered part of a distinct Memphis tradition of soul, funk and rhthym-and-blues. In addition to Redding and Hayes, among the Bar-Kays' peers and mentors at Stax Records in the 1960s and 1970s were Booker T. and the MGs, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, the Staple Singers and Albert King.