R&B legend Larry Dodson takes life and music by faith

When it comes to making music, funkateer Larry Dodson is one of the best. As the lead singer of the legendary R&B group the Bar-Kays for 47 years, Dodson and his distinctive voice have carved out a niche for music lovers to follow everywhere.

That sexy, grind, and peppery gruff-sounding lead vocals you hear on songs like Shake Your Rump to the Funk, Move Your Boogie Body, Hit & Run, Freakshow on the Dance Floor, and on the undeniable funk anthem Holy Ghost, belong to Dodson.

“I never thought much of my voice,” Dodson said in an interview with News4usonline Editor Dennis J. Freeman. “I think that I was blessed to be distinct. I’m a distinctful singer. I’m a stylist. I don’t have a real good voice. I have a distinctful voice and I’m funky.”

At a time when soul music and funk playing were staples in the music genre, Dodson and the Bark-Kays managed to work their way to prominence. With their music becoming so influential, Dodson and the Bar-Kays are now part of the Memphis Music Hall of Fame and National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame.

“It’s hard to get tripped up if you stay on your knees,” Dodson said. “That’s a joke I always tell people, especially kids. If you stay on your knees you’d be surprised what can happen.”

Despite the heavy hitter’s field in R&B that featured artists like Sly and The Family Stone, George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic, Ohio Players, Kool & The Gang, Earth, Wind & Fire, and The Gap Band, among others, Dodson and the Bar-Kays proved themselves to be major players as well.

The competition among these high-profile artists was stiff. But you can take a look at the Bar-Kays’ list of accomplishments as proof of their success in spite of having to go toe-to-toe with some of the greatest groups of all time. That in itself puts Dodson and the Bar-Kays in good company.

The Success of the Bar-Kays 

According to their bio, the group has produced 29 albums and has had as many as 20 Top 10 singles. Some of those albums have hit gold and platinum status. Millions of their records have been sold.

But that does not define the cultural impact of what Dodson and the Bar-Kays have meant. The key to his sustainability and the group’s longevity was that they never took themselves too seriously, Dodson said.

Singer Larry Dodson
Singer Larry Dodson, former lead singer of the Bar-Kays. Courtesy photo

“We’ve been smart,” Dodson said. “We’ve had 20 Top 10 records. We’ve had 20 Top 10 albums, gold and stuff…inducted into the R&B Hall of Fame, here in the Memphis [Music] Hall of Fame on Beale Street. Parts of our outfits are in the Smithsonian. If you ask me why and how it’s just that we’ve never tripped up over ourselves. We never took it that seriously on one end, but very seriously on the other. I guess we never got full of ourselves. Each record was a challenge for us when we found out we knew what we were doing a little bit. We loved it. We respected the craft. We had good attorneys. God put good people around us. And we never got full of ourselves.”

Formed as a house band at Stax Records, the Bar-Kays (later Mercury Records) was originally an instrumental group backing up the great Otis Redding.

However, things changed dramatically for the group in 1967 when four members of the Bar-Kays, along with Redding, tragically perished in a plane crash.

Dodson joined the Bar-Kays in 1970 and the group’s appearance at the famous Wattstax concert in Los Angeles, California, where they performed Son of Shaft, helped propel them back into the limelight.

Back to Life, Back to Reality 

And so, for nearly five decades, Dodson and the Bar-Kays worked their magic in the studio and during live performances until the frontman called it quits from the group in 2017. Dodson unretired and is moonlighting as a solo singer these days. For the next couple of days, Tunica, Mississippi, will be treated to a blessing.

That will come in the form of the legendary Dodson. Dodson will serve as the celebrity host of the “Back to Life, Back to Reality, “ concert in Tunica.

As lead singer for the Bar-Kays for 47 years, Larry Dodson and the group spawned 20 Top 10 hits and has been indicted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame and the National Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame. Courtesy photo

Like the unique voice that he’s been endowed with, Dodson is not hosting some run-of-the-mill concert. The lineup for the two-day festivities, beginning June 18, is star-driven with Dru Hill, Silk, Trina, and others making the Juneteenth Weekend a celebratory one.

The concert is backed by San Diego, California-based TPT Global Tech Inc. and promoted by Events.com. The first concert on June 18 will be held at 1 River Park Drive in Tunica. On June 19, the second concert will be held at Tunica Arena and Expo Center/Paul Battle Arena in Tunica as well.

Tickets for both events range in price from $55 for the Saturday event and $75 for the Friday VIP event to $150 for a two-day VIP Pass and at the top, $200 for both days that includes a VIP All-Access pass as well as a Meet & Greet with some of the performers.

“We were extremely excited about the top-list of performers already committed to the event. Now, with Larry “D” as our host, the entire event takes on special meaning for everyone involved,” said TPT Global tech Inc. CEO Stephen J. Thomas III.

Dodson said he is excited to be part of the show.

“I’ve known Stephen for years. He and I are really good friends,” Dodson said. “We’ve done business before. They needed a celebrity host for the event and it’s in my town. Tunica, Mississippi, is right down the road with all the casinos and stuff. So, I was available and I was delighted to do it.”

The biggest caveat about the concert Dodson said is getting tickets to the show to the men and women who operated and worked on the frontlines against Covid-19.

“They are really in support of first responders,” Dodson said. “They’re making sure that lots of the tickets are getting into the hands of the local police departments, the local nurses, the local fire departments. They’re being really gracious to make first responders able to attend this concert, along with the general public. The show is incredible.”

June 16, 2017-Memphis educator and radio personality from iHeart Media’s V101 and WDIA 1070 Stan Bell hosts and Emcees the Juneteenth Celebration Concert featuring The Bar-Kays with special guests ConFunkShun. (L to R: Stan Bell and Larry Dodson). Photo credit: Taylor Williams

In talking frank about the pandemic, Dodson said the last time that he was on stage live was back on Feb. 15, 2020. A lifelong entertainer, Dodson admits that being on stage has no substitute.

“I miss it terribly,” Dodson said. “I missed it so very terribly. We’ve been shut down, man, for over a year and a half.”

Getting Creative in a Pandemic 

Being shut down didn’t mean that Dodson was idle. At 70, instead of chilling out and going into monk mode, Dodson used the time to be creative. He started a record label with his son, Larry Dodson II.

He put out more music. So being stuck in the house and doing nothing was not the operative thing to do, the elder Dodson said.

“I used this time creatively to do some really good music, some really good music,” said Dodson. “I did a couple of videos. I’m getting ready to release my second single. So, I tell my son the glass isn’t half-empty, it’s half full.”

What helped Dodson get his creative juices flowing during this nomadic time was being in tune with a Higher calling and being still, he said.

“My relationship with the Lord is first and foremost with everything that I do,” Dodson said. “I try to be obedient. I try to be a vessel. I listen to Him. That year and a half that I was off got me a chance to be still and [listen to] Him speak to me. I didn’t understand it. I thought that I was doing something, but He was doing it as always. He’s doing it all. He said, ‘I want you to be still, man. I’m going to open your creative juices, and a lot of doors opened for me in this year and a half.”

Finding Ministry in an Unexpected Place 

The doors that were opened to him included being offered movie parts. Dodson had a street named after him. He celebrated the 20th year of his booking agency. The record label (Music Moves Records) that he and his son created got off the ground. He began putting together a book (Keep Looking Up When it’s Down) about his daughter, Precious. 

The book, a collaboration between Dodson and his wife, Marie, aims to help and guide parents who have children with Down syndrome. “This is going to be a big ministry for parents with mentally challenged kids, not just Down [syndrome], but mentally challenged kids period,” Dodson said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 700 babies is born with Down syndrome. Down syndrome contributes to development delays and disabilities in individuals.

Precious was born with Down syndrome. According to the CDC, in 1960, the average child born with Down syndrome was not expected to live past 10 years. Dodson, who has been married for over 50 years, said doctors informed him and his wife to not get too attached to Precious because the life expectancy of children at the time she was born was not great.

“Our daughter is a success story,” Dodson said. “I would share with the audience that the doctors said that when she was born…they told us not to get too attached because she wasn’t going to make it past her teens. She will be 50 years old this year. Isn’t that something? God is amazing. He put it in my spirit to share that experience with people who just don’t know what to do with mentally challenged and disabled kids.”

Featured Image Caption: Larry Dodson (third right) and the Bar-Kays appearing on stage at the Wattstax concert in Los Angeles, California, on August 20, 1972. Courtesy photo