Ben Cauley, Founding Member Of The Bar-Kays, Dies At 67

Ben CauleyIf we marked the passing of every contributor to Rock and it root influences, we’d be doing nothing but obituaries all day long. But in addition to his musical contributions, Ben Cauley also earned a special footnote in Rock history.

He was a founding member of the Bar-Kays, a backing band hand-picked by Otis Redding to be the second house band at Stax Records in 1967. The main house band at Stax was of course Booker T. and the MGs, but Otis needed a band to tour with him, and the MGs were always very busy in the studio.

Booker T. Jones and the other MGs worked with the Bar-Kays to hone the Stax sound. The group released an album, and to everyone’s surprise they scored a Billboard top-20 hit for the instrumental classic “Soul Finger”. In 1967 soul and Rock often traveled on similar paths. “Soul Finger” demonstrates the loose and gritty edge, plus the great lead guitar solo, that characterized a lot of soul at the time, while Ben Cauley delivered the unforgettable lead trumpet trill.

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In December 1967, the Bar-Kays went on tour with Otis Redding. The band knocked audiences out in Nashville and then Cleveland, but on the afternoon of December 10, Otis Redding’s twin engine Beechcraft got into trouble and plunged into the icy waters of Lake Monona, just outside of Madison, Wisconsin.

Cauley had fallen asleep on the flight, clutching his seat cushion. On impact, he was able to unbuckle his seatbelt, and when the fuselage was torn open, Cauley was able to bob to the surface with the aid of his seat cushion. None of of his bandmates was able to extricate themselves from their restraining devices, and Cauley was the sole survivor of the crash, and miraculously so.

He set about to rebuild the Bar-Kays, and the band went on to back up on some notable Stax-Volt records, including the groundbreaking Hot Buttered Soul by Isaac Hayes in 1969. But Cauley, wary of touring, and not making enough from Stax, left the band in 1971, and scraped out a living as a session man in Memphis.

He passed away Monday. His daughter said he had a strong will to live — “he had the fight in him like none other” — and you can’t argue with that. R.I.P to a true soul survivor.

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