Passings: Ben Cauley of the Bar-Kays (1947 - 2015)

by Paul Cashmere, Noise11

Ben Cauley, a founding member of Stax group The Bar-Kays, has died in Memphis at the age of 67.

Cauley was the sole survivor of the plane crash that killed Otis Redding and four members of The Bar-Kays in 1967.

Ben learned trumpet at school and formed his first group with school-mates guitarist Jimmy King, saxophonist Phalon Jones, drummer Carl Cunningham, keyboardist Ronnie Caldwell, and bassist James Alexander. They called themselves The Imperials and later changed their name to The Bar-Kays.

In 1966 The Bar-Kays signed with Stax Records label Volt where they were groomed by Al Jackson Jr of Booker T and the MGs. They became the backing band for recordings by Otis Redding, Carla Thomas and Sam and Dave. Redding then took them on tour as his backing band for the fateful tour of ’67 that claimed his life.

On December 8 1967, Redding hired a twin-engine jet to commute out of Nashville to his weekend gigs. On December 10, Bar-Kays member James Alexander took a different flight because he couldn’t fit on the plan. He is now the last surviving member of The Bar-Kays. Cauley was seated directly behind Redding on the plane. He had fallen asleep during the flight clutching his cushion and was woken by the impact of the crash in Lake Monona. He was the only survivor.

Cauley and Alexander continued as The Bar-Keys and went on to record with Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas and The Staple Singers. Cauley left the group in 1971.

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