Bo­mar, Bo-Keys ‘Get Back’ to brew­ing Stax-style soul

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Music - By Bob Mehr


For a time, Mem­phis was a true haven for mu­si­cians. The session men who graced the stu­dios of Stax, Hi and Amer­i­can were among the hottest and most dis­tinc­tive play­ers any­where. Their ca­reers thrived from the 1950s un­til the col­lapse of the Mem­phis record in­dus­try in the ’70s.

“By the time you get to 1974, the year I was born, those op­por­tu­ni­ties pretty much start to evap­o­rate,” says pro­ducer, bassist and Bo-Keys band leader Scott Bo­mar.

For Bo­mar, the loss of Mem­phis’ grand mu­sic in­dus­try has meant that many ac­com­plished play­ers qui­etly faded away, their gifts strug­gling to be heard. “It both­ers me that all that tal­ent is still here in Mem­phis and it’s so un­der­uti­lized,” Bo­mar says.

In a sense, Bo­mar has been on a mis­sion to show­case Mem­phis mu­sic’s still-vi­brant vet­er­ans with his R&B out­fit the Bo-Keys.

The mul­tigen­er­a­tional band fea­tures younger mem­bers like Bo­mar and trum­peter Marc Franklin, plus Bluff City soul le­gends like the Isaac Hayes gui­tarist Skip Pitts, Bar-Kays trum­peter Ben Cauley, and B.B. King Orches­tra sax­man Floyd New­man, among oth­ers.

Over the years, the group has es­tab­lished a na­tional and in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion, both as the back­ing band for such artists as Ed­die Floyd, Wil­liam Bell and Sir Mack Rice, as well as with their own in­stru­men­tal R&B al­bums.

On Fri­day, the band opens for Mavis Sta­ples at Min­gle­wood Hall. And on June 18, the Bo-Keys head­line their own show at the Le­vitt Shell at Over­ton Park. The con­cert will serve as a cel­e­bra­tion of the band’s forth­com­ing sopho­more disc, Got to Get Back!, re­leased on Bo­mar’s Elec­tra­phonic record la­bel.

Got to Get Back! comes much be­lat­edly, some seven years af­ter the band’s de­but, The Royal Ses­sions. “I’ve wanted to do an­other Bo-Keys record ever since we did the first,” Bo­mar says.

“Af­ter the first one came out, we started go­ing out on the road a lit­tle bit, but that was also when I started work­ing with Craig Brewer a lot.”

Bo­mar played and pro­duced the mu­sic for the Mem­phis film­maker’s fea­tures “Hus­tle & Flow” and “Black Snake Moan.” “I did those pretty much back to back, so that was four years solid of mostly work­ing on the movies. I never re­ally had the time to do an­other Bo-Keys al­bum.”

In re­cent years, there were a cou­ple of at­tempts to record the Bo-Keys — one session yielded a sin­gle in 2008 — but it wasn’t un­til last year, when Bo­mar and Bo-Keys mem­bers backed Cyndi Lau­per on her Grammy-nom­i­nated blues al­bum, that the mo­men­tum for mak­ing a new al­bum was re­newed.

That was due in part to the ar­rival of drum­mer Howard Grimes, the vet­eran Hi Records time­keeper who re­placed Stax alum Wil­lie Hall.

“Once Howard came into the group, things re­ally jelled. He’s such a great drum­mer and great guy, and has such a great en­ergy,” says Bo­mar. “Howard was the big dif­fer­ence maker and re­ally en­er­gized ev­ery­one in the group.”

In be­tween his var­i­ous sound­track and pro­duc­tion gigs, Bo­mar fi­nally com­mit­ted to mak­ing a new record last fall. “Some­times be­ing both the artist and the record la­bel, it’s hard to give your­self dead­lines, and to get things done,” he says. “But I fi­nally said, ‘If I don’t do this now, I’m never gonna do it. I need to make this hap­pen.’ ”

The re­sult­ing disc is split be­tween in­stru­men­tals and vo­cal tracks, fea­tur­ing a va­ri­ety of guests, from Hi Records singers Otis Clay and Percy Wiggins, to blues­man Char­lie Mus­sel­white and Stax crooner Bell.

Some of the orig­i­nal ma­te­rial — like the spunky “90 Days Same as Cash” — dates back sev­eral years, while other songs were writ­ten in the lead-up to the record­ing. The disc also in­cludes a pair of cov­ers, a pow­er­ful re­work­ing of the 5 Royales song “Catch this Teardrop” and the Prince Con­ley Satel­lite Records nugget “I’m Go­ing Home.” “Those are two songs I’ve had in my back pocket for a while that we re­ally wanted to record,” Bo­mar says.

Look­ing back on the Bo-Keys’ hum­ble start — the band grew out of Bo­mar’s de­sire to lead a soul band, fol­low­ing the demise of his in­stru­men­tal rock group Im­pala — the bassist still sounds sur­prised at his good for­tune in play­ing with so many orig­i­nal R&B greats.

“I’d lis­tened to a lot of the mu­sic that Skip Pitts, Howard (Grimes) and Ben Cauley had played on. But the idea of hav­ing those guys in a band, it was a dream. It didn’t seem like it could be a re­al­ity,” says Bo­mar.

“At the same time, I started teach­ing bass at the Stax Mu­sic Academy, which is where I met Skip and Wil­lie Hall, and that’s how it all started,” Bo­mar says. “Now it’s al­most 10 years later. I can’t be­lieve I’m work­ing these guys. It’s been sur­real.”

Ja­cob Blick­en­staff

Band leader Scott Bo­mar (left) and the Bo-Keys are a mix of soul vet­er­ans and younger play­ers.

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