M3 Month Throwback Thursday Edition: The Bo-Keys (Guest Post)
Ed. Note: I'm happy to share with you this guest post by John Miller from the Memphis Music Foundation, who writes about our last M3 Month Throwback Thursday music group, The Bo-Keys. You can listen to The Bo-Key's song "Hi Roller" on the Indie Memphis Film Festival music sampler that you can stream fro free here.
While Neo-Soul is a big part of the current Memphis music landscape, the Bo-Keys are one of those few acts that just have that classic feel. Founded by Scott Bomar in 1998, the vision of the Bo-Keys was to be a backing band for a former Stax artist. What resulted is a seamless blend of some of the top current horn players along with the elder statesmen of the original soul revolution. With a contemporary edge to their sound, the Bo-Keys provide a completely unique experience for lovers of southern soul.
Bandleader Scott Bomar has roots that run deep in Memphis. He recorded his old band Impala with recently deceased Sun legend Roland Janes and played bass for many Memphis soul stars. He contributed to engineering and production on Al Green’s Grammy Award nominated 2003 album I Can’t Stop before opening his own studio and label, Electraphonic. Since then he has also added music supervision and production to his resume, working on films with Craig Brewer and others.
Bomar recruited artists for the Bo-Keys that he believed exemplified the sound of Soulsville, USA. An obvious choice was the late, great Charles “Skip” Pitts, most famously remembered for his electrifying guitar work on the Oscar-winning soundtrack to “Shaft”. Even though Pitts passed away in May of 2012, his presence as a founding member of the band still reverberates in their sound. You can check out a short animated tribute to Skip HERE.
The Stax sound that Pitts embodied is still a huge part of The Bo-Keys’ sound, thanks to trumpeter Ben Cauley and baritone saxophonist Floyd Newman. Cauley has the distinction of being a founding member of the legendary Bar-Kays, backing many of Stax’s greatest artists. Similarly, Newman traces his history to the early days of Stax, becoming one of the first South Memphians to become a session player there.
Bomar not only drew from Stax, but also from the great Hi Rhythm Section, adding drummer Howard Grimes and organist Archie Turner. Grimes became a professional drummer at an early age, and earned himself the nickname “Bulldog” because of his intensity. His drumming was always complemented by Turner’s smooth keys, which he currently performs at Wild Bill’s, where he leads the house band.
Bomar added depth to the solid rock base by bringing in modern ace session players Mac Franklin, Kirk Smothers, Jim Spake, and Derrick Williams to create a full horn section for The Bo-Keys. Since their formation, the group has gained critical acclaim for their albums The Royal Sessions and Got To Get Back, and even played for Cindy Lauper’s Grammy nominated Memphis Blues. Most recently they backed Percy Wiggins for a single release through Bomar’s Electraphonic label and played on last season’s Sun Studio Sessions. While The Bo-Keys are steeped in the city’s historic sounds, they are by no means a nostalgia act – they are just soul men.
About the author: John Miller was born and raised in Memphis, falling in love with the rhythm of the city. He got his start in music working at Archer Records and currently serves as Music Resource Center Manager at the Memphis Music Foundation where he works with and advocates on behalf of an incredible creative community. Music is his biggest passion, but he’s also known to fervently support the Tigers, Grizzlies, Red Sox, and Manchester United and will have words with anyone who suggests Cozy Corner’s ribs are not the best on the planet. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.