Isaac Hayes, Soul Man

Isaac Hayes, 1973

My brother and I feel like we’re some type of jinx. Yesterday, we were driving up I95 to attend a memorial service for a dear departed uncle. On the way, we got to talking about Isaac Hayes. I mentioned that the iTunes library on a laptop I borrowed had lots of Hayes’ music, and I was loving it to hear from him again. My brother mentioned that he too had been listening to some of Hayes’ stuff recently. We said that when we next got together, we’d pull some of his stuff out of the mothballs and make some compilations. (And we’re talking about making compilations from stuff we owned… no pirating.)

Imagine our dismay when we found out that today, Hayes died in his home outside Memphis, Tennessee at age 65. It broke our hearts.

Hayes, a musical prodigy as child who played several instruments, was one of the creators of a brand of R’n’B that came to be known as the “Memphis Sound.” Hayes was a part of Stax Records, whose stable included Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Booker T. and the MGs, Johnnie Taylor, the Bar-Kays, and of course, Hayes himself.

Hayes was a songwriter, producer, and artist. With lyricist David Porter, he did the music and production for several huge Sam and Dave hits such as “Hold On, I’m Comin” (1966), “When Something is Wrong with My Baby” (1967), “Soul Man” (1967), and “I Thank You” (1968).

But Hayes earned his fame for a string of albums he released in the late 1960s and 1970s, most notably, the music for the MGM blaxploitation movie Shaft. A single from the film score’s album, “Theme from Shaft,” became a worldwide hit. The single and the album would go on to win several industry awards. As noted in Wikipedia,

At the 1972 Grammy Awards, “Theme from Shaft” won the awards for Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical and Best Instrumental Arrangement. The film score as a whole won for Best Instrumental Composition Written Specifically For A Motion Picture or for Television. The National Association of Television and Radio Announcers gave Shaft its Album of the Year award. At the Academy Awards that year, Hayes became the first African-American to win an Oscar for a non-acting category when “Theme from Shaft” won the award for Best Original Song.

It’s hard to explain, now, what a star Hayes was in his day, especially when Shaft was released. Hayes floored people of all races and nationalities with his merging of serious Southern funk, lush orchestral arrangements, and his own deep bass voice. This was the same formula he had used in previous albums, but Shaft featured Hayes at the top of his powers.

The many awards Hayes received were a source of pride for the African American community. Not only did Hayes receive prestigious awards from the record and film industries, but he did on own terms-that is, with pure unadulterated black music. I can’t tell you how excited my mother and aunt were when Hayes accepted one of his awards-I believe it was the Oscar-in what I think was a pimped out full length white (or was it white leopard?) fur coat… or something like that. No doubt, the sight of that fired up black folks all over the country for a minute or two. And to this day, I wonder what white folks made of it all.

Shaft was great. But Hayes’ remakes of “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “The Look of Love,” as well as his own “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” are my own favorites. Those songs deserve space on anybody’s iPod.

We love you, Isaac.

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