Monday, August 11, 2008

Remembering Isaac Hayes

Beyond “Shaft,” Isaac Hayes remains a highly celebrated artistic icon for his legendary workmanship on the soul music genre and for making full-length albums friendlier for black consumers. Before Hayes released the classic LP Hot Buttered Soul in 1969, the black market of R&B and soul music surrounded the assembly-line 45 r.p.m. singles. But Hot Buttered Soul changed everything and has remained the most significant event in the world of R&B music ever since. Up to the release of Hot Buttered Soul, virtually everyone in the record industry had assumed that the black audience was neither economically equipped nor aesthetically interested in purchasing LPs in large numbers. Consequently black artists were not afforded the great luxuries enjoyed by their white contemporaries in creating elaborate album concepts or extended songs. Instead, most black LPs were rushed to release and were aimed to be economically friendly to the music companies; focusing only on a string of hit singles. But Isaac Hayes’ crafty abilities in pulling a string and horn section into the studio and working on soothing and heavily orchestrated arrangements changed the entire music biz. At the very beginning of the 1970s, Hayes was accredited for being the very first super artist in R&B - being hailed as “Black Moses” by his beloved followers and fans. And even with his symbolic golden chains, his shaven head and his highly recognizable deep baritone, Hayes was much more than a cultural superhero.

Go back to the early years of Stax Records, the popular music empire of Memphis, Tennessee, and you will find the superstars of Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, Booker T. & the M.G’s, Sam and Dave and the Staple Singers. Behind all that talent stood the writing duo of David Porter and Isaac Hayes. Together the two wrote genre-defining hit singles including Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man,” “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” and “Hold On I’m Comin’.” Other hits came about: Carla Thomas’ “B-A-B-Y,” Mable John’s “Your Good Thing Is About To End” and The Astors’ “Candy.” He also played piano and other instruments on dozens of Stax records and had developed a name as one of the most dependable and creative session players within the company.

Rob Bowman wrote about Hayes in July 2005 in his moving biography about Stax Records in Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records.

“As monumental as his contributions were in the first part of his career, they are dwarfed by the impact of his solo albums such as Hot Buttered Soul, Shaft and Black Moses. With these records Hayes would become the biggest artist Stax ever produced and one of the most important artists in the history of rhythm and blues. From 1969 through 1975, he single-handedly redefined the sonic possibilities of black music, in the process opening up the album market as a commercially viable medium for black artists.”

When Hot Buttered Soul was released, the music world was stunned. The epic soulful creations of the Dionne Warwick hit “Walk On By” and the stunning 18-minute remake of “By The Time I Get to Phoenix” (capped with his signature storytelling monologue) gave birth to a cool, sexy, seductive and charming soul brother during what some music historians call a “new day” in R&B music. With only four tracks on the album, radio edits of “Walk On By” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” were shopped to the big stations to met the public demand of Hayes’ new sound. But history was already rewritten, the LP itself reached number one on both the jazz and R&B charts and even climbed to number eight on the pop charts - doing far greater in sales than the singles themselves.

Other hit albums repeated the Hayes’ formula including To Be Continued, The Isaac Hayes Movement (featuring the amazing reworking of the Jerry Butler hit “I Stand Accused”) and the colorful double-LP Black Moses. The latter also landed at number one on the R&B charts, number two on the jazz charts and number ten pop. Hayes had perfected an unique groove, a holy soulful sound, that merged the glorious emotions of gospel into the heartfelt expressions of soul music. This sound would later be enriched by fellow counterparts including Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and Barry White.

In 1971, Hayes broke all ground with his phenomenal effort of writing a musical score to the hip “blaxploitation” film Gordon Parks’s Shaft. The resulting double LP and the signature theme song were both influential in kick-starting the disco movement and the uprising of the black soundtrack for future motion pictures. The #1 pop/R&B single earned Hayes both an Academy and Grammy Awards - one of the first of African Americans to win in both the world of music and film - and made him an icon overnight.

At the height of his career, he landed a spectacular performance during the Wattstax festival at the Los Angeles Coliseum in August 1972. Portions of that concert were featured in the 1973 documentary film Wattstax by Mel Stuart.

While bankruptcy woes and his departure from Stax Records troubled him and his image throughout the ‘70s, Hayes bounced back with colorful disco and Quiet Storm gems in the late ‘70s on the Polydor music label. Hits like “Don’t Let Go,” “A Few More Kisses to Go” and “Moonlight Lovin’” kept his radiant star glowing during this new era of Hayes’ musical expressions.

Hayes, raised in the Baptist church, never laid sight off of his upbringing and his spirituality. His moving composition, “Soulsville,” tells of the tough climate and environment in the inner city and the passion for the poor and forgotten to survive its calamities with God’s help. On the 1973 LP Live at the Sahara Tahoe, Hayes breathes faith and inspiration into the Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune “The Windows of the World.” And while his dabs in Scientology has baffled many of Hayes’ longtime fans and has left behind an unexplainable cloud of unanswered questions, he remained a beloved hero in his hometown of Memphis, a hardworking humanitarian and remained an active force towards black empowerment and achievement.

In his latter years, Hayes became well known for his voice; appearing on South Park as “Chef,” appearing in commercials, film (Dr. Doolittle 2, Reindeer Games, Hustle and Flow, I’m Gonna Get You Sucka) and television (The Rockford Files, The Hughleys, Girlfriends, Stargate SG-1). And he continued to work in the music industry with international tours, heavy sampling by Mystikal, Ashanti and Jay-Z and even working with Alicia Keys. He was also inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 and a wonderful documentary, featuring Hayes, was also released that same year.

Unfortunately, our Black Moses left us so soon. Isaac Hayes passed away at the age of 65, just ten days short of his 66th birthday, in his Memphis home on the Sunday morning of August 10.

I grew up on Hayes music but took greater dips into the portals of Hayes's music a few years ago. I began to appreciate the creative process of his music and how he brilliantly created these super musical episodes of gorgeous symphonic beauty. From the lovely French horn part in “Ellie’s Love Theme” to the innovative wah-wah rhythm guitar on the “Theme From Shaft,” from the gorgeous and heavily-sampled “Hung Up On My Baby” to the misty sweet sounds of his 1980 reworking of “It’s All In The Game,” from the beautiful harmonies of the female group Hot Buttered Soul on “(They Long to Be) Close To You” to the funky sounds found on “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” - there was always something refreshing and beautiful about Hayes’ music.

I was blessed to know Hayes personally in his latter years. He was a charming and well respected man and emailed me a few times. In one of his last emails to me, Isaac stated:

“My apologies for not replying sooner-my schedule is extremely hectic. Thank you very much for acknowledgment of my work as an artist. I very much appreciate it. Keep on enjoying the music...there will be a new album out at the end of this year!”

I was later told today that the album was never recorded. But there is good news in knowing that Soul Men, an upcoming movie about two estranged soul-singing legends (played by Samuel Jackson and the late Bernie Mac) agreeing to participate in a reunion performance at the Apollo Theater to honor their recently deceased band leader (played by John Legend), is slated to hit theaters November 2008. The film features Isaac Hayes playing himself..It’s so sad that we have lost an earthly treasure like Isaac Hayes. His music will forever live long and will always linger with us - as long as great music lives. Can you dig it?

Isaac Hayes [Official Website]
and for more reading...
Stax of Music [PRAYZE Report]

2 comments: said...

Hello there!

It is just so sad that Isaac Hayes had to leave us so soon! He will be remembered with deep respect by millions around the world!

On an unrelated note...please know that the Godfather of Gospel, Reverend Timothy Wright has a medical fund set up now:

This is the link to the information posted on Streaming Faith!

I am not affiliated with the church at all, just passing on the info that I saw online!

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!
Minister L. Vazquez

Joseph (JayEm86) said...

It's hard to believe that Isaac Hayes is gone. His music had a profound affect upon many. He will be missed. It's also kind of ironic that he passed within a day of Bernie Mac, and they both together are in what may have been their last film appearances. I know it's supposed to be a comedy, but I know that people watching "Soul Men" will feel some sadness while watching it.