Sunday, August 10, 2008

RIP Isaac Hayes

This weekend has brought news of two entertainment deaths of significance. Yesterday's news brought forth the story of comedian/actor Bernie Mac's untimely death, and today I learn that Isaac Hayes has passed away at the age of 65. Although to many people in the mainstream, especially those younger than the age of 30, Hayes is known primarily as the voice of "Chef" on the animated series South Park and for the infamous song "Chocolate Salty Balls" from the show. For soul fans, however, Hayes was "Black Moses," whose songwriting with David Porter provided hits for Stax Records (most notably with Sam & Dave) and whose solo LPs for Enterprise ushered in lush, highly-orchestrated sounds that went beyond the length of the standard soul 45 (Hot Buttered Soul, his 1969 breakthrough album, had only four tracks). Hayes' baritone crooning and sensual raps laid the groundwork for artists like Barry White, and his soundtrack to Shaft kick-started the blaxploitation boom. Over at Funky 16 Corners and at In Dangerous Rhythm, Larry and Colin each pay tribute to Hayes (go to the links section to access their posts), and I'm sure more will follow. I wanted to contribute, so I picked four tunes that are personal favorites of mine (a fifth, "Rolling Down a Mountainside," appeared on the blog nearly two years ago).


The impact of Hot Buttered Soul goes beyond the track lengths, as discussed above: Hayes' bald head made for striking cover art; the album got play on R&B radio as if it were a single; the album topped several Billboard charts and was it was so hot a property that, according to Rob Bowman, record stores reported being burglarized but only having Hot Buttered Soul stolen! My favorite track from the LP is the long funk jam "Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic." Hayes delivers some oddball blues lyrics while the band and the backing singers slink along. After nearly five minutes, Hayes settles into a funky piano solo and you can get lost in the funk as it pushes along for another four minutes or so.


Shaft's Cab Ride

Hayes picked up an Oscar for his soundtrack to the 1971 film Shaft, and the title track became part of pop culture history. The entire soundtrack, released as a 2-LP set, featured lots of great material, but two things I always enjoy hearing are the deep soul song "Soulsville" and a piece of "action" music called "Shaft's Cab Ride." The former is a powerful, gospel-slanted song in which Hayes points out lots of ghetto ills, and the latter is a short thing that starts off orchestrally and then settles into a nice Memphis-flavored instrumental stomp.


My last pick is a 1974 Enterprise single from Hayes. "Wonderful" is a bit more conventional that some of Hayes' other tunes, but I think that anyone who's ever been in love can understand the lyrics of the song.

Of course, there's so much more to Hayes' story than I can tell in a simple blog post, and I'm sure my fellow bloggers will cover a lot of ground over the next few days. RIP, Black Moses. Your sound and unique style will live on forever.

A postscript - Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes' passing so close together is uncanny, as Bernie Mac, Samuel L. Jackson and Isaac Hayes just recently filmed a movie, Soul Men, in which Mac and Jackson starred as an estranged pair of soul singers and in which Stax tunes were included. Here's to hoping that the movie gets released and that it does well in the box office!

(EDITOR'S NOTE - Vinyl Record Day is Tuesday, August 12. Last year, your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul participated in a blogswarm connected to the event hosted by J.A. Bartlett from The Hits Just Keep On Comin'. Well, another blogswarm is happening, and I will be participating again. I was going to write a piece to post today, but in light of the news of Isaac Hayes' passing, I will postpone it to tomorrow. Make sure to check it out!)

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