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OBITUARY: ISAAC HAYES

 

By Shola Adenekan

 

Tuesday, August 12, 2008.

 

The soul icon, composer and producer Isaac Hayes, who has died aged 65, was an embodiment of black masculinity, who inspired many through his music. As a rising R&B star in the1960s and early 1970s, Hayes was an impressive and radical figure on and off the stage.

 

In his heydays, Hayes often dressed in cloak and floppy hat, he would throw these off to reveal a muscular frame clad in burgundy tights, fur cuffs and an almost gladiatorial vest of gold chains, a provocative reference to his African heritage. The ensemble was toped by beard, sunglasses and a bald pate, shaved “to let my head breathe”.

 

At a time of struggle by African Americans for civil rights, Hayes consciously cast himself as a confident and unrepentant Soul man

 

Perhaps, Hayes' most enduring legacy was his seminal work, the theme song for the cult blaxploitation movie, Shaft. A refreshing blend of Hayes’ laid-back lover-man vocals, astounding back vocals and a funky wah-wah guitar arrangement, “The Theme From Shaft,” as the track was called, was released in 1971 by Stax Records. Hayes had wanted to play the Shaft character created by the writer and former New York Times editor, Ernest Tidyman, but the role instead was given to Richard Roundtree. Both men, the singer and the actor, became synonymous with black pride.

 

It was no surprise that the song and the film won two Grammies in 1972, on which occasion, Hayes gave a memorable performance. Hayes, scarcely under 30 at the time, went to appear in several TV roles: He had the title role in Jonathan Kaplan's Truck Turner, starring with Yaphet Kotto, Scatman Crothers and, as a randy-mouthed madam, Star Trek's Nichelle Nichols. Hayes also co-starred in Duccio Tessari's Tough Guys, which mixed the blaxploitation and Italian action genres to produce what might be called a blaxpaghetti movie. He never made a career of acting — he kept recording and touring and was a deejay on New York City's KISS-FM

 

Born on August 20, 1942, in Covington, Tennessee, USA , Isaac Hayes was the second child of Isaac Sr. and Eula Hayes, but he and his sister Willette were raised by their grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Willie Wade Sr. He grew up in segregated South, picking cotton to supplement his grandparents’ earnings. Hayes sang in church since age five, but stopped when his voice cracked in adolescence.

 

The young Hayes joined the school band and learned to play saxophone from Lucian Coleman (brother of hard-bopper George Coleman).  He won a school talent contest in his ninth grade for a rendition of a Nat King Cole hit.  

 

He dropped out of high school and lived on the street for a while after the death of his grandfather, but he was later encouraged by his former high school teachers to return to school to get his diploma, which he did at the age of 21.

 

He soon became a young married father and had to turn down several musical scholarships due to commitments to his young family.

 

Hayes started his own bands, which included the Sir Isaac and the Doo-Dads, the Teen Tones, and Sir Calvin and His Swinging Cats. He soon gained the attention of the white owners of Stax Records, then, the most prominent black-music producing label in Memphis. The label was a major factor in the creation of the Southern soul and Memphis soul music styles, also releasing gospel, funk, jazz, and blues recordings.

 

In 1964, Stax hired Hayes as backup pianist and later worked with the late Otis Redding, who was the rising star of the label at the time. While at Stax, Hayes honed his song-writing skills, forming a remarkable partnership with David Porter. The two men went on to pen a string of hits for several Stax artists, including Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Booker T & the MG's, the Mar-Keys, the Bar-Kays, Rufus & Carla Thomas, and virtually the entire Stax roster created what was known as the Memphis Sound.

 

The sound Hayes helped create transformed popular music around the globe, and was absorbed by everyone from Elvis Presley and Ray Charles to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Over the next four years, Hayes and Porter would write a series of outstanding songs for Stax, including Hold On, I’m Coming (1966), Soul Man (1967), Wrap It Up (1968) and Soul Sister, Brown Sugar (1968).

 

On April 4, 1968, as Stax Records was finalizing its sale to Gulf & Western Corporation, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated at the Lorraine Hotel in downtown Memphis. Hayes, who had marched for Civil Rights with King, was scheduled to meet with him that very day. "It affected me for a whole year," Hayes told Rob Bowman in Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story Of Stax Records. "I could not create properly. I was so bitter and so angry. I thought, What can I do? Well, I can't do a thing about it so let me become successful and powerful enough where I can have a voice to make a difference. So I went back to work and started writing again."

 

In 1967, he released his debut album, “Presenting Isaac Hayes.” The album initially failed to make a good impression among music audience, but a 1969 re-release under the title “Hot Buttered Soul”, with just four tracks, turned Hayes into an acclaimed singer-songwriter, with the album selling over a million copies in the US alone.

 

Following his triumph at the Oscars in 1972, Hayes released half a dozen more albums in the mid-1970s, among them Black Moses (1972), Joy (1973) and several more soundtracks, including Truck Turner (1974), in which Hayes starred as an American footballer. But though these essentially repeated the formula Hayes had created in his earlier recordings, they failed to reach the same heights, and were also less commercially successful, particularly once the taste for disco music started to replace that for soul.

 

The mid 1970s were troublesome years for R&B as Disco fever gripped America and most of the world. Stax went into the red and so did Hayes. Indebted to the tune of over $9 million US dollars, Hayes was declared bankrupt in 1976, losing almost everything, including the copyrights to his hit songs.

 

 

After the 1975 album, “Chocolate Chip”, Hayes did not release new musical material until “Love Attack” in 1986. In 1995, newly signed to Virgin Records, Hayes took a typically bold step by simultaneously issuing two new CDs: “Raw And Refined,” by the Isaac Hayes Movement, was a set of newly recorded and old instrumental tracks, some dating back a quarter-century to the Stax era; while “Branded” was a lavishly arranged set of newly recorded tracks, including one with David Porter. Among the highlights were the 7-minute take on the Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer In the City," and the Watoto de Afrika children's choir singing on the 6-minute version of Sting's "Fragile." Hayes finished out the year speaking at the historic Million Man March on Washington DC.

For 1998's Blue Brothers 2000 movie soundtrack, Hayes joined an all-star group dubbed the Louisiana Gator Boys, including B.B. King, Gary U.S. Bonds, Eric Clapton, Bo Diddley, Dr. John, Billy Preston, Lou Rawls, Koko Taylor, Jimmie Vaughan, Steve Winwood, Grover Washington, Jr., and about a dozen others - for jams on Bobby Blue Bland's "Turn On Your Love Light" and Bonds' "New Orleans."

 

Hayes toured Europe in 2005 and 2006, playing to sellout audiences in the UK and France.

 

He became known to a new generation through the television animated series “South Park”, as the voice of Chef. Hayes left the show controversially in 2006 after an episode mocked Scientology, of which he was a notable member. He suffered a stroke the same year but made some recovery. In recent years, he was involved in humanitarian work in Ghana, and was made an honorary Chief by the local community.

 

Hayes had a role in “Soul Men,” a comedy set for release in November and starring Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac, the notable comedian who died a day before Hayes.

 

A businessman who owned two restaurants and wrote a bestselling cookery book, Hayes is survived by his current wife, Adjowa and several children.

 

See also: http://thenewblack.web126.discountasp.net/view.aspx?index=364

 

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