Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


HAYES, Isaac

(b 6 August 1938, Covington TN; d 10 August 2008 at home near Memphis) Singer, songwriter, producer, actor; the 'Wagner of soul'. He came from a sharecropping family, moved to Memphis as a teenager, played sax and piano, made single 'Laura We're On Our Last Go Round' on local label Youngstown '62 ('It sold about three copies'). He worked at the Stax label playing with Mar-Keys and on Otis Redding sessions '64 (replacing Booker T. Jones, who was attending college) and wrote songs with David Porter including hits for Carla Thomas, Sam and Dave, others. His own records for Stax subsidiary Enterprise began in 1967 (Presenting Isaac Hayes), but he made the top ten pop LPs with Hot Buttered Soul '69: long, lavish arrangements seemed to cap the soul era, combining funk with symphonic orchestration, sounding to pop fans like 'the beautiful sound of the avant-garde colliding with the mainstream' (Tony Parsons). It was of course nothing of the kind, but in his own area Hayes was an innovator.

An even bigger triumph was the music for film Shaft '71, nominated for best score; the theme won the Oscar for best song (the Academy tried to ban it because Hayes couldn't read music, but 'Quincy Jones got in there and argued my case, saying that even if I didn't physically write it down, they were my ideas'). 'Theme From Shaft' was also a no. 1 hit single and won a Grammy. Other hits in pop and soul charts with songs by Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb (it was said you could get to Phoenix in the time it took Hayes to perform the song). He had a distinctive live act with shaven head, dark glasses, cape and tights, large orchestra (captured in film Wattstax '73); he scored and acted in films Tough Guys and Truck Turner '74; switched to the ABC label but was soon ignored by the disco market he'd helped to create.

He went broke but came back; co-wrote '79 hit 'Deja Vu' for Dionne Warwick, made two-disc set A Man And A Woman with her and soon had hits in the soul chart with 'Zeke The Freak', 'Don't Let Go', 'Do You Wanna Make Love', duet LP Royal Rappin's with Millie Jackson, all '78-9. He appeared in the John Carpenter film Escape From New York, an episode of TV's A-Team (where Mr T had copied Hayes's shaven head), also Miami Vice and The Rockford Files. Other LPs on various labels included The Isaac Hayes Movement '70, Black Moses '71, Joy and Live At The Sahara Tahoe '73, Disco Connection '75, Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak) '76, New Horizon '77, Hotbed '78, Don't Let Go '79, And Once Again '80. Love Attack '88 was on Columbia. He concentrated on acting; then Branded '95 on Pointblank included 'Thanks To The Fool', his first work with Porter for over 20 years. Raw And Refined same year was largely instrumental.

His songs were covered by the Fabulous Thunderbirds, ZZ Top and the Blues Brothers, and then had a last career as the animated elementary school chef in TV's South Park from 1997 to 2006. He left that show allegedly because of its lampooning of Scientology, but he also complained about low pay had suffered a stroke. He collaborated with hip-hop star Doug E. Fresh on album The Joy of Creation--The Golden Era Musicians and Friends Play L. Ron Hubbard, and just before he died completed an appearance as himself in Soul Men, a film also starring comedian Bernie Mac, who died the same weekend as Hayes.