Two NUVO writers felt compelled to note the passing of Isaac Hayes with a few words. First up is Matthew Socey.
Academy Award winner
Over his career, Isaac Hayes reinvented himself and left a legacy in music, film and sitcoms. Hayes died Aug. 10. He was 65.
Hayes was one of the musical foundations of Stax Records, as a musician and songwriter (Sam & Dave and Otis Redding sang his songs) and eventually a solo artist. He replaced Booker T. Jones as the Stax session keyboard player, for cripes sake. Pick up any of his Stax albums, especially “Hot Buttered Soul,” the “Shaft” soundtrack and “Black Moses.”
Like Al Green, Hayes could take someone else's song (no matter how good or bad the original source) and make it in most cases better. His covers of "Walk On By," "By The Time I Get To Phoenix," "Something," "Never Can Say Goodbye" and "For The Good Times" demand attention.
He won a well-deserved Oscar in 1972 for Best Song with "Theme From Shaft," a song that most can recognize without ever seeing the film (which they should). They also know this cat Shaft is a bad mother ...
(Pause while you fill in the next line)
I was only talking about Shaft.
This was an important moment in Academy Award and film music history. From here onward the Best Song was not an automatic win for drippy, orchestrated mush. The Three 6 Mafia and Eminem should kiss the Oscar path that Hayes made.
Just so you don't think this is a complete backside smooch fest, the one bone I have to pick with Hayes was his decision to leave “South Park” after an episode made fun of Scientology, Hayes' religion. He apparently didn't mind being on a show that made fun of just about every other religion on the planet. This was a blemish on an otherwise great vocal performance as Chef, which introduced him to a whole new audience.
Film-wise, Hayes will be best remembered as The Duke on John Carpenter's “Escape From New York.” His star turn in “Truck Turner” proved he could provide action as well as music in a film. He later made fun of his screen image in “I'm Gonna Git You Sucka.” But Hayes never forgot that his bread and butter was in music. I'm still waiting for “Three Tough Guys” (co-starring Fred Williamson) to arrive on DVD.
I was fortunate to interview Hayes for NUVO the last time he played Indy Jazz Fest. He was very cordial and indulged me when I'm sure I was the millionth person to ask him if he knew how many children he brought into the world with his music. He told me about a television producer in L.A. whose family was present for Hayes' appearance and the producer said, "See my three kids? You made them."
When I brought up “South Park,” he immediately said "Hello there, children." I couldn't resist and responded "Hey, Chef."
"How are you doin'?"
I said we had to stop because if we went any further, I would have to pay him. He laughed and said, "You're right."
Thanks for the Stax albums. Thanks for "Theme From Shaft." Thanks for “Truck Turner.” Thanks for Chef and his Chocolate Salty Balls. Thanks for the music and memories, Isaac. Cheers.
Matthew Socey is host of The Blues House Party, Saturdays at 10 p.m. on WFYI 90.1 FM
NUVO contributor Joe O’Gara also brushed by Isaac Hayes a time or two, interviewing him before Jazz Fest for a rival paper, and running into him twice in Memphis. His recollections are below.
In September 2001, my wife Sheri took me to Memphis for my birthday. We visited Graceland and Sun Studios, as well as several of the clubs on Beale Street on a Saturday night. As we passed by B.B. King’s club on Beale, we looked inside to see what was going on. My wife commented that the gentleman on stage looked like Isaac Hayes. I disagreed. But soon enough, a voice came over the club’s PA that said, “Let’s give it up for Mr. Isaac Hayes!” That comment was answered by a loud round of applause inside the club and an “I told you so” stare from my wife.
We waited a few minutes in the hope that Hayes would step outside. Sheri and I approached Isaac as he stepped onto Beale Street. I introduced myself and my better half to the music legend. I asked Hayes if he would pose for a quick picture. In that deep baritone voice I had heard on the radio since the early ’70s, he responded, “Sure, can she [my wife] take a quick one?” I assured Mr. Hayes that she could. He put his hand on my shoulder and smiled for the camera. We shook hands and Isaac signed an autograph.
To say that chance meeting with Isaac Hayes was the highlight of my first trip to Memphis would be an understatement. Upon our return home, I bought a couple of Hayes’ CDs, including the classic soundtrack for the 1971 movie “Shaft,” an album that earned him an Oscar and a Grammy.
A couple of years later, my wife and I returned to Memphis. This time we visited the Stax Museum at 926 McLemore St., on the site of the legendary ’60s and ’70s music studio. My wife and I walked in the door to tour the museum. When we looked across the way, there in the souvenir store stood Isaac Hayes. My wife suggested I go and reintroduce myself.
Hayes chuckled when I reminded him of our first meeting on Beale Street, and he signed another autograph. I told him of my work as a freelance writer and that if he ever came to Indianapolis, I would like to do an interview with him. Hayes said sure, and gave me the name and number of his publicist.
In 2004, Isaac Hayes was one of the headline performers at Indy Jazz Fest. At the time, I was writing for another local weekly newspaper. I contacted Hayes’ publicist, who arranged a phone interview for a preview article. During the 15-minute phone conversation, Hayes recalled for me his early days as a musician in Memphis, the Stax era, his voice work as Chef on the TV show “South Park” and his efforts to ensure that the youth of today make the most of their academic and musical talents.
When we heard that Hayes had died this past weekend, my wife and I were stunned and saddened by the news. In our office, I have a copy of the photo of Hayes and myself, in a frame that also holds the business card he signed for me during our second chance meeting.
Thanks for the music, Isaac Hayes. And thanks again for the interview, the picture and the autographs.