Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1089

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Isaac Hayes
Isaac Hayes Isaac Hayes

Singer Isaac Hayes was found dead at his home in Memphis yesterday. He was discovered by his wife lying next to a still-running treadmill in their basement. A Shelby County Sheriff's deputy performed CPR, but Hayes was pronounced dead an hour later. It appears he had suffered a stroke according to documents filed by the singer's family doctor.

Hayes, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had a long and varied career. He was born in 1942 in a tin shack in Covington, Tennessee, about 40 miles north of Memphis. He was raised by his maternal grandparents after his mother died and his father took off when he was one. The family moved to Memphis when he was 6.

Hayes wanted to be a doctor, but got redirected when he won a talent contest in ninth grade by singing Nat King Cole's "Looking Back."

He held down various low-paying jobs, including shining shoes on the legendary Beale Street in Memphis. He also played gigs in rural Southern juke joints where at times he had to hit the floor because someone began shooting. A self-taught musician, he was hired in 1964 by Stax Records of Memphis as a backup pianist, working as a session musician for Otis Redding and others. He also played the saxophone. He began writing songs, establishing a songwriting partnership with David Porter, and in the 1960s they wrote such hits for Sam and Dave as "Hold On, I'm Coming" and "Soul Man.

"Isaac Hayes embodies everything that's soul music," Collin Stanback, an A&R executive at Stax, told The Associated Press on Sunday. "When you think of soul music you think of Isaac Hayes — the expression ... the sound and the creativity that goes along with it."

'Hot Buttered Soul' made Hayes a star in 1969. His shaven head, gold chains and sunglasses gave him a compelling visual image. 'Hot Buttered Soul' was groundbreaking in several ways: He sang in a "cool" style unlike the usual histrionics of big-time soul singers. He prefaced the song with "raps," and the numbers ran longer than three minutes with lush arrangements: One song, a cover of Glen Campbell's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," ran 18 minutes.

In the early 1970s, Hayes laid the groundwork for disco, for what became known as urban-contemporary music and for romantic crooners like Barry White. And he was rapping long before there was rap. He once said "The rappers have gone in and created a lot of hit music based upon my influence." And they'll tell you if you ask."

He became known as a flamboyant rhythm and blues singer, and is still perhaps best know for his No1. 1971 hit, 'Theme From Shaft', the film starring Richard Roundtree. Which won him an Oscar for Best Original Song at the 1972 Academy Awards and was nominated for another one for the score. The song and score also won him two Grammys. "That was like the shot heard round the world," Hayes said in the 1999 interview. At the Oscar ceremony in 1972, Hayes performed the song wearing an eye-popping amount of gold and received a standing ovation. TV Guide later chose it as No.18 in its list of television's 25 most memorable moments.

In 1972, he won another Grammy for his album 'Black Moses' and earned a nickname he reluctantly embraced. Hayes composed film scores for 'Tough Guys' and 'Truck Turner' besides 'Shaft.'

However, four years after his Oscar success, a series financial problems at Stax led to him losing his home, personal possessions and rights to royalties from his music. Although he had a number of minor hits after this, he never again achieved the heights of his earlier career as a musician, and pursued a new career in acting.

In the 90s, Hayes reached a brand new audience as the voice of Chef in 'South Park'. This lead to his biggest hit since the 70s, Christmas novelty single, 'Chocolate Salty Balls'. In a 1999 interview, Hayes described the South Park cook as "a person that speaks his mind; he's sensitive enough to care for children; he's wise enough to not be put into the 'whack' category like everybody else in town - and he l-o-o-o-o-ves the ladies." He left 'South Park' in 2006 after an episode made fun of the Scientology movement, of which he was a member, saying "there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins". Co-creator creators Matt Stone responded that Hayes "has no problem - and he's cashed plenty of cheques - with our show making fun of Christians." A subsequent episode of the show seemingly killed off the Chef character. However, it was later reported that he left the show because he had suffered a stroke that same year.

He did the song 'Two Cool Guys' on the 'Beavis and Butt-Head Do America' movie soundtrack in 1996. Additionally, he was the voice of Nickelodeon's "Nick at Nite" and had radio shows in New York City (1996 to 2002) and then in Memphis.

He was in several movies, including 'It Could Happen to You' with Nicolas Cage, 'Ninth Street' with Martin Sheen, 'Reindeer Games' starring Ben Affleck and the blaxploitation parody 'I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka.'

The Rev. Al Sharpton called Hayes a "creative genius" and added, "even in his later years he never hesitated to appear for a cause or endorse something that he felt was for the good of mankind. He will be sorely missed."

Hayes remained active in entertainment, even as he became a senior citizen. His Web site listed upcoming appearances and he was making plans for his Stax album. Stanback said it was to include Hayes' work on vintage tracks that he had left unfinished over the years.

"Hayes offered something completely different to the musical world. In an era of straightened hair or Afros, Hayes was bald: "His look was just so profound, He was like a superhero! We were actually getting ready to schedule a trip to Memphis to talk to Isaac," he said."

Stanback called his death "a tragedy."

"Isaac Hayes was a wonderful human begin and his spirit will live long in the form of his music," he added.

Hayes had been due to spearhead a new campaign for the Memphis Heart Clinic, beginning this Friday. He had been married four times and had twelve children.
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