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Isaac Hayes and the theme from “Shaft”

isaac hayes

Isaac Lee Hayes Jr. (August 20, 1942 – August 10, 2008) was an American singer-songwriter, actor, voice actor and producer.  Hayes was born in Covington, Tennessee, in Tipton County on August 20, 1942. He was the second child of Isaac Hayes, Sr. and Eula (née Wade) Hayes.  After his mother died young and his father abandoned his family, Isaac, Jr., was raised by his maternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Willie Wade, Sr. The child of a sharecropper family, he grew up working on farms in Shelby County, Tennessee, and in Tipton County. At age five Hayes began singing at his local church; he taught himself to play the piano, the Hammond organ, the flute, and the saxophone.

Hayes dropped out of high school, but his former teachers at Manassas High School in Memphis encouraged him to complete his diploma, which he did at age 21. After graduating from high school, Hayes was offered several music scholarships from colleges and universities. He turned down all of them to provide for his immediate family, working at a meat-packing plant in Memphis by day and playing nightclubs and juke joints several evenings a week in Memphis and nearby northern Mississippi. His first professional gigs, in the late 1950s, were as a singer at Curry’s Club in North Memphis, backed by Ben Branch’s houseband.

Hayes began his recording career in the early 1960s, as a session player for various acts of the Memphis-based Stax Records. He later wrote a string of hit songs with songwriting partner David Porter, including “You Don’t Know Like I Know”, “Soul Man”, “When Something Is Wrong with My Baby” and “Hold On, I’m Comin'” for Sam & Dave. Hayes, Porter and Stax studio band Booker T. & the M.G.’s were also the producers for Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas and other Stax artists during the mid-1960s. Hayes-Porter contributed to the Stax sound made famous during this period, and Sam & Dave credited Hayes for helping develop both their sound and style. In 1968, Hayes released his debut album, Presenting Isaac Hayes, a jazzy, largely improvised effort that was commercially unsuccessful.

The song “Soul Man”, written by Hayes and Porter and first performed by Sam & Dave, has been recognized as one of the most influential songs of the past 50 years by the Grammy Hall of Fame. It was also honored by The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, by Rolling Stone magazine, and by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as one of the Songs of the Century.   During the late 1960s, Hayes also began a career as a recording artist. He had several successful soul albums such as Hot Buttered Soul (1969) and Black Moses (1971). Later, he was given his third Grammy for his music album Black Moses.  In addition to his work in popular music, he worked as a composer of musical scores for motion pictures.

In early 1971, Hayes composed music for the soundtrack of the blaxploitation film Shaft.  In the movie, he also appeared in a cameo role as the bartender of No Name Bar. The title theme, with its wah-wah guitar and multi-layered symphonic arrangement, would become a worldwide hit single, and spent two weeks at number one in the Billboard Hot 100 in November. The remainder of the album was mostly instrumentals covering big beat jazz, bluesy funk, and hard Stax-styled soul. The other two vocal songs, the social commentary “Soulsville” and the 19-minute jam “Do Your Thing,” would be edited down to hit singles. Hayes won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for the “Theme from Shaft,” and was nominated for Best Original Dramatic Score for the film’s score, becoming the third African-American, after Sidney Poitier and Hattie McDaniel, to win an Academy Award in any competitive field covered by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Later in the year, Hayes released a double album, Black Moses, that expanded on his earlier sounds and featured The Jackson 5’s song “Never Can Say Goodbye.”  Another single, “I Can’t Help It,” was not featured on the album.

In recognition of his humanitarian work there Hayes was crowned honorary king of the Ada, Ghana region in 1992. He acted in motion pictures and television, such as in the movies Truck Turner and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, and as Gandolf “Gandy” Fitch in the TV series The Rockford Files (1974–1980). He voiced the character Chef from the animated Comedy Central series South Park from its debut in 1997 until 2005. His influences were Percy Mayfield, Big Joe Turner, James Brown, Jerry Butler, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, and psychedelic soul groups like The Chambers Brothers and Sly and the Family Stone. Hayes was a 2002 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  On August 5, 2003, Hayes was honored as a BMI Icon at the 2003 BMI Urban Awards for his enduring influence on generations of music makers.

Also, Hayes and Porter, along with Bill Withers, the Sherman Brothers, Steve Cropper, and John Fogerty, were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005 in recognition of writing scores of songs for themselves, the duo Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, and others.   Throughout his songwriting career, Hayes received five BMI R&B Awards, two BMI Pop Awards, two BMI Urban Awards and six Million-Air citations. As of 2008, his songs generated more than 12 million performances.  Hayes was found unresponsive in his home located just east of Memphis on August 10, 2008, ten days before his 66th birthday, as reported by the Shelby County, Tennessee, Sheriff’s Department. A Shelby County Sheriff’s deputy and an ambulance from Rural Metro responded to his home after three family members found him unresponsive on the floor next to a still-operating treadmill. Hayes was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, where he was pronounced dead. The cause of death was later listed a recurrence of stroke.

The following work by Isaac Haynes is contained in my collection:

Shaft (1971): Theme.

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