A Baker’s Dozen Of Isaac Hayes

Originally posted August 11, 2008

The over-riding image I have of Isaac Hayes is from the Academy Awards telecast in 1972, his shaved head and gold chains gleaming as he performed the “Theme from Shaft.” I’d never seen anything like it.

But then, neither had the rest of the world.

Hayes, who crossed over Sunday at his home in Memphis at the age of sixty-five, was one of those artists who pushes past boundaries. The most obvious boundary at the time was his winning an Oscar for Best Song for the “Theme from Shaft,” as Hayes was the first black composer to win the award.

But those who knew about Hayes before Shaft already knew that he pushed limits. His 1969 album, Hot Buttered Soul, had only four tracks on it. One of those tracks, a version of Jimmy Webb’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” ran 18:42, with much of the track consisting of Hayes’ ruminations about the song’s meaning in a way that some critics have said anticipated rap. I don’t know if the comparison is valid, but I’ve seen it in more than one place over the years. I do think, however, that it’s valid to say that his work on Hot Buttered Soul, Shaft and his 1971 album, Black Moses, pointed the way to the funk of the later 1970s.

Hayes’ work as a recording artist was impressive on its own; a look at the discography available at All-Music Guide is testament to that. The list runs from 1967’s Presenting Isaac Hayes to Instrumental, a 2003 anthology of work from the early 1970s. His last album of all-new material was Branded, released in 1995 along with Raw & Refined, a collection of unreleased tracks from over the years.

But the more impressive list at All-Music Guide is the one headed “Songs Composed By.” From “(Holy Matrimony) Letter to the Firm,” recorded by Foxy Brown in 1996, through “Zeke the Freak,” which Hayes recorded during a stint at Polydor in the late 1970s, the list of tracks currently available on CD runs twenty-four pages.

Add Hayes’ albums to his extraordinary writing credits, and then throw in the work he did as studio musician and producer, and you have one remarkable career. Then consider that Hayes was born in 1942 in a tin shack forty miles north of Memphis, and you have a remarkable life as well.

Here’s a selection of tracks as a salute to that career and that life.

A Baker’s Dozen of Isaac Hayes
“Theme from Shaft” by Isaac Hayes, Enterprise single 9038, 1971

“B-A-B-Y” by Carla Thomas, Stax single 195, 1966

“You Got Me Hummin’” by Cold Blood, San Francisco single 60, 1969

“Soulsville” by Isaac Hayes from the soundtrack to Shaft, 1971

“I’m A Big Girl Now” by Mable John, Stax single 225, 1967

“Hold On! I’m Comin’!” by B.B. King & Eric Clapton from Riding With the King, 2000

“You Don’t Know Like I Know” by Sam & Dave, Stax single 180, 1966

“Never Can Say Goodbye” by Isaac Hayes, Enterprise single 9031, 1971

“I Thank You” by Bonnie Raitt from The Glow, 1979

“My Baby Specializes” by Delaney & Bonnie from Home, 1968

“Little Bluebird” by Little Milton from Waiting For Little Milton, 1973

“Do Your Thing” by Isaac Hayes, Enterprise single 9042, 1971

“Lay Lady Lay” by Isaac Hayes from Tangled Up In Blues, 1999

A few notes:
Most of these don’t need commentary, I would guess. All but two of them came from Hayes’ pen, with most of those being co-written with Dave Porter of Sam & Dave, his long-time writing partner at Stax.

The three selections from Shaft – the main theme, “Soulsville” and “Do Your Thing” – were Hayes’ solo compositions. The versions of the theme and “Do Your Thing” presented here are single edits; on the official soundtrack, the theme ran 4:39 and “Do Your Thing” ran an extraordinary 19:30.

The two songs here that didn’t come from Hayes’ pen are “Never Can Say Goodbye” and, of course, “Lay Lady Lay.” The former is a single edit of a track from Hayes’ 1971 album Black Moses. “Lay Lady Lay” comes from a Bob Dylan tribute album issued by House of Blues in 1999 that’s had its title changed several times. When I bought it, it was called Tangled Up In Blues.

Edited slightly on archival posting July 27, 2011.

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