Vol. 3, Issue #15 August 29th - Sept. 11th, 2008

Tiger Bear From Hell at NONzine.com

By: Wilhelm Murg

An Appreciation of Isaac Hayes

“I’m talking about the power of love now, I’m gonna tell you what love can do, You know when they said love makes the world go ‘round? That’s the truth, Now I want your imagination, I want you to travel with me…” - Isaac Hayes, “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” 1969

I normally don’t use this space for obituaries, so to speak, unless the recent figure that died warrants a special mention, and Isaac Hayes certainly does. Though the average Joe Six-Pack is more apt to know Chef’s “Chocolate Salty Balls” better than any of Hayes’ classic recordings, Hayes was one of the monsters of popular music, and his acting and voice-over personas often overshadowed the mountains of ornately textured audio orgasms that originally put him on the map.

Hayes first came to the forefront of music as keyboardist of the classic Stax house band that backed-up such luminaries as Otis Redding and Sam & Dave. As a songwriter, working with David Porter, Hayes co-penned some of the masterpieces of Stax soul including Carla Thomas’ “B-A-B-Y,” Johnny Taylor’s “I Had a Dream,” and “I Got to Love Somebody’s Baby,” and most importantly, Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man,” “When Something is Wrong With My Baby,” “I Thank You,” “You Don’t Know Like I Know,” and “Hold On, I’m Comin’.”

Let’s stop right there.

“Hold On, I’m Comin’” is simply one of the greatest singles ever released. The lyrics are a brilliant combination of sexual double en tend res mixed with the cartoony image of a hero (“When the day comes and you’re know you’re down / in a river of trouble and you’re about to drown / hold on, I’m comin’…”) On first hearing the song is an absurd pledge of love during the love-making, yet when you hear that ultra-slick playa’s cool in the horn’s break, the song turns on itself with a “screw you, and goodbye” edge to it - like “I’ll get to you when I’m done with this woman who is nice to me.” I don’t know that it was ever meant to be so multi-leveled, but that’s what we’re left with in the final product. It’s dead on the heavy beat precision would only be the seeds of the funk to come.

Hayes second album, his commercial breakthrough, “Hot Buttered Soul” (1969,) would take multiple meanings to the next level. It’s not so much an album as it is a musical mountain range. Side one features some of the most delicate psychedelic soul music ever created, only served up in Wagnerian proportions. Hayes’ twelve-minute arrangement for orchestra, organ, distorted guitars, and female backing vocalists of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic “Walk On By” evokes slow, smooth sex, the feeling of looking down from a mountain vista, and a crack high all at once. Hayes vocals, originally designed for Dionne Warwick, are slowed, deepened, and tortured. It is one of the most mind bending arrangements from it’s time; like Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western soundtracks, all the elements are right, they just sound like they were put together by someone from outer space.

The second and final song on side one is the nine minute super funky Orwellian newspeak of “Hyperebolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic.” This was state of the art funk that successfully went up against James Brown and Sly Stone while they were both at their peaks. Hayes perfected the slow, cool as ice beat, and the words came out of a whole new realm of psychedelics. “Find my emancipator, she’s a love educator, Cerebral, cerebellum, a medulla oblongata, A slave’s on a horse, every time she explores. Just heard a discussion about a racial relationship.” The song ends with a five minute piano solo by Hayes where he seems to drawn deep from his soul to substantiate such a massive structure. The song also appeared in last year’s “Zodiac.”

Side two includes the less ambitious (only five minutes long) “One Woman,” and then the Mount Everest of the Hayes catalogue, the seventeen minute version of Jimmy Webb’s “By The Time I Get to Phoenix.” By the end of the album it defines the concepts in rap, slow funk, and disco, none of which were even close to sticking their heads out of the water just yet.

Hayes did a series of fine albums in the 1970s, each as climatic and sexy as “Hot Buttered Soul,” but his commercial peak came early in 1971 with the soundtrack to Gordon Parks’ seminal blaxploitation film “Shaft.” In the documentary “Baad Asssss Cinema” Quentin Tarantino put it best when he said “If I had ‘The Theme to Shaft’ to open my damn movie, I would have opened my damn movie.” While the film may seem amateurish even compared to other blaxploitation films made a few months later, the soundtrack was a killer, with the seventeen minute version “Do Your Thing” as the centerpiece.

After that Hayes started the media blitz where he became the persona of his music, like appearing in the television series “The Rockford Files,” and even in Canada Dry Ginger Ale ads, singing “It’s Not Too Sweet.”

The main image I’ll always have of Hayes is a painting from Guy Peellaert’s book of surrealist portraits of rock stars, “Rock Dreams (c. 1975.)” If the cobwebs of my memories don’t fail me, the image was called “Chairmen of the Board,” and showed a simple boardroom with Hayes, Taj Mahal, Jimi Hendrix, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Sly Stone sitting around the table, with Aretha Franklin in the chairman’s seat. It was a magical time for soul music.

The tragedy of Hayes’ death is not that he will probably best be remembered for “South Park,” but that his tenure there ended so bitterly over Scientology.

“I’m gonna remember Chef as the jolly old guy who always broke into song. I’m gonna remember Chef... as the guy who gave us advice to live by. So you see, we shouldn’t be mad at Chef for leaving us. We should be mad at that little fruity club for scrambling his brains.” - Kyle Broflovski, “The Return of Chef”

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