I was working in a record store called Opus 69 when the album Hot Buttered Soul was released. I’d known Isaac Hayes from his writing and session and production work for other acts – acts like Sam & Dave and Booker T. & the MGs. The sound of these acts, and others from the same recording company, Stax, was unique. Dubbed the Memphis Sound, it was rougher and a bit more in your face than the slicker, more polished Motown sound. Hayes was one of the creative geniuses behind the sound and now he had an album of his own that made a statement.
Unlike his first album, a jazzier more improvisational effort called Presenting Isaac Hayes that pretty much sank like a stone, Hot Buttered Soul was an elegantly sexy, smooth without being slick, work that insinuated itself into my consciousness. We played the album for the lunch hour crowds and found that it connected with people of all ages – color wasn’t a barrier, either.
There were only half a dozen tracks on the album – each prefaced by a spoken intro that presaged rap by decades. The music was layered like a Motown album, but its richness and warmth was all Memphis; all Hayes. When Hayes was asked the write the Theme From Shaft, I doubt anyone was surprised. Hot Buttered Soul did have an undercurrent of danger and that part of Hayes’ music was quantified in the movie’s theme – without sacrificing that sinewy, sly warmth. His soundtrack album for the film became a multiple award winner.
Before the Memphis Sound, I hadn’t really been a fan of soul music. Hayes changed that – and because of that, I paid attention when he began acting [his cameo in Shaft, as the bartender, didn’t really count]. He had been very effective in a couple of blaxploitation films, one of which, Truck Turner, showed me that he had some talent in that area. His movie into the mainstream included a recurring role on television’s The Rockford Files and roles in movies like Prime Target and Escape From New York, and may have reached his largest audience as South Park’s Chef character.
Despite a few setbacks – an abortive comeback with the albums U-Turn and Love Attack – Hayes was responsible for more than a few great artists having lengthy careers. When he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, my reaction was more “It’s about time!” than anything else.
Despite his religious beliefs leading to his leaving South Park [and putting up with some digs from the show’s creators], Isaac Hayes was unique. How many artists can say that they created a whole musical sound that encompassed the work of many other artists? And of those few, how many also had a solid acting career? So far as I can tell, just Hayes, whose music opened up new vistas for me – and without whom, there would have been no Barry White, nor the subgenre of soul that I like to refer as sexy seduction music.
Isaac Hayes is gone. Damn!