Television

Isaac Hayes, RIP

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Four reasons to miss Isaac Hayes, who died today:

1. Memphis. If you like the gritty Memphis soul sound of the '60s, you like Isaac Hayes. Before he was a star himself, Hayes wrote and produced a series of songs for other artists on the Stax roster, including some of Sam and Dave's best-known hits. This one's my favorite:

2. The '70s. Hayes' hits for other people were tight, concise, and (just barely) restrained. Hayes' hits for himself were long, lush, complex; along with George Clinton's extraterrestrial funk excursions, they were the black equivalent of prog-rock. And if, like the progs, he sometimes went overboard, he usually managed to do something Emerson, Lake, and Palmer rarely pulled off: He made the excess fun.

His most famous song from this period is, of course, the theme from Shaft, that rare Best Song Oscar winner that actually deserved the prize:

3. Chef. Hayes' hilarious performance as South Park's wise and randy cafeteria chef was a central reason why the libertarian cartoon became such a pop phenomenon. Here he is dispensing advice to the kids:

The show reinvigorated his career as much as he invigorated the show. When I saw Hayes play in Baltimore a few years ago, his rendition of Chef's "Chocolate Salty Balls" was the biggest crowd-pleaser of the set.

4. Everything else. Well, not everything else. Some of his songs were too slick for my taste, and his Scientology-fueled separation from South Park was unfortunate. But his career is filled with fun little byways—say, his role as a football player turned bail bondsman in Truck Turner, my favorite indefensible blaxploitation picture. He also inspired one of Cookie Monster's greatest moments.

Hayes' best record might be his intimate interpretation of Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," one of several country songs he covered across his career. The monologue at the beginning feels like a sermon, providing a bridge from Stax's gospel-rooted '60s sound to the Shaft era. I can't find the full 18-minute version online, so the seven-minute edit will have to do:

I really, really, really hate to go, he sings. Requiescat in pace.

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  1. Let’s not forget the Scientology. I guess he didn’t rid himself of enough thetans.

  2. Let’s not forget the Scientology.

    I just rewrote my allusion to it to make it more overt. Though it is, at best, a footnote to his career. When Bernie Mac died, did anyone feel obliged to mention that he was … whatever religion he was?

  3. Jesse, you pretty much nailed it. R.I.P. Black Moses…

  4. Jesse, it’s understandable to want to remember someone without regard to their religion. But Hayes broke with Parker and Stone specifically because he couldn’t handle their treatment of his cult religion. It was a huge part of his life at this point.

    I just think it’s a thing to note, that’s all. My enjoyment of Alice Cooper is affected by his overt right-wingerism too. I can’t help it.

  5. Requiescat in pace.

    (I’ll be here all eternity. Don’t forget to tip your angel.)

  6. Hayes’ hits for himself were long, lush, complex; along with George Clinton’s extraterrestrial funk excursions, they were the black equivalent of prog-rock.

    Which is especially true given that, with the exceptions of Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, jazz fusion — the jazz equivalent of progressive rock — was largely a white man’s genre. And there’s certainly a lot of Clinton’s and Hayes’ funk in what Hancock, Weather Report, and, to a lesser extent, Return to Forever were doing in the ’70s.

    (I feel compelled to bring this up because this time last week, I was just back from seeing Return to Forever’s reunion concert in Atlanta.)

  7. Hayes broke with Parker and Stone specifically because he couldn’t handle their treatment of his cult religion. It was a huge part of his life at this point.

    To add, they’d skewered just about every other religion to that point, and Hayes apparently had absolutely no problem with that.

  8. I didn’t catch on to him until he was past his prime.

    But they say this cat Isaac Hayes was a bad mother-

  9. The Duke of New York has left his throne. We will not see his like again. a tip of the hat to the Black Moses, as he passes.

  10. But I’m talkin’ ’bout Hayes!

    In ’72 the marching band of our very carefully white high school played the Theme from Shaft as part of the halftime show. I was pretty much entirely oblivious to the irony of it at the time, but there must of been some serious eye-rolling going on in the stands.

    But damn, it was fun to play. Even we swung, at least a little.

  11. “I just think it’s a thing to note, that’s all. My enjoyment of Alice Cooper is affected by his overt right-wingerism too. I can’t help it.”

    I learned a long time ago that if I let an artist’s political views affect my ability to appreciate their art, I wasn’t going to have a very big collection.

    Cheers

  12. lets not forget his role in the sci-fi cult classic, “escape from new york”.

  13. The Duke of New York has left his throne.

    A-number one!

  14. I entered my teens when the Theme from Shaft was charting on the radio. I was among the tens of millions electrified by his pioneering sound, and recall being very disappointed, many years later, when I finally saw the movie “Shaft,” which lived up to neither Hayes’ iconic song nor Richard Roundtree’s acting talent.

    I’m sure I am not the only one who harbored hopes that Hayes would get past the falling out with Parker and Stone, and return to South Park as Chef someday — perhaps for the series finale or during another theatrical movie. Oh well. If the physicists are right, it will still happen in a parallel universe. But not here, for all of us. Too bad.

    Thanks for posting “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” btw. I had never heard Hayes’ version before today and I must say that, even being a long time fan of Glen Campbell’s town-n-country original hit, it is hard now for me to call it a “country” song. Hayes made it his own.

    I’m looking forward to the movie he made with the late Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson.

    Wherever Scientologists go when they depart this plane, I hope Isaac Hayes is having a good time. RIP.

  15. Is that Jesse Jackson in that second video?

  16. I fondly recall his collaboration with the Wu-Tang Clan, I Can’t Go to Sleep.R.I.P.

  17. The Wikipedia entry for By The Time I Get To Phoenix is hilarious. How true is the journey???

  18. Lets not forget his role as Gandy in two episodes of the Rockford Files.

    Also, I would imagine with the death of Bernie Mac and now Issac Hayes that Samuel L. Jackson is in a safe room some place feeling very nervous.

  19. Is that Jesse Jackson in that second video?

    Yeah. The clip is from the Wattstax concert, where Jackson served as an MC of sorts.

  20. Let’s not forget the immortal Tolak in SG-1

    Multi-talented man. Truly bigger than life. Much too soon.

  21. He also co-wrote Sam & Dave’s excellent “Hold On, I’m Coming”.

  22. Can’t Jesse come up with a better euphemism than “unfortunate” when a “beloved” pop star does something stupid or asinine? Frankly, I don’t think it was “unfortunate” that Issac Hayes walked on South Park because he was a Scientologist. Freedom involves the right to stand up for stupid principles and stupid cults. And I don’t think that Toby Keith saying that black people don’t think Obama carries himself like a black man was “unfortunate” either. I think it was racist.

  23. I don’t think it was “unfortunate” that Issac Hayes walked on South Park because he was a Scientologist. Freedom involves the right to stand up for stupid principles and stupid cults.

    Talk about non sequiturs. Yes, freedom includes the right to stand up for stupid principles and stupid cults. Hayes used that freedom in an unfortunate way, at least for those of us who enjoyed seeing his character on the show.

  24. You gotta love the “wahka-chicka-wahka-chicka” of the instrumentation of the Shaft theme.

  25. Warty,

    By the time I get to Phoenix ….. Perhaps the journey was supposed to be by train rather than car…. No one thinks about train travel much any more but in the 60’s I traveled (i was a child) from Pittsburgh to Tucson by train to visit relatives… Was pretty slick

  26. He can teabag me with his chocolate salty balls anytime.

  27. Oh my God, they killed Chef!

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