I was saddened the other day to hear the news of the death of musician Issac Hayes.
He's best known for his huge hit, "The Theme From Shaft," which won him an Oscar. What's less known is that before that, he was a very successful R and B session player, songwriter and producer with the famed Stax Records. He wrote a number of Sam and Dave's hits, including "Soul Man," (later covered by the Blues Brothers), and "Hold On, I'm Coming," one of my personal favorites.
One of my favorite memories of Hayes was as a kid, when I was watching a Jack Benny special. Hayes perfomed "The Theme From Shaft," complete with a platoon of scantily clad dancing girls. He himself was dressed in his characteristic outfit, with only a huge gold chain for a top. As he finished, Jack Benny approached him, lifted the chain a little and deadpanned "Nice shirt, Isaac."
As music tastes changed, and R and B sales plummetted, Hayes' fortunes followed. Stax went out of business. He and his wife filed for bankruptcy in 1976. He lost most of what he owned, and even worse, the rights to future royalties on much of the music he's written, published and performed.
Hayes began a comeback that included a number of television and film roles. He had a recurring role in "The Rockford Files," and of course later in "South Park" as the voice of The Chef. Perhaps his greatest and most memorable role was as "The Duke" in the cult classic "Escape From New York," where he lampooned blaxploitation movie characters.
Some people have dissed on Hayes for his involvement in the Scientology cult. I don't have much to say about that, but I will add that when times were good, both before and after his bankruptcy, Hayes was a generous guy, giving lots of time and money to charitable organizations.
My favorite memory about Issac Hayes involves the Gingerman Tavern, here in Chicago, where I spent some good times in my illustrious youth. They had one of the greatest jukeboxes ever, with a nice mix of music that ran the range from punk to old R and B and everything in between. The most popular song, by far, on the jukebox, was "The Theme From Shaft." By popular, I mean that the song was played, some nights, every third or fourth song. The bartenders came to really, really hate the song.
Not the patrons, though. Every time, without failure, that the song played, when the part came up where Hayes sang "That cat Shaft is a baaaaad mutha-," the entire bar (and I include myself here) would shout "Shut yo mouth!" It never, ever stopped being funny.
RIP, Isaac. Thanks for the great music and memories.