The Stax Records and Concord Music Group family lost a great friend on Sunday when soul music giant Isaac Hayes died suddenly at the age of 65.
To the world he was Black Moses, Ike The Ripper and, later, Chef from TV’s South Park. To the rest of us who had the extraordinary opportunity to work with him in recent years, he was just Isaac. He was humble, unpretentious and refreshingly down-to-earth. Not bad for a man who delivered a record-setting seven #1 albums to the Billboard R&B chart, scored numerous awards (including multiple Grammys and 2 Academy Awards), appeared in over three dozen films and was named a Royal King of Ghana along the way.
In the ‘60s, the Covington, Tenn. native helped define the Stax Records sound, co-writing with David Porter such hits as “Soul Man,” “Hold On (I’m Coming),” “B-A-B-Y,” and “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” for Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas and Johnnie Taylor, among others.
He took soul music in a new direction with his 1969 album Hot Buttered Soul, which featured expansive re-interpretations of Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and Bacharach and David’s “Walk On By.” The music’s impact was matched only by the visual impact of the record’s cover, which featured Hayes’ signature bald head, gold chains and bare chest.
Two years later, his “Theme From Shaft” exploded on the pop and R&B charts, putting him on the map as an artist and icon. The rat-a-tat of that lone high-hat, that cultural-shifting kick of the wah-wah pedal — no other piece of music signaled the true end of the ’60s, ushering in the gritty 1970s than Isaac Hayes’ theme from Shaft . The song won him not only a Grammy but two Oscars, for “Best Song” and “Best Score” in 1972. That same year he won a Grammy for his double album Black Moses. The hits continued for Hayes throughout the ‘70s.
In later years, Hayes’ career took some other directions. He became the voice of Nickelodeon’s Nick at Nite and later the voice of Chef in the animated series South Park. He had a role in the upcoming movie Soul Men with stars Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac (who also died this past weekend).
In 2007, Hayes participated in the Stax Records 50th Anniversary celebration shows in Memphis, Austin and Los Angeles. Despite health problems that slowed him down in recent years, he continued to tour the world. He had proudly returned to Stax Records, both as an artist and as an advisor in planning the reactivation of the imprint in 2007 by Concord Music Group. Isaac was also in the process of recording a new album for Stax.
To borrow a phrase from the man himself, he was “one bad mutha.” And through the music he so generously left behind, the world will be talking about him and more importantly listening for lifetimes to come.
Concord Music Group president and CEO Glen Barros states, “Isaac Hayes exemplified all that is Stax. We are all very fortunate to have worked with a visionary who changed music in indelible and profound ways. His talent was matched only by his kindness of spirit. On behalf of the entire Concord/Stax family we express our deep sympathies to his family, friends and fans all over the world.”
Gene Rumsey, Concord Music Group general manager added, “The enduring influence of Stax Records could only have been made possible through Isaac’s brilliant song-writing which laid the ground work for the future generations of rap, hip-hop, and soul. Isaac played a pivotal role in the recent re-launch of Stax, once again infusing the label with his creativity, inspiring a whole new breed of Stax artists. Our condolences go out to all the people whose lives Isaac touched throughout his unparalleled career and lifetime.”
John Burk, executive VP and chief creative officer, Concord Music Group, states, “Isaac had a profound and multifaceted impact on the Stax label, contributing to its legacy as a writer, producer, arranger, studio musician, A&R executive and, of course, one of its most successful artists. Having collaborated closely with Isaac during the past few years, I came to know the man behind the music and his deep love for humanity. He was an extraordinary individual who used his talents to inspire and unite people from all walks of life. I feel tremendously privileged to have had the opportunity to work along side this giant of a man.”