Isaac Hayes - the Musician Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Isaac Hayes - the Musician

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This is the guy who got called 'Black Moses' so many times that he named his great 1971 album, with confidence and righteousness, Black Moses. Isaac Hayes was born on 20 August, 1942, and was raised on his grandparents' share-cropper farm near Memphis. He grew up in terrible poverty, but he always had a sense of his own importance; as a teenager, he formed a group in which he billed himself as Sir Isaac. He was lucky enough to sign with local record company Stax, became one of its elite session musicians, played piano on most of Otis Redding's tracks and co-wrote the hits 'Hold On, I'm Comin'' and 'Soul Man' for Sam and Dave. Then he turned solo, and recorded some incredible albums that made him pretty much the first black superstar. He's a legend; and he's absolutely magnificent.

Youngsters may only remember him from South Park, in which he plays the voice of Chef. When his agent told him about the gig, Hayes said, 'I was excited, because I thought it was a Disney thing'. South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker put him right on that score. They told him it was about four foul-mouthed tykes in a village infested by aliens - Hayes: 'I almost walked'.

He stayed, and is now enjoying another burst of fame with the remake of Shaft, directed by John Singleton. Hayes wrote the Oscar-winning soundtrack for the classic 1971 thriller about a detective who was just so funky and so cool. Singleton insisted Hayes write the theme song to which Hayes responded:

Will you promise me that I can do it exactly like I did before? You can't reinvent the wheel, man. It would be a terrible travesty to the public if we changed this thing.

You do not say no to a man like that.

The original Shaft - a number one hit, with its monstrous riffs and insane wah-wah effects - saw Hayes at the peak of his creative powers. In 1969, Stax needed 30 albums for a promotional campaign. Hayes recorded Hot Buttered Soul merely to make up the quota, but it took off, and became a huge success. The highlight was his mesmerising 18 minutes, 40 seconds version of 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix'. Almost all of the first half is played over a thin organ hum, and a lightly snapping hi-hat, as Hayes raps his deep-voiced monologue about 'the power of love'. It reaches biblical proportions - 'Seven times he tried to leave her, and seven times he came back!' - before he finally launches into the song itself, and the orchestra soars, and the unbearable tension of the music finally breaks. It was slick, it was grandiose, it was absurd, it was bombastic - it was cool, and it remains an epic - a really beautiful piece of music.

It also set the tone for Hayes's work over the next few years: 11 minutes, 11 seconds of 'The Look of Love' and 11 minutes, 37 seconds of 'I Stand Accused'. In addition, his stage shows were celebrations of opulence, as he appeared with a 40-piece band, and a whole lot of foxy lay-deez who swooned over Hayes's gold chains and shaven, gleaming head. When interviewing Hayes at home in 1973, New Musical Express journalist Peter Burns faithfully noted that the entire house was covered in bright red shaggy carpet, and that his Cadillac was gold-plated.

Great stuff, but too much. Hayes fathered 11 kids by three wives and various other women, became bankrupt, and was regarded for too many years as just some bald black guy who used to be famous. These days, he's a Scientologist, and has a day job as a New York DJ on breakfast radio. Fair enough, he's been through a lot, but what it comes down to is that he has a superb musical mind capable of such delicate playing as on his seven minute version of 'I just Don't Know What to Do with Myself', and the 15 minutes, 54 seconds of pure 'Joy'.

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