August 10, 2008 – Isaac Lee Hayes Jr. was born on August 20, 1942 in Covington, Tennessee. The child of a sharecropper family, he grew up working on farms in Shelby County, Tennessee, and in Tipton County. At age five Hayes began singing at his local church; he later taught himself to play the piano, the Hammond organ, the flute, and the saxophone.
Hayes dropped out of high school, but his former teachers at Manassas High School in Memphis encouraged him to complete his diploma, which he finally did at age 21. After graduating from high school, Hayes was offered several music scholarships from colleges and universities. He turned down all of them to provide for his immediate family, working at a meat-packing plant in Memphis by day and playing nightclubs and juke joints several evenings a week in Memphis and nearby northern Mississippi. His first professional gigs, in the late 1950s, were as a singer at Curry’s Club in North Memphis, backed by Ben Branch’s houseband.
Hayes began his recording career in the early 1960s, as a session player for various acts of the Memphis-based Stax Records. He later wrote a string of hit songs with songwriting partner David Porter, including “You Don’t Know Like I Know”, “Soul Man”, “When Something Is Wrong with My Baby” and “Hold On, I’m Comin” for Sam & Dave. Hayes, Porter and Stax studio band Booker T. & the M.G.’s were also the producers for Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas and other Stax artists during the mid-1960s. Hayes-Porter contributed to the Stax sound made famous during this period, and Sam & Dave credited Hayes for helping develop both their sound and style.
In 1968, Hayes released his debut album, Presenting Isaac Hayes, a jazzy, largely improvised effort that was commercially unsuccessful. His next album was Hot Buttered Soul, which was released in 1969 after Stax had gone through a major upheaval. The label had lost its largest star, Otis Redding, in a plane crash in December 1967. Stax lost all of its back catalog to Atlantic Records in May 1968. As a result, Stax executive vice president Al Bell called for 27 new albums to be completed in mid-1969; Hot Buttered Soul, was the most successful of these releases. This album is noted for Hayes’s image (shaved head, gold jewelry, sunglasses, etc.) and his distinct sound (extended orchestral songs relying heavily on organs, horns and guitars, deep bass vocals, etc.). Also on the album, Hayes reinterpreted “Walk On By” (which had been made famous by Dionne Warwick) into a 12-minute exploration. “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” starts with an eight-minute-long monologue before breaking into song, and the lone original number, the funky “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” runs nearly ten minutes, a significant break from the standard three-minute soul/pop songs. “Walk On By” would be the first of many times Hayes would take a Burt Bacharach standard, generally made famous as three-minute pop songs by Dionne Warwick or Dusty Springfield, and transform it into a soulful, lengthy and almost gospel number.
In 1970, Hayes released two albums, The Isaac Hayes Movement and To Be Continued. The former stuck to the four-song template of his previous album. Jerry Butler’s “I Stand Accused” begins with a trademark spoken word monologue, and Bacharach’s “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” is re-worked. The latter spawned the classic “The Look of Love”, another Bacharach song transformed into an 11-minute epic of lush orchestral rhythm (mid-way it breaks into a rhythm guitar jam for a couple of minutes before suddenly resuming the slow love song). An edited three-minute version was issued as a single. The album also featured the instrumental “Ike’s Mood,” which segued into his own version of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”. Hayes released a Christmas single, “The Mistletoe and Me” (with “Winter Snow” as a B-side).
In early 1971, Hayes composed music for the soundtrack of the blaxploitation film Shaft. (in the movie, he also appeared in a cameo role as the bartender of No Name Bar). The title theme, with its wah-wah guitar and multi-layered symphonic arrangement, would become a worldwide hit single, and spent two weeks at number one in the Billboard Hot 100 in November. The remainder of the album was mostly instrumentals covering big beat jazz, bluesy funk, and hard Stax-styled soul. The other two vocal songs, the social commentary “Soulsville” and the 19-minute jam “Do Your Thing,” would be edited down to hit singles.
Hayes won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for the “Theme from Shaft”, and was nominated for Best Original Dramatic Score for the film’s score. His score also earned him a Golden Globe Award and two Grammy Awards. Later in the year, Hayes released a double album, Black Moses, that expanded on his earlier sounds and featured The Jackson 5’s song “Never Can Say Goodbye”. Another single, “I Can’t Help It”, was not featured on the album.
In 1972, Hayes would record the theme tune for the television series The Men and enjoy a hit single (with “Type Thang” as a B-side). He released several other non-album singles during the year, such as “Feel Like Making Love”, “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want to Be Right)” and “Rolling Down a Mountainside”. Atlantic would re-release Hayes’s debut album this year with the new title In The Beginning.
Hayes was back in 1973 with an acclaimed live double album, Live At Sahara Tahoe, and followed it up with the album Joy, with the eerie beat of the 15-minute title track. He moved away from cover songs with this album. An edited “Joy” would be a hit single. Hayes’ recording career flourished in the 1970s. His 1972 album Black Moses brought him his third Grammy Award, and was one of his seven albums to reach the Top 40 that decade.
In 1974, Hayes was featured in the blaxploitation films Three Tough Guys and Truck Turner, and he recorded soundtracks for both. Tough Guys was almost devoid of vocals and Truck Turner yielded a single with the title theme. The soundtrack score was eventually used by filmmaker Quentin Tarantino in the Kill Bill film series and has been used for over 30 years as the opening score of Brazilian radio show Journal de Esportes on the Jovem Pan station. Unlike most African-American musicians of the period, Hayes did not sport an Afro; his bald head became one of his defining characteristics.
But by that time success’ excessive lifestyle created financial problems and by the mid decade he and Stax were facing bankruptcies. By the end of the bankruptcy proceedings in 1977, Hayes had lost his home, much of his personal property, and the rights to all future royalties earned from the music he had written, performed, and produced.
In the 1980s and 1990s, he appeared in numerous films, notably Escape from New York (1981), I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988), Prime Target (1991), and Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), as well as in episodes of The A-Team and Miami Vice. His music career circled mostly around collaborations with Dionne Warwick and later R&B crooner Barry White.
In 1995, Hayes appears as a Las Vegas minister impersonating Himself in the comedy series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He launched a comeback on the Virgin label in May 1995 with Branded, an album of new material that earned impressive sales figures as well as positive reviews from critics who proclaimed it a return to form. A companion album released around the same time, Raw and Refined, featured a collection of previously unreleased instrumentals, both old and new. Hayes worked on the theme for the 1996 theatrical release ‘Beavis and Butt-Head Do America’, producing a piece which was essentially a hybrid of ‘The Theme From Shaft’ and the theme from the original ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’ TV show.
The 1990s saw Hayes in a completely different approach to celebrity as the voice of “Chef” in the animated South Park comedy series, which he continued until religious discontent in an episode with his denomination of Scientology, made him resign in 2005.
On March 20, 2006, two days before “The Return of Chef” aired, Roger Friedman of Fox News reported having been told that the March 13 statement was made in Hayes’s name, but not by Hayes himself. He wrote: “Isaac Hayes did not quit South Park. My sources say that someone quit it for him. … Friends in Memphis tell me that Hayes did not issue any statements on his own about South Park. They are mystified.” In a 2016 oral history of South Park in The Hollywood Reporter, Isaac Hayes III confirmed that the decision to leave the show was made by Hayes’ entourage, all of whom were ardent Scientologists. The decision was made after Hayes suffered a stroke leaving him vulnerable to outside influence and unable to make such decisions on his own.
Having to compensate lost revenue, announcements were made that he would be touring and performing again, but a reporter present at a January 2007 show in New York City, who had known Hayes fairly well, reported that “Isaac was plunked down at a keyboard, where he pretended to front his band. He spoke-sang, and his words were halting. He was not the Isaac Hayes of the past.”
Suffering a second fatal stroke Isaac Hayes died on August 10, 2008 in East Memphis at his home after a work out on a treadmill. He was 65.
Hayes and Porter, along with Bill Withers, the Sherman Brothers, Steve Cropper, and John Fogerty were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005 in recognition of writing scores of songs for themselves, the duo Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, and others. Hayes was also a 2002 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The song “Soul Man”, written by Hayes and Porter and first performed by Sam & Dave, has been recognized as one of the most influential songs of the past 50 years by the Grammy Hall of Fame. It was also honored by The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, by Rolling Stone magazine, and by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as one of the Songs of the Century.
In recognition of his humanitarian work there Hayes was crowned honorary king of the Ada, Ghana region in 1992.
In 2003, Hayes was honored as a BMI Icon at the 2003 BMI Urban Awards for his enduring influence on generations of music makers. Throughout his songwriting career, Hayes received five BMI R&B Awards, two BMI Pop Awards, two BMI Urban Awards and six Million-Air citations. As of 2008, his songs generated more than 12 million performances.
In 2002 Hayes is inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2005 in the Songwriters Hall of Fame