Born: August 20, 1942 in Covington, Tennessee
Died: August 10, 2008 in Memphis, Tennessee
Singer, songwriter, musician, producer, film and TV actor - Isaac Hayes made an undeniable splash wherever he went. With his shaved head, deep baritone voice, regal bearing, and penchant for gold jewelry, Hayes was an iconic figure. As a musician and songwriter, Hayes was one of the primary architects of the Memphis soul sound, and his solo work was an enormous influence on rock, soul, and rap music during the 1970s, '80s, and '90s.
Although known primarily as a soul artist, Hayes' influence on blues music is undeniable, and blues artists such as Freddie King, B.B. King, Rory Gallagher, Earl Hooker, Tommy Castro, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds have all recorded songs written by Hayes.
Isaac Hayes' Early Days
Hayes was born in the rural town of Covington, Tennessee not far from Memphis, and was raised by his grandparents after the death of his parents. He picked cotton as a child, and began singing in the church at a young age. Hayes later taught himself piano, organ, and saxophone. Moving to Memphis as a teen, Hayes played in a number of local R&B bands before joining the Mar-Keys as a sax player. This led to a long and profitable association with Stax Records, where Hayes spent years as a member of the house band, a staff songwriter and, later, as a recording artist.
During his years with Stax, Hayes performed behind such R&B and soul giants as Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and Eddie Floyd. Hayes also dabbled in the blues, performing with Albert King on his landmark Born Under A Bad Sign album. As a songwriter, working with partner David Porter, the duo wrote over 200 songs together and scored hits with performances by Carla Thomas, Sam & Dave, and Johnnie Taylor.
Hayes' songs have also been covered by such stylistically different artists as Alex Chilton, Dusty Springfield, and the British band Portishead, among many others. Hayes also had a profound influence on the development of rap music, and his songs have been sampled or covered by rappers like 2Pac, the Wu-Tang Clan, Public Enemy, and Grandmaster Flash.
Shaft & Hayes' solo career
Hayes' solo music career began with the 1967 release of Presenting Isaac Hayes on Stax. The largely improvisational album showcased a jazzy sound uncharacteristic for the label and sold poorly. Hayes' 1969 follow-up, Hot Buttered Soul, was a smash hit and a landmark work, the album's lush soul sound setting the template for much of what would follow in rhythm and blues music during the 1970s.
Hayes would strike gold again in 1971 with his fifth album, the soundtrack for the film Shaft. The album would yield a worldwide hit in the title track, and its mix of orchestral jazz, blues-funk, and Stax-styled soul instrumentals would become Hayes' most commercially successful effort, earning him his first Grammy Award and winning an Oscar, Hayes becoming the first African-American composer to win an Academy Award.
The Birth Of Black Moses
Hayes followed Shaft later in 1971 with the groundbreaking Black Moses album. Symbolic of black pride, the two-record set featured a mix of original and cover songs, and rose to number ten on the charts, winning Hayes his second Grammy Award. Although Hayes' 1973 album Joy followed much the same orchestrated soul/funk/blues sound of his previous work, by 1975 the singer had fully embraced disco music and subsequent albums failed to sell as well as Hayes' early material.
Hayes only recorded sporadically during the 1980s, instead pursuing his opportunities as an actor. By the time of Hayes' 1995 "comeback" album, Branded, the artist had become firmly identified as a touchstone of rap music and a bona fide R&B legend. Hayes was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 for his contributions to the development of the Memphis soul sound. Throughout his life, Hayes also worked with several human rights groups and lent his time to the cause of combating illiteracy.
Truck Turner, The Duke and Chef
Hayes also enjoyed a successful career as an actor. Hayes had a brief cameo in the 1971 film Shaft, and would star in a handful of "blaxploitation" films like 1974's Truck Turner as the penultimate black action hero. Hayes later spoofed his own tough-guy image in the satirical 1988 film I'm Gonna Git You Sucka. His role as "The Duke" in the Kurt Russell hit Escape From New York was probably Hayes' most memorable film appearance, and he also appeared in several television shows, including Miami Vice and The A-Team, and he had a recurring role on The Rockford Files during the late-1970s.
For many, Hayes will be remembered best as "Chef," the lusty, smooth-talking and wise cook on Comedy Central's animated hit South Park. Hayes voiced the character of Chef from 1999-2005, appearing in 137 episodes of the TV show as well as the 1999 film, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. Hayes left the show in 2006 after a controversial episode mocking Scientology, the singer having become a Scientologist in 1995.
Hayes allegedly suffered from a stroke in 2006 and had reportedly been in bad health during the last couple years of his life. He toured sporadically, taking advantage of his name and popularity, and was working on a new album at the time of his death. Hayes had also finished up work on the film Soul Men with Samuel L. Jackson and comedian Bernie Mac during the summer of 2007.
Recommended Albums: Hayes' soundtrack to the film Shaft may be his biggest hit, but the visionary Hot Buttered Soul is the keystone on which Hayes' legend is built.