Isaac Hayes, who wrote and performed the theme to the movie Shaft, passed yesterday at the age of 65.
Hayes was born on August 20, 1942 in Covington, Tennessee. His father left the family and his mother died while Hayes still young. For that reason Hayes was raised by his grandparents. He grew up working in cotton fields. Hayes had begin singing when he was five years old in church. He eventually taught himself to play piano, electric organ, flute, and saxophone. While still young he played with local bands.
It was in 1964 that Hayes began playing as a backup musician for Stax Records. He started co-writing songs with David Porter for Stax artists such as Sam and Dave, producing such classics as "Hold On, I’m Comin'" and "Soul Man." By 1968 he was a solo artist himself for Stax, releasing his first album as a solo artist, Presenting Isaac Hayes. The album was not financially successful, although this would be a different story for his second album, Hot Buttered Soul. Released in 1969, it went to #8 on the Billboard albums chart and produced the hit singles "Walk on By" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix."
It was in 1971 that saw the release of the hit for which Hayes became most famous, "The Theme from Shaft." "The Theme from Shaft" went to #1 on the Billboard chart. Hayes would also continue releasing albums throughout the early Seventies, almost all of them going to the top twenty of the Billboard albums chart. Unfortunately for Hayes, in 1974 Stax Records was experiencing financial difficulties, while Hayes himself was deep in debt. Stax released Hayes from his contract and he formed his own label, Hot Buttered Soul. By the late Seventies Hayes embraced disco, and his albums did not perform as well.
While Hayes' music career began to slide, he began acting more. He had a part in the Blaxploitation film Tough Guys and plays the lead in the Blaxploitation film Truck Turner. He guest starred in three episodes of The Rockford Files. Hayes appeared as The Duke in Escape from New York, Starting in the late Eighties he appeared in several films, including Dead Aim, I'm Gonna Git You Sucker, Prime Target, Posse, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Reindeer Games, and the 2000 remake of Shaft. He also guest starred on the shows The A-Team, Hunter, and Tales from the Crypt.
Of course, when it comes to acting, Hayes was perhaps most famous for providing the voice of Chef on South Park. The one adult the kids constantly go to for advice, he was a send up of Soul singers such as Hayes himself and Barry White, constantly thinking of sex. Following his departure from South Park after an episode parodying Scientology (Hayes' religion), Chef was killed off.
Hayes also made a bit of a comeback musically in 1995 with a return to his original style on the album Branded.
As a music artist, Hayes was undoubtedly influential. The songs he wrote for various Stax artists have been covered many times by such artists as The Blues Brothers, Johnny Gill, and ZZ Topp, among others. Some have considered his music a forerunner of disco, but I disagree, thinking his early music was much more sophisticated. That having been said, his work on the albums Hot Buttered Soul, The Isaac Hayes Movement, Black Moses, and others would have a lasting influence on several different genres of music. Although chiefly remembered for "The Theme from Shaft," his influence goes much further.