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Isaac Hayes

Reviewed on this page:
Presenting - Hot Buttered Soul - The Isaac Hayes Movement - To Be Continued - Shaft - Black Moses - Live At The Sahara Tahoe - Joy - Tough Guys - Truck Turner - Hotbed - Wonderful - Chocolate Chip - Disco Connection - Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak) - Groove-A-Thon - New Horizon - A Man & A Woman - For The Sake Of Love - Don't Let Go - Royal Rappin's - And Once Again - Lifetime Thing - U-Turn - Love Attack - Branded - Raw & Refined

Isaac Hayes died in his home on August 10th, 2008. He was 65 years old.
Isaac Hayes started as an anonymous session keyboardist at Stax/Volt, then grew into a hit songwriter (with David Porter) for Sam & Dave, and finally came into his own as a top-selling soul/funk innovator. His calling card is his extended, orchestrated approach to both ballads and uptempo funk, crossed with a gritty Southern sensibility - he had a big influence on contemporaries like Norman Whitfield, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, and the Ohio Players. His low-key vocal style, without any pop softness or gospel inflections, made no effort to accomodate white sensibilities - his shaved head and beard pushed the envelope even further - but his records soared onto the pop charts anyway. For a moment, he was the intelligent, soft-spoken but strong older brother of a generation. Then, as disco's saccharine sentiments and simplistic rhythms rose, Hayes declined. He spent more than a decade on the sidelines, appearing in a number of films but rarely recording, became a Scientologist, and came back with two new CD's in 1995. To younger audiences he's best known as the voice of Chef on the cartoon series South Park, but do yourself a favor and listen to his records.

I caught a live appearance in 1999, and have reviewed it on our highly regarded concert reviews page. (DBW)

The Isaac Hayes Movement (1971 to 1978 or so):
Isaac Hayes, organ, piano, vibes, alto sax, etc.; Michael Toles and Charles Pitts, guitar; Lester Snell, keys; James Alexander, bass; Willie Hall, drums; Gary Jones, percussion.

Presenting (1968)
A piano trio album, with MGs Duck Dunn on bass and Al Jackson on drums, featuring lengthy renditions of blues tunes (Willie Dixon's "I Just Want To Make Love To You") and jazz standards ("Misty"), with a couple of originals ("Precious, Precious"). Though the largely improvised performance has its charm, peaking with B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby," Hayes's rambling delivery is only intermittently gripping: the lowkey offhandedness is ultimately the record's undoing. Dunn and Jackson provide sympathetic backing but not much drive or excitement - they're featured most on the closing, nearly instrumental "You Don't Know Like I Know." Completely different from his later work, this is for nightclub blues afficionados or curiosity seekers. (DBW)

Hot Buttered Soul (1969)
Hayes found immediate success with this release, shockingly different from the 2:30 soul numbers he'd created for Sam & Dave. Although Sly Stone and the Temptations had already released longform psychedelic numbers, Hayes was the first to reinterpret the concept in soul terms: his lengthy pieces aren't tacky experimental collages, they're hypnotic mood music, based on organ and horn lines. It's also probably the first concept album in black popular music. The problem is, he goes way overboard with the slow, mellow groove: he opens Jimmy Webb's "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" with an 8-minute spoken intro, by which point you've probably fallen asleep. Hayes and producer Al Bell mostly stay away from production gimmicks, though the late 60s overdistorted guitar turns up on Bacharach & David's "Walk On By," a radical, soulful reinterpretation which nevertheless gets dull by the end of its 12 minutes. There's only one original here, the unbelievably funky "Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquidalimystic." The rhythm section is the Bar-Kays. (DBW)

The Isaac Hayes Movement (1970)
No originals this time, but you probably won't care. The version of Jerry Butler's "I Stand Accused" is a tour de force from spoken intro through plaintive verses by means of a funky rhythm section, and it became another hit single. There's another Bacharach-David cover ("I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself") and a moving, straightforward R&B tune ("One Big Unhappy Family," by Chalmers and Rhoads). But the piece de resistance is the 12-minute take on "Something" - with jazzy piano improvisation, sluggish tempo, monotonal female backing vocals, and persistent, screeching electric violin soloing (by John Ellington Blair), it's definitely not your father's Oldsmobile. The arrangements (by Hayes and Dale Warren) aren't as fluid as his later work, and more rooted in Stax/Volt soul conventions, but that shouldn't keep you away. Another gold record. (DBW)

To Be Continued (1970)
Again, Hayes doesn't write much, relying mostly on radical reinterpretations of pop hits. The big success in that department is Spector, Mann & Weill's "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" - even though it's the most-performed song of all time, Hayes manages to come up with a whole new take on it, adding hard-hitting soul riffs and dramatic shifts in dynamics to create a nine-minute mini-symphony. Melded with his own lovely "Ike's Mood" (later sampled by LL Cool J), it's magnificent - the high point of the record, and one of his best recordings ever. On the other hand, the eleven-minute psychedelic treatment given to Bacharach & David's "The Look Of Love" is excessive rather than illuminating. The other two covers, "Runnin' Out Of Fools" and "Our Day Will Come" (a #1 hit for Ruby and the Romantics in 1963), are enjoyable enough; I can't really comment more because I'm not familiar with in the originals. Hayes starts everything off with "Ike's Rap I" (I guess he already knew there would be more to come), wherein he gives a four-minute bedroom rap that turns into a lecture on the state of the world - top that, Barry White. Hayes plays keyboards and vibes throughout the record; the rhythm section is the Bar-Kays, and the Memphis Horns and even the Memphis Symphony Orchestra are also involved. (DBW)

Shaft (1971)
Soundtrack to the blaxploitation movie of the same title; this was Hayes' highwater mark, both critically and commercially. Incredibly, he managed to send this mostly instrumental double album to the top of the charts - it even won an Oscar. The soundtrack format apparently gave him license to delve into a wide variety of styles, all of which he does well: big beat jazz ("Walk From Regio's" arranged with J.J. Johnson), bluesy funk ("No Name Bar"), mellow orchestrations (the memorable "Ellie's Love Theme," with the melody played on vibes), hard-hitting Stax soul ("Shaft's Cab Ride"). "Theme From Shaft" (a #1 single) puts many of these elements together, while "Soulsville" uses devastating social consciousness lyrics over a lilting Sunday morning groove. Many of the tunes are very short, which keeps things moving, and the longer tracks justify their running times with clever arrangements and enjoyable solos. The big exception is the 19-minute "Do Your Thing," a powerful funk jam that simply doesn't know when to quit: unlike most of Hayes' extended opuses the arrangement doesn't really develop, and it even ends with a long sloppy denoument that's straight out of psychedelic rock excess. But there's so much good music here that seems like a quibble; this is a hugely influential record you won't regret picking up. J.J. Johnson recruited the backing musicians, and apparently that's Carol Kaye holding down bass on "Theme From Shaft" and maybe others. (DBW)

Black Moses (1971)
How much is too much? Just four months after Shaft hit the charts, Hayes was back with another double LP - for a total of seven LP's released over 2 1/2 years. It's almost all covers again (except for the down-and-dirty "Good Love 6-9969," about the only true funk cut here, and three more "Ike's Raps"), and at this length, it all starts to sound the same. The cover of "Never Can Say Goodbye" (a hit single) is pleasant, but just about every song here is in the same slowed-down, female vocal-backed, love-talk format: two more Bacharach/David numbers ("Close To You," "I'll Never Fall In Love Again"), two Curtis Mayfield covers ("Need To Belong To Someone," "Man's Temptation"), Gamble & Huff's dull "Never Gonna Give You Up" and so many more ("Part-Time Love" is the most energetic of the bunch). Despite his charismatic presence, there's just not enough originality or creativity to keep the listener satisfied. This also hit the Top Ten, but was his most recent effort to do so. (DBW)

Live At The Sahara Tahoe (1973)
A double live album, split between tunes from the preceding albums ("Ellie's Love Theme") and contemporary hits by other artists ("Light My Fire"). Hayes makes good use of the live format, interacting well with the crowd and stretching out on numbers like "Ike's Rap VI/Ain't No Sunshine," which becomes an intoxicating groove anchoring an extended alto solo. There's plenty of funk ("Do Your Thing," "Type Thang," "Theme From The Men," Bill Withers' "Use Me"), but the ballads may be even better: his treatments of "It's Too Late" and "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" are moving interpretations, substantially different from the originals. But there's also a fair amount of so-so filler in this well over ninety minute set, including the closing take on "Feelin' Alright" and a lengthy version of Bacharach and David's "The Windows Of The World." Not the nonstop mindblower it could've been, it's still a good introduction to the breadth of the man's talent. (DBW)

Joy (1973)
Hayes moved away from covers at this point, writing his own lush romantic funk epics with minimal lyrics and spoken voiceovers. It's not far from what Norman Whitfield was doing with the Temptations during this period, and despite not having the Tempts' vocal talent, Hayes actually does a better job: the 16-minute title track has a serious groove, and when it finally gets to the chorus, it's worth the wait. There's not much variety, and all of the songs are long ("I'm Gonna Make It Without You" with a syrupy female chorus), but if you like Hayes' better-known work, or want to hear the roots of later romantic soul ballads, this is a good listen. Most amusing moment: he apologizes for straying and promises to never do it again, just before heading into the macho chorus of "A Man Will Be A Man." (DBW)

Tough Guys (1974)
The soundtrack from the movie "Three Tough Guys" is an enjoyable tossoff - all original compositions including funk juggernauts ("The Red Rooster"), strutting Stax soul ("Buns O'Plenty," "Joe Bell" with a fabulous horn arrangement), and a tender guitar-led ballad ("Hung Up On My Baby"). The minor tracks aren't memorable but they're solid ("Kidnapped," "Title Theme"), and even though there are no vocals to speak of, Hayes' unpredictable approach to orchestration makes sure the interest level never flags. Now available on a 2-CD set with Truck Turner; neither record cracked the Top Forty on original release. (DBW)

Truck Turner (1974)
Hayes starred in this blaxploitation movie, and the double-album soundtrack is the closest thing he ever recorded to a Shaft II: the main theme is almost a rewrite of "Shaft," and there are plenty of atmospheric love themes ("Now We're One," "A House Full Of Girls"), jazzy riff tunes ("Breakthrough") and overlong jams ("The Insurance Company," "Pursuit Of The Pimpmobile" which lives up to its title with hilarious stop-and-start antics). There are a few vocal numbers ("Give It To Me") and lovely pieces that don't quite develop ("Blue's Crib"). The album's certainly not as deep or carefully rendered as Shaft, and the high points aren't as high, but it sure is a fun listen. (DBW)

Hotbed (rec. ?, rel. 1978)
A bunch of early 70s outtakes unearthed when Stax was sold to scavenger conglomerate Fantasy Records. It's hard to believe anyone thought there wasn't enough Isaac Hayes product already on the market, but anyway, it's a pretty good collection. It's all covers except for one lengthy instrumental ("Hobosac And Me," featuring aimless synth soloing), and the arrangement of Bill Withers' "Use Me" had previously appeared on Sahara Tahoe, but the tracks are well worked out and solidly enjoyable. Roberta Flack's "Feel Like Makin' Love" gets a deliciously overblown treatment with funky licks, an insistent bass line, smooth female backups - for a fan, this cut alone makes the record worth buying. "I'm Gonna Have To Tell Her" is a fine ballad, and Hayes sings "The Ten Commandments Of Love" so straight he almost overcomes the tune's sappiness. (DBW)

Wonderful (rec. 1970-1974, rel. 1994)
Another Stax/Fantasy compilation, including two live cuts and seven single sides previously unreleased on LP. The 1970 Christmas single "Mistletoe And Me"/"Winter Snow" is enjoyable in his lush orchestrated style with seductive lyrics; the title track (a 1974 single) is a bit funkier. Two 1972 covers reuniting Hayes with old writing partner David Porter are sluggish and ordinary, with no-frills soul arrangements (the silly Bread hit "Baby I'm-A Want You" and "Ain't That Loving You (For More Reasons Than One)," originally a minor hit for Luther Ingram). The 17-minute live recording of "Ain't No Sunshine" is so similar to the rendition on Sahara Tahoe that it's redundant, though he does hit some astonishingly high falsetto notes and hold them astonishingly long. Though the disc is a good value for fans, it's so scattershot it doesn't give the novice any sense of Hayes's importance or value. (DBW)

Chocolate Chip (1975)
Though Hayes had stopped doing movie soundtracks by this point, the title track (a single) has blaxploitation written all over it, from the boasting lyrics to the incredible funk groove. "I Can't Turn Around" is also uptempo, but most of the disc is turned over to carefully produced slow jams: "That Loving Feeling" has an affecting vocal performance, and "I Want To Make Love To You So Bad" is based on a wonderful syncopated percussion part. On the downside, he's recycling old ideas - the bass line on "Loving Feeling" is lifted from "Ike's Mood I" - and "Body Language" lacks any kind of subtlety. Not at the level of his best work, but it's more than good enough. Released on his vanity label Hot Buttered Soul, this was his last Top 40 album for several years. (DBW)

Disco Connection (1975)
On this prefab instrumental record, Hayes shifted from innovator to imitator: outside of a couple of good riffs ("Disco Shuffle"), this sounds like a Barry White production. Fluttery strings and keyboard washes are all over the place, replacing the gritty guitars and free-ranging horns of his other records. Worse still, he apparently isn't even trying to create distinctive moods or atmospheres - some of the tunes are decent ("The First Day Of Forever") but don't make any impression: once the record's over it's forgotten. (DBW)

Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak) (1976)
Back to his usual Memphis funk/ballad blend and invigorating arrangements: the title track (a single) is an irresistable, seductive groove once you get past the annoying fake conversation intro; "Music To Make Love By" lives up to its name; "Love Me Or Lose Me" is pleasant if a bit obvious. However, the ballads are rather dull ("Let's Don't Ever Blow Our Thing"; "Lady Of The Night" proves Bernie Taupin doesn't have a monopoly on sentimental songs about prostitutes). The album cover is not one of Hayes' more tasteful. Self-produced as usual, arrangements are by Hayes and Lester Snell. The musicians still include most of the original Movement with Errol Thomas replacing Alexander on bass, plus Anthony Shinault and Kim Palumu (guitar), Derek Galbreith (bass) and Sidney Kirk. (DBW)

Groove-A-Thon (1976)
More of the usual here, with some solid tunes (title track), but overall it's disappointing: "Rock Me Easy Baby" repeats its simple, "Right On"-like riff endlessly; all the lyrics are trivial; and the two slow ballads ("Your Loving Is Much Too Strong" and "Wish You Were Here") are lacking in the melody department. The backing is unsurprising - his standard R & B plus string flurries - and the arrangements don't develop much: he almost ruins the pop song "We've Got A Whole Lot Of Love" by running the wonderfully catchy hook into the ground. Hayes hauls out his full-blown layered funk approach on exactly one song, the deliberate, gentle "Make A Little Love To Me," where the effect is magical. Same basic band as the previous record; once again, everything was written and produced by Hayes. (DBW)

New Horizon (1977)
Hayes returned to cover tunes, with a ten-minute disco version of "Stranger In Paradise" that's not quite as bad as you'd think. But most of the tunes are still originals, either driving funk ("Moonlight Lovin' (Mènage á Trois)") or ballads ("Don't Take Your Love Away," a pleasant number later recorded by Dionne Warwick). Only five tracks, and they're all too long ("Out Of The Ghetto" is obvious to boot), but his sense of mood and commanding voice ("It's Heaven To Me) are still in evidence. Pitts, Toles and Hall are still around; Bill Purse and Cedric Lawson help Hayes on keyboards, Willie Weeks is on bass, and Daniel Zebulon plays percussion. (DBW)

A Man And A Woman (Isaac Hayes & Dionne Warwick: 1977)
A live double album recorded with Dionne Warwick, and it's an embarrassing blot on both artists' careers. Almost everything is slowed-down and schmaltzed to the max, including past Warwick hits (including of course "Walk On By") and several of the worst pop tunes of all time: "Feelings," "Love Will Keep Us Together," "My Eyes Adored You" (by the same Crewe/Nolan team that wrote "Lady Marmalade"). If all this sounds like a camp masterpiece, it isn't: if you have any sense of history, you'll be saddened and embarrassed to hear such significant artists churning out such pap. Most of the tunes are sung as duets, but the two good tunes are solo features: Warwick's take on Earth Wind & Fire's "Can't Hide Love," and Hayes's frantic rendition of "Chocolate Chip." (DBW)

For The Sake Of Love (1978)
When a disco remake ("Shaft II") and a Billy Joel cover ("Just The Way You Are," with a fine Hayes sax solo) are the high points, look out. The disc is overloaded with treacly ballads ("Believe In Me," James Taylor's "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight"), and Hayes's message tune "If We Ever Needed Peace" is less convincing than usual. To be fair, "Zeke The Freak" is a fine funk workout, and this is certainly better than the better-selling followup Don't Let Go. The same band as New Horizon, with Jesse Butler and Travis Biggs adding still more keyboards. (DBW)

Don't Let Go (1979)
A short-lived return to the Top 40 and gold record status, thanks to the title track - soulless formula disco written by Jesse Stone. The cover of "Fever" (recently recorded by India) is similar, and even longer. That leaves three Hayes originals: the mildly funk "What Does It Take" and two ballads, "A Few More Kisses To Go," and "Someone Who Will Take The Place Of You." All three are slow and atmospheric, but lack any sharpness in the arranging details - they're pleasant for fans, but add nothing new to his legacy. This is a rare record nowadays, but don't shell out big bucks for it. The disco-era band, with Galbrieth holding down bass and Otis Williams adding guitar. Produced and arranged by Hayes (Purse co-arranged horns and strings). (DBW)

Royal Rappin's (Millie Jackson & Isaac Hayes: 1979)
Don't be fooled: this is not an Isaac Hayes record, it's a Millie Jackson record with duet vocals from Hayes. And it's not even a good Millie Jackson record. The songs are all by hired guns, except for one cowritten by Jackson ("If I Had My Way"), and they're either disco-y pop ("Sweet Music, Soft Lights, And You") or limp ballads ("You Needed Me"), nothing memorable (in a good way, that is). The vocalists are unforgivably low-key; the only time they do try to generate some heat it's just silly ("Do You Wanna Make Love"). The low point is probably the cover of Foreigner's "Feels Like The First Time" - whoever thought of reusing the bass line from Peaches & Herb's disco hit "Shake Your Groove Thing" should be sent to a reeducation camp. The musicians aren't listed, though the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section (assuredly not the folks from the classic Aretha Franklin records) is specially thanked. Produced by Jackson and Brad Shapiro. (DBW)

And Once Again (1980)
Almost all ballads this time, and on his 13-minute medley of "Ike's Rap VII" and Gwen Guthrie's "This Time I'll Be Sweeter" (originally recorded by Roberta Flack), he shows you how wonderful that can be: his voice is spellbinding, whether he's talking or singing, and the changes in the arrangement are subtle - just enough to keep things interesting. The only other non-Hayes track is Charles Dawes and Carl Sigman's "It's All In The Game," on which he plays a fine alto sax solo. Side two is dismal, though, with the sluggish "Wherever You Are" and two more mindless disco tunes, "I Ain't Never" and "Love Has Been Good To Us." Basically the same band Hayes had used since New Horizon, though Towles is gone. (DBW)

Lifetime Thing (1981)
If disco died in 1980, someone forgot to invite Isaac Hayes to the funeral. How else to explain the colossally tacky nine-minute remake of the Temptations/Supremes hit "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" that appears here? He doesn't have much luck with ballads either, turning over eight minutes to a routine reading of Lionel Richie's silly "Once, Twice, Three Times A Lady," though Hayes' own title track is fine. Full review coming soon. (DBW)

U-Turn (1986)
Gerald Jackson and David Conley contributed drum machines and synth programming in an attempt to bring Hayes into the 80s. It's a mixed bag, but not a disaster: Conley's ballad "You Turn Me On" uses synth to light, clever effect (like his associate Gwen Guthrie), though his other two tracks are dreadful, with Hayes's bass vocals jarring badly against the slick mechanical backing ("Flash Backs"). The single "Ike's Rap VIII/Hey Girl" starts with a splendid love-rap-plus-social-comment, and the treatment of the "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" is amazing: Hayes jettisons the campy instrumental break and crafts a tender love song. However, he struggles to find a groove on his three compositions (even allowing Jackson to play a noodling synth solo on "Thing For You") - worst is the vacuous "Thank God For Love." If you'll buy anything Hayes puts out, you'll be glad this isn't as bad as you thought, but it's not exactly a triumph (that didn't come until 1995). (DBW)

Love Attack (1988)
This time Hayes abandoned orchestration in favor of programmed drums and synths; the result is anonymous though sometimes effective dance-pop ("Showdown," title track). It sounds like he's abandoning his musical values to chase popular tastes, which makes this a rather depressing listen, but it is smile-inducing to hear that his extended raps haven't changed a bit ("Foreplay Rap"). The requisite cover is Billy Joel's "She's Got A Way," which he does so sincerely it almost makes you believe in the tune; he also remakes his own "I Stand Accused," which just exposes the limits of the disc's minimalist production style. Gerald Jackson adds keyboards and did all the drum programming; the only other musicians are Ronnie Garrett (bass guitar) on one track, and Bill Mueller (guitar) on two. (DBW)

Branded (1995)
After years out of the spotlight, Hayes returned with two albums, the instrumental Raw & Refined, and this more commercial collection. He makes almost no attempt to update his trademark lush R&B sound: there are long instrumental stretches ("Life's Mood"), insidious wah-wah guitar (the thumping title track), plenty of organ and strings, and lots of spoken voice-overs (the environmental-political "Ike's Plea"). Besides his original compositions, he transforms Sting's "Fragile" (also covered by Willie Colón) and the Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer In The City" into Hayes tunes. He also updates two of his own compositions, "Soulville" and "Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic," featuring Chuck D. As always, Hayes takes his time, letting slow tracks like "Thanks To The Fool" outlive their usefulness, but he's serious about putting the album across, and there are no throwaway tunes. There's a hilarious moment in the seductive "I'll Do Anything (To Turn You On)" where he proves just how far he'll go - it's an apt metaphor for his commitment to please his audience. (DBW)

Raw & Refined (1995)
A collection of instrumentals, some of which date back almost thirty years, and sound it, with classic Stax-Volt organ, guitar chings and supertight rhythm sections. The newer tracks don't sound particularly modern either, outside of a few jarring touches like industrial drum machines ("Tahoe Spring"). Hayes' main talent is as a mood-builder, not as a composer or instrumentalist, but most of these tracks are tossoffs, too slight to really grab your attention. There are several decent grooves ("Birth Of Shaft," "The 405") but overall it sounds like a collection of B-sides - of real interest only to his dedicated admirers. (DBW)

In 1998, Hayes made major (though tongue-in-cheek) contributions to Chef Aid: The South Park Album, and the next year he contributed a remake of "Good Love 6-9969" to the South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut soundtrack.

Don't let go.

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