R.I.P. Isaac Hayes

R.I.P. Isaac Hayes
Isaac Hayes, one of the most unique personalities in the history of soul music, has died at age 65. News reports state that Hayes was found unconscious by his wife at his home in Memphis next to a still-running treadmill. Hayes was rushed to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Hayes was an integral member of the Stax Records family from 1963 until 1975. Originally a saxophonist, he soon became better known as a keyboardist, playing on many Booker T. and the MGs recordings while Booker T. Jones was off to college, as well as arranging many other sessions. Hayes’s barreling yet ornate piano style was unique in Southern soul. He teamed up with lyricist David Porter in the mid-'60s and almost immediately achieved major success with his compostions for Sam and Dave, including "Soul Man” and "Hold On, I’m Coming.” Hayes was a keen student of pop sounds, from Motown to the Beatles to Bacharach, which resulted in the unique blend of grit and refinement behind many of Stax’s best records.

Though he had never sought solo stardom, his second album, 1969's Hot Buttered Soul, confirmed Stax President Al Bell’s hunch that his shaved head and outrageous dress sense would make for an iconic performer. The album rewrote the book for soul music. It contained four symphonic, extended cover versions that seemed the polar opposite of the succinct three-minute masterpieces in which Stax specialized. Moreover, his smooth, understated baritone was absent of the fire that characterized Southern soul vocalists of the time. This disc firmly established the LP format as an important medium for soul music and opened the door for widescreen artistic statements by Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield.

His soundtrack for 1971's Shaft was one of the most popular records of the '70s. He became the first black man to win an Oscar for Best Original Song. Following his triumphant performance before a crowd of 100,000 at Wattstax in 1972, his career steadily declined. He sued Stax for non-payment of royalties in 1974 and was himself forced to declare bankruptcy in 1976. His albums, for the remainder of the decade, sold rather poorly, but some songs were popular in discos, particularly "Moonlight Lovin’ (Menage A Trois)” and "Zeke The Freak.”

Concentrating on acting during the late '70s and '80s, his recordings made less of an impact. His star rose again in the late '90s when he signed on to South Park to voice the character of Chef. He even enjoyed a worldwide hit with the song "Chocolate Salty Balls.”

Hayes was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2002.

He split from South Park in 2006 after an episode criticized Scientology, his chosen faith. The circumstances of the split are still in dispute. He had suffered a stroke in January of that year and a statement of resignation was issued in his name even though in interviews prior to his stroke he professed tolerance for the show’s sharp satire. Many media sources noted that he apparently had not fully recovered from the stroke, citing incidents of verbal confusion.

He was working on a movie entitled Soul Men with Bernie Mac, who also died this past weekend. The film is due to be released in November 2008.

Hayes is survived by his wife, 12 children, 14 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Isaac Hayes "Theme From Shaft"