The news just came in about the death of a man whose legacy in American soul music is as profound as it gets.
Although Isaac Hayes was best known for scoring the 1971 film Shaft, and in particular its funky-fabulous theme song, for a number of critical years he, along with his songwriting partner David Porter and Booker T & the MGs, formed the lifeblood of Memphis' Stax Records. Together they served as Stax's in-house production powerhouse, writing and producing hundreds of songs, and nurturing some of the label's key artists, particularly Sam & Dave and Carla Thomas. Jim Stewart, Stax's co-founder, credited Hayes with being one of the main sources of what became known as the Memphis sound.
Hayes began at Stax as a keyboard player, and it was he who, on his very first session, played on Otis Redding's Respect and I've Been Lovin' You Too Long. But his prodigious talent as a songwriter could not be denied. Some of my favorite Stax-era songs include Hold On, I'm Coming, Soul Man, I Thank You and, most especially, When Something's Wrong With My Baby for Sam & Dave, and Let Me Be Good To You for Carla Thomas. The man was soul personified, and knew how to bring it out in others.
In 1969 he emerged into the light of day beyond Memphis as a solo artist with Hot Buttered Soul, which had just four cuts on it. His lush signature style is sampled by many young artists today - witness the fact that he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 by Alicia Keys, who here describes how his work inspires and has informed hers.
Hayes had a complicated and diverse life, about which much will be written in the days to come. For me, it's enough to note that the man who was born in the grinding poverty of a sharecropper's family was a man of extraordinary determination to make his mark - and make his mark he did. I'll play him out with one of my favorite later songs, Don't Let Go.