Inductee: Isaac Hayes (vocals, keyboards, production; born August 20, 1942, died August 10, 2008)
Isaac Hayes was a multi-faceted talent: songwriter, producer, sideman, solo artist, film scorer, actor, rapper and deejay. He was hugely influential on the rap movement as both a spoken-word pioneer and larger-than-life persona who influenced everyone from Barry White to Puff Daddy. Hayes is best known for his soundtrack to Shaft, one of the first and best “blaxploitation” films, and for the song “Theme from ‘Shaft,’” a Top 10 hit. But his varied resume boasts everything from backing up Otis Redding, and writing for Sam and Dave and others at Stax Records in the Sixties to serving as the voice of "Chef" on South Park in the Nineties. At the peak of his popularity in the early Seventies, Hayes devised the character “Black Moses,” based on his public persona. With his shaved head, dark glasses, bulging muscles, gold chains, fur coats and serious, unsmiling demeanor, Hayes came off as both a potent sex symbol and an icon for African-American pride. Moreover, according to Jim Stewart, founder of Stax Records, “Isaac Hayes is one of the main roots of the Memphis Sound.”
Raised in and around Memphis, Hayes signed on as a sessionman at Stax Records in 1964. His first session was for The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads (released on Volt Records, a Stax subsidiary). He and lyricist David Porter became a formidable songwriting team at Stax. Hayes and Porter bonded with the soul duo Sam and Dave, writing and producing a run of hits that included “Hold On, I’m Coming,” “Soul Man” and “I Thank You.” They also wrote “B-A-B-Y” for Carla Thomas and hits for the Emotions, the Soul Children, Mable John and Lou Rawls. As a keyboardist and producer, Hayes was an important element in the Stax/Volt sound. All the while, he was itching to sing and hearing a different sound in his head. “I wanted to sing pop music, easy listening, but Memphis was stone R&B,” he told Rolling Stone in 1970.
The origins of Hayes’ style came following a Stax Christmas party, when Hayes, bassist Duck Dunn and drummer Al Jackson, Jr., began playing around in the studio. They hit on a unique approach, recasting pop hits in lengthy arrangements featuring spoken monologues from Hayes and jazzy, orchestrated middle sections. His first album, Presenting Isaac Hayes, appeared in 1967 but failed to chart. Hayes’ breakthrough came with his second solo album, Hot Buttered Soul (1969), which revolutionized soul music by bringing a more silky, adult sound to it – and by interpolating lengthy pillow-talk monologues, which Hayes called “raps.” Hot Buttered Soul contained only four tracks, and two of them – remakes of Dionne Warwick’s “Walk on By” and Glen Campbell’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” – ran 12 and 19 minutes long, respectively. Edited versions of both songs made up a double-sided hit single on the pop and R&B charts in 1969.
Although Hayes cracked the Top 40 numerous times over the years – the Oscar-winning “Theme from ‘Shaft,’” his biggest hit, topped the charts for two weeks in 1971 – his approach was generally more suited to the album format, where he could stretch out and set a mood with his soulful, rap-filled symphonettes. From 1969 to 1975, Hayes released a string of Top 20 albums: Hot Buttered Soul (Number Eight, 1969), The Isaac Hayes Movement (Number Eight, 1970), To Be Continued (Number 11, 1970), Shaft (Number One, 1971), Black Moses (Number 10, 1971), Live at the Sahara Tahoe (Number 14, 1973), Joy (Number 16, 1973) and Chocolate Chip (Number 18, 1975). He also appeared in Wattstax, a concert film and soundtrack spotlighting Stax artists.
In addition to music, Hayes appeared in a number of action-adventure and comedy films and served as the voice of “Chef” on the animated TV show South Park. He was also a morning deejay at KISS-FM in New York. On a more serious note, he was heavily involved in charitable causes, and humanitarian and development efforts in the African nation of Ghana. Haynes died on August 10, 2008.