Isaac Hayes: Stax, ‘Shaft,’ and Chef

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When Isaac Hayes was tapped to score the music for the 1971 film Shaft, he was at the height of his success as a solo artist, following years as a hit songwriter and producer at Stax. Hayes composed a collection of funky, moody arrangements for the Gordon Parks–directed action film, which told the story of a black detective in Harlem hired to recover the kidnapped daughter of a mob boss. The music from the Shaft soundtrack album and the film were actually not the same. For two months, in between tour dates, the musician recorded the iconic “Theme From Shaft,” “Do Your Thing,” and a wealth of instrumentals at MGM Studios in Culver City, CA.

Hayes then returned to Memphis, and the familiar confines of the Stax studios, to re-record much of the music from the film for the soundtrack album. It would be those later recordings that would be released in 1971 as Music From the Soundtrack. The music heard in the film wouldn’t see the light of day in any form until 2008, when it was released as part of a limited-edition box set. It took nearly 50 years, but finally, as of 2019, both the music from the film and the now-classic recordings from the soundtrack can be heard together for the very first time.

Both a commercial and critical success, Shaft—Music From the Soundtrack remains Isaac Hayes’ best-known and best-selling album. The groundbreaking title—which, upon its release, was already setting a record as the very first double album of original studio material from an R&B artist—became an instant success. Shaft spent 60 weeks on the Billboard 200 chart, peaking at #1, while “Theme From Shaft” went to #1 on the Hot 100 singles chart on Nov. 20, 1971.

Related: Where did “(Theme From) Shaft” rank among 1971’s biggest singles?

Hayes won three GRAMMY® Awards for the album and its songs in 1972, and an Academy Award® for “Best Original Song” for “Theme From Shaft,” becoming the first African American to win an Oscar® in a non-acting category. In 2014, Shaft—Music From the Soundtrack was inducted into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

The singer, songwriter, producer, and actor revolutionized soul music, leading it out of the era of the three-minute single and into cosmically new territory. Born outside of Memphis on August 20, 1942, Hayes began his career in the mid-’60s as a session keyboardist at Stax, where he worked with some of R&B’s biggest names at the time—from Otis Redding and Booker T. & the M.G.’s to the Bar-Kays and Rufus Thomas. Hayes would soon move into producing, as well as songwriting, where he would pen some 200 songs with David Porter, including hits for Johnnie Taylor, Carla Thomas, and, perhaps most famously, Sam & Dave. With songs like “Soul Man” and “Hold On! I’m Comin’,” Hayes and Porter would help shape the “Memphis Sound” that made Stax a soul powerhouse.

Hayes’ career as a solo artist took off in 1969 with his landmark sophomore album, Hot Buttered Soul. The LP was unlike anything that fans of the genre had heard before; with the singer’s husky, baritone rapping and intimate crooning set against a massive backdrop of strings and horns from the Memphis Symphony and a solid backbeat by the Bar-Kays. Tracks included a nearly 19-minute performance of Jimmy Webb’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and a 12-minute rendition of the Burt Bacharach / Hal David classic “Walk On By.”

Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, Hayes would continue to be endlessly prolific in the studio, while also acting regularly in film and TV roles including, prominently, as Chef on South Park.

In 2002, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2005, he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. Hayes died on August 10, 2008.

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  1. carlpeart
    #1 carlpeart 16 May, 2019, 12:10

    Excited for the new deluxe version dbl cd–but this new movie appears to be a comedy-which is ok–but that’s never what Shaft was about.

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