Rock Hall's Warren Zanes speaks with Isaac Hayes about his life
and career. (Photos by Neal Hamilton / Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame and Museum)
discusses multi-faceted career at Rock Hall
By Kevin Kelley
Published Feb. 2, 2005
He's a singer,
songwriter, composer, actor, and chef, both in real life and on
the animated television show "South Park."
the influential soul singer, discussed his life and career recently
before an audience at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Born in 1942,
Hayes grew up in Memphis and was raised by his grandparents. Embarrassed
because he couldn't afford decent clothing to wear to class, he
dropped out of high school. But sensing his potential, a group of
teachers got together and collected clothing for young Isaac, and
he eventually got his diploma at the age of 21.
had several college scholarships for vocal performance, his desire
to perform led him to bypass college.
who had sang with jazz and doo-wop bands as a teenager, performed
with several Memphis blues and gospel groups. His first break came
when he was offered a New Year's Eve gig playing piano, even though
he could hardly play the instrument. But it didn't matter.
"Had we played
'Three Blind Mice," they would have loved it because they were drunk,"
he said. The owner of the club hired the band that night. "Each
night I learned something different," Hayes said. "It was on the
played with a number of other Memphis groups. "In Memphis at that
time, we were artistically incestuous because everybody was playing
with everybody else," he said.
contacts in the Memphis music scene, he was offered a job playing
keyboard by owner Jim Stewart of Stax Records, known for its contribution
to the Memphis soul and early funk styles of music. There he began
a collaboration with David Porter, with whom he wrote songs for
acts such as Sam and Dave. Often writing in the presence of the
recording artists, Hayes focused on working with the musicians,
and Porter concentrated on the vocalists.
all night," Hayes said. "Sometimes I'd sleep on the piano."
Motown sound was becoming a dominant influence in popular music,
the Memphis sound coming out of Stax Records -- exemplified by artists
such as Otis Redding and Booker T. and the MGs -- retained a distinctive
that uniqueness to the many influences which molded Memphis music,
such as Gospel, the blues, country and jazz.
"So it was
like a melting pot," Hayes said. "All those things came together."
continued performing while writing at Stax, had his first successful
recording in 1967 with the album "Presenting Isaac Hayes," which
was recorded after a birthday party at Stax after which he said
he was drunk on champagne.
director) Al Bell just turned the tape on and let it role," he said.
Hayes didn't take the recording session seriously until Bell scheduled
a photo session two weeks later for the album cover.
said he wasn't thinking about making a hit single for radio play,
credits Bell with giving him free reign with his recordings.
"I felt what
I had to say couldn't be said in two minutes and thirty seconds,"
he said. "I had a story to tell....I just wanted to speak freely."
His long songs,
long intros, use of the spoken word and use of strings on top changed
the way R and B records were made, Hayes said. Billboard magazine
criticized him at the time for his unorthodox techniques. "But they
had to eat their words later on," Hayes said.
Hayes was deeply
affected by the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968,
which occurred not far from the Stax studio in Memphis. He couldn't
write for a year after the assassination.
"He was the
victim of a racist country," Hayes said. "All he wanted to do was
make things equal for everybody. He gave his life for that....I
saw no future. It's like a light of creativity went out in me."
a political activist, and still is to this day. But one day, Hayes
said, he had an epiphany and decided to return to music.
"I should be
doing my music," Hayes thought, "because that's the most effective
thing I know....That's the way you can make a difference in the
was approached to write the soundtrack of the movie "Shaft", he
told director Gordon Parks he wanted the leading role. When he was
later told actor Richard Roundtree had been given the lead, Hayes
was bitterly disappointed.
"I wanted to
be Shaft, man," Hayes said. "I was so despondent. I was upset....But
it was a blessing in disguise."
Hayes kept his commitment to write the movie's score. Parks gave
him these instructions: "You have to capture the character. This
guy Shaft, he's always moving. You have to capture his personality
with your music."
It took Hayes
an hour and a half to write the main theme. Someone advised him
of a trick he could use in writing the score -- simply recycle his
music. "I stole from myself," he said explaining how he wrote different
parts of the soundtrack based on the score but with different chords..
When Rock Hall
Vice President of Education Warren Zanes, who moderated the discussion,
mentioned Hayes is one of the most sampled recording artist, he
said he found the copying insulting at first. But 20 years later,
he began to see the longevity of his influence as a blessing.
provides the voice of Jerome "Chef" McElroy on Comedy Central's
animated hit series "South Park," didn't discuss the program but
sported a sweatshirt with the show's title.
The 2002 Rock
Hall of Fame inductee was also in town to promote a new cookbook
of kidney-friendly recipes for people with chronic kidney disease.
Diet is a key part of managing kidney disease and an associated
condition known as hyperphosphatemia (high blood phosphorus levels).
Hayes conducted a low-phosphorus cooking demonstration for patients
and their families at the HealthSpace Cleveland Museum Jan. 13.
to the cookbook and wrote the foreword. "Kidney Friendly Comfort
Foods: A Collection of Recipes for Eating Well," provides healthy
recipes for kidney patients. Barry White, a close friend of Hayes
and fellow music legend, died of kidney failure last year.
On the Net:
Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame and Museum
Inductee Page at Rock Hall of Fame