Some time in the mid-1990s, a colleague made me a mix tape, containing a song by a guy I’d never heard of called Isaac Hayes. The song, Hyperbolicsyllabic -sesquedalymistic, came from Haye’s brilliant Hot Butterd Soul album, which I bought on the strength of that track. To many people, Isaac Hayes is famous for two things, depending on their age. No one conjured up the classic blaxploitation image of “the black private dick/That’s a sex machine to all the chicks” better than he did with the Shaft theme. And there’s probably a whole generation who only know him as the character of Chef on South Park. Despite the fact that he founded the influential Stax Records, worked with Booker T and the MGs and penned some great songs on Hot Buttered Soul, it’s his take on other people’s work that I liked most. Hot Buttered Soul opens with one of the best versions of Burt Bacharach’s ‘Walk on By’ you’re ever likely to hear. But it’s his epic version of ‘By the Time I Get To Phoenix’, which is heart-breaking and cheesy by turns, that completely turns the original on its head. Christ, he rambles on in monologue for EIGHT minutes before he utters the opening line. But you forgive him.
So I’m sad to hear that Hayes has died, aged 65. R.I.P. big man. Here he is in 1973 singing the Shaft Theme. Check out the Mr. T style jewellery-as-clothing.