Isaac Hayes will be missed.
The following was supposed to be a column on the Stax Records' 50th anniversary concert, which was to be held Friday at the Mann Center. Unfortunately, Isaac Hayes, one of the star attractions of that show, passed away Sunday afternoon at age 65, making this column a memorial both to his and Stax's legacy.
The show has been canceled.
I was quite enthused when I heard that Hayes--who became the crown jewel of the Stax empire in the '70s after previous boy wonder Otis Redding died in a plane crash in 1967--and several other Stax legends were coming to Philly. I could say so many things about Stax Records. I could go on and on about Otis, Isaac, Sam & Dave and the Staple Singers. About the invaluable Steve Cropper chopping it up on guitar on Booker T. & the MGs' Green Onions. About how the entire Stax roster went to California to instill black pride in the L.A. ghettos with the 1972 Wattstax concert. About Hayes providing the soundtrack for that great blaxploitation superhero John Shaft. I could even riff about how, when I was a sophomore in high school, I tried to get the nine-disc Complete Stax/Volt Singles 1959-1968 box set. Unfortunately, it was too expensive for my broke ass.
I could fill column upon column with words regarding the Memphis-based label that brought integrated, soulful thunder back in the '60s and '70s. While the midwestern Motown prided itself on being "The Sound of Young America"--proving it could make mainstream pop ditties just as well as (or better than) white folk--their dirty-South rival was the sound of an America pent-up and ready to blow (which, of course, it did).
Stax songs were aggressively charged, a progressive combination of church-bred jubilance, juke-joint bluesiness and racially oppressed rage. As Rufus Thomas said in Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story, which aired on PBS last year, "Motown had the sweet, but Stax had the funk."
Even though the label shut down in 1975 after filing for bankruptcy, it doesn't seem too surprising to find it making a comeback of sorts. In 2006 Concord Records reactivated Stax, making way for old and new artists to work with the legendary label. Even Nikka Costa's new album Pebble to a Pearl will be released on Stax next month.
Eddie Floyd, a Stax vet best known for the classic single "Knock on Wood" recently dropped a new album on Stax titled Eddie Loves You So. The album, which is compiled of tunes the 71-year-old Floyd wrote for himself and other artists back in the label's heyday, is a tribute to--and a reminder of--Stax's timeless musical power.
When I spoke to Floyd late last week he said he was pleased Stax is back on the contemporary pop- music radar. He and the artists who created tunes in that old movie theater on McLemore and College, deep in the heart of the segregated South, once again have a place to congregate.
"So, we're back home," said Floyd. "It's a great idea, and, you know, a dream come true, really."
Unfortunately, that home has been blown over by the terrible news of Hayes' death this weekend. While younger audiences may know him today as the voice of the soul-singing, chocolate-salty-ball-making Chef on South Park, it can't be denied that Hayes was an indelible figure not only in Stax Records history, but in the annals of soul music. He was both one of the label's biggest success stories and one of its most driving creative forces. When he began writing songs with David Porter in Stax's early years, they were the label's resident Holland/Dozier/Holland, penning countless oft-replicated hits that would later inspire hordes of other artists. But when he broke out on his own, that's when his influence truly began reaching the masses.
If James Brown was Soul Brother No. 1, Hayes was always right behind him, making him work extra hard so the chrome-domed Hayes wouldn't take away his title. He was a sexy yet sensitive damn-near-messianic titan of Me Decade-era R&B, an artist who could take swinging pop numbers from the Bacharach/David songbook and transform them into intense, haunting, epic compositions of heartache and romantic longing.
And the black audience was down with him from day one. Even if he originally had qualms about being called "Black Moses" (later an album title of his), it actually made sense for him to have that nickname. He could corral thousands of dark faces with just the sound of that deep, baritone voice.
Isaac Hayes will be missed by me and many others like me who'll be forever grateful to him for bringing hot-buttered soul to the pop-music landscape. There's no doubt the '70s wouldn't have been the same without it.