Isaac Hayes, the man with the incredibly huge baritone voice, has died late Sunday in Tennessee. Hayes laid the groundwork for disco and and his original composition “Theme From Shaft” won both Academy and Grammy awards. He was 65.
With his muscular build, shiny head and sunglasses, Hayes cut a striking figure at a time when most of his contemporaries were sporting Afros. His music, which came to be known as urban-contemporary, paved the way for disco as well as romantic crooners like Barry White.
Hayes was born in 1942 in a tin shack in Covington, Tenn., about 40 miles north of Memphis. He was raised by his maternal grandparents after his mother died and his father took off when he was 1½. The family moved to Memphis when he was 6.
His musical career got started when he won a talent contest in ninth grade by singing Nat King Cole’s “Looking Back.”
He held down various low-paying jobs, including shining shoes on the legendary Beale Street in Memphis. He also played gigs in rural Southern juke joints where at times he had to hit the floor because somebody was shooting.
Always a self-taught musician, he was hired in 1964 by Stax Records of Memphis as a backup pianist, working as a session musician for Otis Redding and others. He also played saxophone.
He began writing songs, establishing a songwriting partnership with David Porter, and in the 1960s they wrote such hits for Sam and Dave as “Hold On, I’m Coming” and “Soul Man.”
In 1972, he won another Grammy for his album “Black Moses” and earned a nickname he reluctantly embraced. Hayes composed film scores for “Tough Guys” and “Truck Turner” besides “Shaft.” He also did the song “Two Cool Guys” on the “Beavis and Butt-Head Do America” movie soundtrack in 1996. Additionally, he was the voice of Nickelodeon’s “Nick at Nite” and had radio shows in New York City (1996 to 2002) and then in Memphis.
He was in several movies, including “It Could Happen to You” with Nicolas Cage, “Ninth Street” with Martin Sheen, “Reindeer Games” starring Ben Affleck and the blaxploitation parody “I’m Gonna Git You, Sucka.”
Hayes was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
He was a multi-talented individual. In his spoken-word introductions and interludes, Hayes was essentially rapping before there was rap. His career hit another high in 1997 when he became the voice of Chef, the sensible school cook and devoted ladies man on the animated TV show “South Park.”
But Hayes angrily quit the show in 2006 after an episode mocked his Scientology religion.
“There is a place in this world for satire,” he said. “but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry toward religious beliefs of others begins.”
Yes, he was a Scientologist. He was also one-of-a-kind, who followed his own road.