Isaac Hayes

Isaac Hayes

Synopsis of Pop Music

“Who’s the black private dick,
That’s a sex machine with all the chicks?”

One of the best things about Comedy Central’s hit animated series South Park is Chef, the amorous-minded elementary school cook who sings sexy soul songs to teach lessons to the school kids. The songs may be jokes, but the voice certainly is not: It belongs to legendary soul music performer and composer Isaac Hayes. Long before he lent his vocal chops to the Chef character, he played a major role in shaping the direction of r&b music with his orchestral, epic vision of what soul music could be. In the process, he created a string of pop-soul classics like the Oscar-winning “Theme From Shaft” as he paved the way for later symphonic-soul innovators like Barry White.

Isaac Hayes was raised by his grandmother in the musical hotbed of Memphis, Tennessee. After singing in a local gospel choir and playing in the high school band, Hayes began to form his own soul music groups and put out singles. His career took off when he began to concentrate on songwriting and teamed up with fellow Memphis songsmith David Porter. Together, they penned several hits for the duo act Sam and Dave, including “Soul Man” and “Hold On, I’m Comin.” Still, Hayes wanted to be a performer and began recording albums of his own, starting with 1967’s Presenting Isaac Hayes. Its low-key, jazzy feel was a hint of the great things soon to come from Hayes as a solo artist.

In 1969, Isaac Hayes earned his breakthrough by recording the ambitious Hot Buttered Soul. This album allowed Hayes to bring his skills as an arranger to the fore by transforming recent pop hits like “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and “Walk On By” into funky, orchestral epics that could last from 10 to 18 minutes on a record. Hayes also developed his trademark habit of using a ‘rap’—an extended spoken intro—to set the stage for the music on “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.” The end result of all these innovations was a crossover smash that charted high on the pop, r&b and jazz charts all at once. Also, edited versions of “Walk On By” and “Phoenix” became respective hits on the r&b and pop charts.

As the 1970’s began, Isaac Hayes continued to develop his distinctly epic flavor of soul on albums like The Isaac Hayes Movement and To Be Continued. He reached a new level of fame in 1971 when he composed the score for the film Shaft. Hayes gave this detective story about “a black private dick who’s a sex machine with all the chicks” a classic sound that blended r&b grit with orchestral smoothness. Its finest moment was #1 hit “Theme From Shaft,” a silky groove driven by wah-wah guitar and a half-spoken, half-sung rap from Hayes. Shaft became a big hit, spawning a wave of black action films that imitated the rich sounds of Hayes’ score and netting Hayes an Oscar nomination for Best Score to go with his win for Best Song.

Isaac Hayes continued to score hits throughout the 1970’s with songs like the bass-driven “Joy” and his moody remake of “Never Can Say Goodbye.” He also devoted much time to film scores like Three Tough Guys and Truck Turner (in which he also starred as the title character, a bounty hunter). During this time, his combination of romance-minded music and a striking visual image (a shaved head, big gold chains) helped him become one of the more interesting sex symbols of the 1970’s. Hayes further cemented this sex-symbol image by recording duet albums with both Millie Jackson and Dionne Warwick. He also continued to score hits throughout the 1970’s with danceable r&b like “Zeke The Freak” and “Don’t Let Go.”

During the 1980’s, Isaac Hayes spent much of his time concentrating on an acting career. He made several television appearances, including parts on the shows Hunter, The A-Team and Miami Vice, while also appearing in films like Escape From New York and the black action parody I’m Gonna Git You, Sucka. In the latter half of 1980’s, he began to work his way back into the music scene with albums like U-Turn and Love Attack. He even scored a Top-10 r&b hit in 1986 with “Ike’s Rap,” a song that brought the rap style he pioneered into the modern era. Just the same, Hayes returned his attentions to acting by the end of the decade.

In 1995, Isaac Hayes returned to music by releasing two albums at once: Branded was a collection of original tunes and covers, while Raw and Refined presented a series of smooth-grooving instrumentals. Between music gigs, Isaac Hayes remained busy on both the big and small screens with roles in films like Flipper and TV shows like The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. He also moved his composing skills into a new arena by scoring commercials for major companies like Pepsi and Burger King. Perhaps his most interesting 90's credit as a composer was his 1970’s funk-style reinterpretation of the Beavis and Butthead theme music for the film Beavis and Butthead Do America.

Today, Isaac Hayes is best known to most as the voice of Chef on South Park. In fact, he has acquired a whole new group of listeners that have become Hayes fans thanks to classic Chef songs like “I’m Gonna Make Love To You, Woman” and “Hot Lava.” Meanwhile, Hayes’ amazing musical legacy lives on and continues to make its influence felt. His slick, larger-than-life soul sound paved the way for trends like disco, and his juxtaposition of music with spoken vocal passages helped lay the ground work for hip-hop. As long as people want to push the boundaries of r&b, the music of Isaac Hayes will continue to provide a great example of how it is done.

Artist Release History

1967 - Presenting Isaac Hayes
1969 - Hot Buttered Soul
1970 - The Isaac Hayes Movement
1970 - To Be Continued
1971 - Black Moses
1971 - Shaft
1973 - Joy
1973 - Live At The Sahara Tahoe
1974 - Three Tough Guys
1974 - Truck Turner
1975 - Groove-A-Thon
1975 - The Best of Isaac Hayes
1976 - Disco Connection
1976 - Juicy Fruit
1977 - A Man And A Woman (with Dionne Warwick)
1977 - New Horizon
1978 - For The Sake Of Love
1978 - Hotbed
1979 - Don’t Let Go
1980 - Royal Rappins (with Millie Jackson)
1980 - And Once Again
1981 - Lifetime Thing
1986 - U-Turn
1986 - The Best of Isaac Hayes, Vol. 1
1986 - The Best of Isaac Hayes, Vol. 2
1988 - Love Attack
1990 - His Greatest Hits
1991 - Greatest Hit Singles
1995 - Branded
1995 - Raw and Refined
1996 - The Best of Isaac Hayes: The Polydor Years
2000 - The Ultimate Collection

Pop Sub Categories


Essential Music Albums

Shaft (Stax)
The Ultimate Collection (Polygram)

Band Members

Isaac Hayes  vocals, keyboards