Sunday, August 10, 2008

If You Only Knew Him From "South Park" . . .

If you only knew Isaac Hayes -- who died earlier today -- as the voice of "Chef" from the TV show "South Park," you've missed out on a lot of music -- and a lot of music history. (Same is true if you only knew Buck Owens as a cornball character from TV's "Hee-Haw.")

Grab Rob Bowman's book "Soulsville USA: The Story of Stax Records" if you want the best account of Mr. Hayes and his contribution to soul music. Had Isaac Hayes never made a record as a solo artist, the songs that he wrote with his partner David Porter (e.g., "Soul Man," "Hold On, I'm Coming," "B-A-B-Y," "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby") would have ensured his place in any number of musical halls of fame. His performance credits, however, were equally noteworthy. Isaac Hayes was a massive talent.

To my ears, one of the more interesting -- though least popular -- records in his discography is his first Stax offering, "Presenting Isaac Hayes." It's a late-night piano trio record from 1968, and it features Ike's piano and vocals along with "Duck" Dunn's bass and the magnificent drumming of Al Jackson, Jr. The session, it is said, followed a Stax company party, and Isaac Hayes sounds, shall we say, quite relaxed. Check it out. The trio covers several standards and digs into some gospel and blues, as well.

The live clip below is not from that 1968 date, and it features a mega-star Ike with a larger group; nevertheless, his treatment of T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday Blues" carries a vibe similar to the one you'll feel on that first Stax record.

Isaac Hayes was 65 years old.

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