Tuesday, 12 August 2008

RIP Isaac Hayes

obit for the skinny

Soul icon Isaac Hayes has died at the age of 65, it has been confirmed. He was found dead in his home in Tennessee next to a treadmill, though a cause of death has yet to be established.

Isaac Hayes was best known in his later years as the voice of Chef from South Park, the school cook and town lothario who always broke into inappropriate song when giving advice to the children. Under this guise he had a 1998 UK No.1 with the song Chocolate Salty Balls, but later he faced criticism for apparently quitting the show after it lampooned the Church of Scientology.

But Chef was not the reason Isaac Hayes is a soul icon. In the 60s he was a songwriter for Stax Records, and along with David Porter wrote classics like Sam & Dave's "Soul Man" and "Hold On, I'm Comin'". In the latter half of the decade he began performing himself, and his 1969 sophomore album Hot Buttered Soul was a breakthrough. It featured only four songs, including a classic 12 minute rendition of Bacharach & David's "Walk On By" and the 18-minute rap-introduced "By The Time I Get To Phoenix". Hayes' habit of introducing slow, brooding epics with minutes-long monologues is often thought of as a prelude to rapping: indeed, a series of songs in this style were named "Ike's Rap".

Hayes achieved what was perhaps his greatest moment in 1971 when he was commissioned to record the soundtrack to the seminal blaxploitation movie Shaft. The double LP he made, with funk band The Bar-Kays, remains a classic in both blaxploitation funk and original soundtrack recording history, dominated by the "Theme From Shaft" which earned Hayes an Oscar, two Grammy Awards and a Golden Globe. His later 70s funk got more indulgent, and his attempt to follow the herd into disco wasn't as successful as it could've been, so Hayes withdrew from the public limelight barring a few acting cameos.

Of course, he re-emerged into fame in the late 1990s as the aforementioned voice of overweight ladies' man Jerome "Chef" McElroy in the controversial comedy cartoon South Park, and became known as another celebrity recruit to the somewhat more controversial Church of Scientology. In 2006 he suffered a stroke, and seemed to quit South Park after they ridiculed his religion, though some associates said he in fact left for health reasons. But as recently as last August, Hayes was still able to tour and perform live. The Skinny was lucky enough to see him perform at Shepherd's Bush Empire in London last August, and while Hayes himself seemed barely able to walk or move his face, "Shaft" still made the hips sway and "Walk On By" was amply capable of causing jaws to drop.

RIP Isaac Hayes.

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