In honour of the passing of soul legend Isaac Hayes, here’s a clip of the self-proclaimed black Moses Hayes with his, arguably, most popular song ‘The Theme From Shaft’. This track comes from the 1971 blaxploitation film that helped to kick start a genre, one which shed light on the state of things in the inner cities of America, while simultaneously making a pantheon of heroes for those who lived there.
The song is one of the few theme songs which endures to this day that is this much of its time. The chicka-chicka-wah guitar is clearly in early 70s territory, yet for whatever reason, this song and its signature guitar and hi-hat opening helps to build the legendary status of both the film, and Hayes himself. And it shows just how ambitious soul music could be, and how successful a lushly orchestrated arrangement of strings and brass mixed with guitars and drums could be too, while still being accessible and not overblown. It builds a sort of slow-burn tension that is pure genius. This for me is Hayes’ masterstroke. One bad mutha, in fact.
Before his role as the chocolaty-voiced solo artist, and before the creation of his 1969 masterpiece Hot Buttered Soul, Isaac Hayes was a key player in the success of the Stax label in the mid to late 1960s. His contribution to the careers of Sam Moore and Dave Prater, known as soul duo Sam & Dave, is incalculable. Along with his services as staff pianist for Stax, he wrote the lion’s share of Sam & Dave’s material, including the smash “Soul Man’ along with partner Dave Porter. Most songwriters pray for the day they can write even one tune as strong as that one, capturing the essence of soul music; pure joy in delivery, an undercurrent of sexuality, and the celebration of one’s own identity. Yet Hayes wrote scores of them; “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby”, “Hold On, I’m Comin'”, “You Don’t Know Like I Know”, and many more.
But, even if he’s no longer able to make any more concert appearances, write more songs, or put out new albums, his name and influence is forever preserved in the spirit of Stax, the evolution of soul, and the legacy of musical history.
Bye, black Moses.