I was two or three years out of college when I first listened to Isaac Hayes seriously. I had picked up Shaft in college but, aside from the title track, it didn’t speak to me. I mean, flutes? Really? I just couldn’t get past the instrumentation. I knew there was something funky there but it wasn’t finding me.
And then I picked up, for some unknown reason, the soundtrack to Stealing Beauty, which leads off with Hoover’s (later Hooverphonic’s) “2 Wicky.” I was never a big Hooverphonic fan, but “2 Wicky” set off all kinds of bells in my head, primarily because of the opening, which I knew had to be sampled from somewhere. I did some digging and found it had come from the lead off track on Isaac Hayes’s Hot Buttered Soul, an album I had always assumed was a goof like Shaft. But I was hooked on that opening guitar + backing vox riff, so I picked up Hot Buttered Soul.
And I couldn’t put it down.
That weekend I was driving around Raleigh, North Carolina, with some college friends–we were there for a wedding–and I couldn’t pull the disc out of my car player. I must have played “Walk On By” and “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” about a hundred times that weekend. The album was so over the top, so drenched in drama and sound, but somehow it touched the same funky center, breathed the same groove, as the Parliament and James Brown that I had been marinating in for the previous four or five years. And it reached deeper than those cuts in some ways–Hayes projected a pain and vulnerability that you’d never hear from the Godfather of Soul.
I was smacked sideways when I heard yesterday about Isaac Hayes’s death. It seems like someone who touched the human condition so deeply shouldn’t be allowed to go so quickly.