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We’re Just Talkin’ ‘Bout Isaac Hayes

Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here. Isaac Hayes was found dead in Memphis over the weekend, and police are currently working to determine the cause of death. According to a CNN report, he was found in his home, unconscious, next to a treadmill, and no foul play is suspected. Hayes was 65 years old. For many younger viewers, Isaac Hayes will forever be SOUTH PARK’s Chef, a role he played with a delicious disconnect for many seasons before he finally left the show under a cloud of controversy because of his connection to Scientology and his sudden about-face on what was or wasn't appropriate for satire. The episode after he left didn’t just kill his character... it destroyed him. They did everything short of dropping a nuclear bomb on him. Considering how long they’d worked with him, I was always a little shocked by the vehemence with which they wrote him off the show. I’ll bet today makes that episode harder to watch for Matt and Trey than ever. Isaac Hayes is one of those guys whose life and career touched so many fans and covered so many different parts of the industry that it’s almost daunting to try and write an obit for him. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. He was an Oscar winner. He was a great songwriter, an actor of considerable presence, and a dedicated philanthropist. I’ve always had a particular affinity for him since he was such a key player in the Memphis sound, and both of my parents are from Memphis originally. I loved Hayes because he was the opposite of the pre-packaged artificial pop that dominates the music world, a guy who came from poverty in the deep south and who put a career together, little by little, working as a session player for Stax before he started working with producer David Porter as co-songwriters. Their work with Sam & Dave earned Hayes and Porter accolades and the hits started stacking up, including the ubiquitous “Soul Man.” They also wrote hits for Carla Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, and Mable Johns before Hayes recorded his own first album with Donald “Duck” Dunn and Al Jackson. It wasn’t a hit, but it established a voice that Hayes kept consistent over the years. He kept writing songs for Otis Redding, The Mar-keys, the Bar-Kays, Rufus & Carla Thomas, Booker T & The MGs and more, but in 1969, he released HOT BUTTERED SOUL, his breakthrough album that was bookended by the amazing “Walk On By”... ... and the equally amazing “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.” Hayes became a key player in the soul scene overnight, and was pioneering the rap scene as early as 1970 with “Ike’s Rap” off his hit album ... TO BE CONTINUED. Even if SHAFT had never happened, Hayes would have been an icon, but SHAFT blew up in a whole new way. It was a mainstream crossover hit when that was unheard of. It was the first album to be #1 on bot the pop and the R&B charts. He won an Oscar for Best Musical Score, the first black composer to do so. SHAFT also earned him Grammys, a Golden Globe, the NAACP Image Award, and a major European honor called The Edison Award, and the film was a monster cultural hit. If you want to understand the way he left a crater-sized impact in the music scene, you could start by tracing all the rap tracks in the past 15 years that sampled his music. There’s a reason people are still building tracks around his music today... he created some of the richest and most authentic grooves around, and everyone from Massive Attack to Destiny’s Child to Dr. Dre to Portishead have used him as the foundation for their work at some point. It’s hard to make the case that his onscreen career has been as exciting as his musical one, but I’ve always loved seeing him show up in movies. I remember seeing him as a semi-regular on THE ROCKFORD FILES back in the day, and that was one of the first places I saw him. His best appearance ever might have been in John Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK as “The Duke,” and that’s definitely the film I’ll be throwing in later tonight, along with SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER & UNCUT. Sure, he made a lot of exploitation crap over the years, but he always managed to get out of even the worst film with that same wry dignity intact. Besides, I’ll forgive anyone a guest shot on HUNTER or a movie like GUILTY AS CHARGED when they work for a cause as important as literacy with the same passion that Hayes did. The Isaac Hayes Foundation was created to promote literacy and music education around the world. I can’t think of a better message to take to countries where education is secondary. I will miss Isaac Hayes profoundly, but I will always love the work he leaves behind, and I suspect his legacy of education has left quite a mark on kids around the world, work that I hope will continue now that he has passed. We are definitely richer for him having been here in first place. I'm just going to add some embeds here for those of you who want to sample more of his work.

Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles

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