NPR logo

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/93495338/93503124" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
Presenting Isaac Hayes

Presenting Isaac Hayes

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/93495338/93503124" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Isaac Hayes: 1942-2008. Source: Cyberex hide caption

toggle caption
Source: Cyberex

The obits for Isaac Hayes all show pictures of a defiant, imposing bald man wearing chains. And rightly so — that was the iconic look of the Black Moses, of Hot Buttered Soul, which prefigured disco and, in some ways, hip hop, too. Few will remember the picture on the cover of his first album, Presenting Isaac Hayes, which showed a smiling man in top hat and tails; tipping the hat, which let us know that he was bald even then.

As a very young man in the late 1960s, I worked as a combo-operator at WBAI-FM in New York. The combo-operator does eight hour tricks in a radio studio, playing hour and half hour programs on tape, operas and symphonies on records, and taking transmitter readings. I also introduced the various elements, and announced station breaks at the top of the hour. From time to time a program ran short, or didn't show up, and the announcer got the chance to program what we called a "miscellany" — pretty much whatever struck his or her fancy. And my fancy in those days very much included the amazing records issued by Stax/Volt out of Memphis, Tennessee — Otis Redding, Booker T and the MGs, Eddie Floyd, Sam and Dave, Carla Thomas, and Albert King. As a voracious reader of liner notes and record labels, I knew of Isaac Hayes as the house pianist at Stax and co-composer of many of their greatest hits. So when Presenting Isaac Hayes arrived, I listened avidly, and played it many times on the air. Same guy, same voice, very different approach. Piano, bass, and drums, for the most part, much of it very pretty, and none of it with the driving beat that characterized his later work. Despite, or perhaps because of my vast influence, the record vanished without a trace. It's still one of my favorites (sadly, along with all my other vinyl, it's in storage at the moment). If you're looking, it's on Enterprise Records, a tiny offshoot of Stax/Volt.

Article continues after sponsorship

The world will remember Isaac Hayes for Shaft, his Oscar — the first ever for a black composer — and those chains. I'll remember the top hat and tails.