Introducing Isaac Hayes

Isaac Hayes

Stax, 1968

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Most people 30 and under only know the late Isaac Hayes as the voice of “Chef” on South Park; most people my age only know Hayes as the singer of “Shaft.” The enlightened, however, know that Hayes was more than this one song or a cartoon character; his early work as a session player at Stax Records helped to define their legacy before he had the chance to define his own as a solo artist.

Ironically, his debut effort, Presenting Isaac Hayes (later re-released on Atlantic after they snapped up Stax's catalog to that point as In The Beginning), was a flop. Upon reflection, this is a damned might not be the pure soul-based rock that Stax had become known for, but it instead showcased soul, blues, jazz, and vocals into a nearly flawless mix. More on that in a minute.

The legend is, Hayes and other legendary Stax musicians – bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn and drummer Al Jackson, Jr. – had absolutely nothing prepared when they entered the studio, so everything you hear on record was improvised. Whether that's 100 percent true or not (or if there's proof courtesy of flubbed takes hidden deep in a tape vault), the end result is rather spectacular.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Now, if you pick this up expecting to hear Hayes in full-out braggadocio mode...well, you may as well put it back, 'cause that wasn't what Hayes was at this stage in his career. No, this disc is more of a late-night jazz outing, something you might want to put on as mood music (okay, we'll hold off on any “Chef” references) or just something you put on to clean out the ol' mental pipes, as it were.

Hayes often is more of a gentle balladeer on Presenting Isaac Hayes, almost breathlessly delivering his vocals on “When I Fall In Love” and “Going To Chicago Blues” (the latter being a medley with “Misty”). And when he sings on “I Just Want To Make Love To You” – a track that is a near perfect amalgam of jazz and blues, paired up with “Rock Me Baby” – it comes off less as a sexual come-on than a warmly-delivered romantic missive. Fact is, it works, and it works well.

The gem of this disc is “You Don't Know Like I Know,” which shows that Hayes (with his piano work), Dunn and Jackson were just as comfortable as jazz musicians, 'cause this track absolutely smokes. They don't cut loose nearly like I'd have liked them to...but, then again, doing so might have defeated the purpose and weakened the track. The listener doesn't even realize that eight minutes have passed – yes, it's that good.

The disc's opening track, “Precious, Precious” is rock-solid as a three-minute song...but the original is the only stumbling point on this album. Now, it's not that it's a bad song, but sometimes it feels like the band doesn't quite know which way to take it, and they end up tacking on sections just to keep the groove going for nearly 19 minutes. Look, I have nothing against long songs, so long as the musicianship and songwriting are able to keep my attention and keep me interested in what's being performed. This particular track loses me around the 12-minute mark, and could have easily had some sections lopped off to make it a stronger, more cohesive performance.

Still, there are more than enough strong tracks to make up for any perceived weakness, and Presenting Isaac Hayes is one of those hidden gems in the music world just waiting for rediscovery. Go ahead and reintroduce yourself to Hayes with this disc. It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Rating: B

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