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Isaac Hayes answers the door of his Dallas hotel room, his bald head down and his eyes sagging. By way of introduction, he yawns and apologizes for being so damned tired, and ushers his guest into the room with a limp raising of his left arm. He wears black pants and a black pullover, and on his feet he sports black-and-blue shoes that are either for hiking or jogging.

But now, as his eyes droop to half-staff, those shoes are for dragging. He lurches through the room, his once-imposing frame--over which he used to drape gold chains that glistened against a showman's sweat--now surprisingly small and hunched over. He is so tired, it seems, he can barely breathe.

"I haven't had time to sleep," he explains. "Been to a couple of radio stations today and been tourin' to promote these new albums and been . . . just lotsaplacesinthesepastfewdays." His words begin to slur, and his voice trails off.

Hayes is busy promoting the release of two new albums--Branded, all sexy whispers and growls, and the schizophrenically instrumental Raw and Refined, which bounds from amazingly funky Memphis soul to music that sounds left over from old Love Boat episodes.

They are the first albums he has released in seven years--spending most of his time lately acting in such B-grade dreck as Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Posse, Guilty As Charged and I'm Gonna Get You Sucka--and he is schlepping around the country talking it up to radio stations and record-store owners, convincing them to give this 52-year-old legend one more shot.

And it has worn him out.
As he moves toward a couch on which to stretch out his weary body, he points toward a window. "I can't believe they stuck me in this hotel," he says, his voice rising. "See that?" He walks toward the window and pulls back the white curtain, motioning toward a hotel complex on the other side of a freeway. "The Anatole? Damn, man. The love of my life used to work there. Lot of heartache when I see that, man. Damn."

The woman, Hayes explains, used to live in Memphis, then took a job in Florida, then went to work for the Anatole. Then she split to parts unknown, leaving no forwarding address. "I've had many involvements, some very intense," Hayes says with a sigh, stretching himself on the couch. "But that girl that was at the Anatole"--he pauses--"I let her get away. It was my fault. It's worse when it's your fault, man. It's harder on you. But, anyway, . . . ." He looks toward the window, sighs, forces a weak smile.

"People think, 'Oh, he's an entertainer, he can get women anytime he wants,'" Hayes says, continuing his never-ending tale of heartbreak. "But it's not the ones that want you, but the ones you want. Of course, when I was much younger, I used to run up and down the road and knocked off everything in sight. It didn't matter then. But when you get older, you start gettin' serious and your values shift. You want something that's real. When you take that shot, man, I understand that.

"I was in Hamburg two weeks ago, and this girl, whew, beautiful girl--part Ecuadorian, part German. We dated and we broke up, and I don't know why. She cooled it off and never did explain to me why. Then her number changed, and I moved and we couldn't get in touch anymore. Then when I got there, I asked the lady from Virgin Records in Hamburg, 'Can you find so-and-so?' and she found the number. There was a guy livin' there--she was rentin' out to him--and she was living in London with her fianc who she's going to marry in October. They're going to Costa Rica and make weddin' plans. Aw, man."

It is, at the very least, an odd thing to hear Isaac Hayes relate such sad stories. After all, throughout the 1970s, he was perhaps the greatest sweet-soul singer alive--his music drenched in strings and sweat and sex, his whole persona that of a man who was the sex machine to all the chicks. In such songs as "Never Can Say Goodbye" (a sweet hit for the Jackson Five, recast as a bedroom groan by Hayes), "(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want to Be Right," "Walk on By," the 18-minute epic "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and the immortal "Theme From Shaft," Hayes paved the way for the likes of Barry White and Luther Vandross and disco. Hayes didn't perform love songs; he lived them. He didn't sing; he seduced.

He became his characters, casting himself as ladies' man, the deep-and-dark-voiced Black Moses moanin' and groanin' above a lush R&B sound that was all strings and horns, givin' the females his hot buttered soul as they crave his shaft. Can ya dig it? Hayes may not have possessed the voice of fellow Memphis resident Al Green, who was the most natural singer since Otis Redding, or the total presence of Marvin Gaye, but Isaac Hayes reshaped soul music, for better or worse--making it softer, more romantic, more seductive, with less emphasis on the beat and more on the groove. "Sweetness, there's a name for you--sugar," he sang on the 16-minute "Joy" in 1973, horns blaring and violins purring in the background. "Lips to lips, heart to heart, ain't no way we'll ever part. Keep on teasin' me." The song fades out into one long moan.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky