By Benjamin Leatherman
Black Moses, 1942-2008. RIP.
The Grim Reaper’s had something of a hard-on for African-American is the entertainment industry as of late. In the past few weeks, death incarnate has taken a pretty staggering list of talented mofos into the great beyond: comedian Bernie Mac, blues guitarist Phil Guy, record producer Jerry Wexler (who coined the term “rhythm and blues”), and Dave Matthews band saxophonist LeRoi Moore. (There was also a near miss with actor Morgan Freeman, who survived a serious car accident earlier this month).
Another of the reaper’s recent conquests was legendary soul king Isaac Hayes (a.k.a. Black Moses), who also provided the bass-heavy voice of Chef on South Park (that is, until he had a falling out with the cartoon’s creators in 2006 over the Scientology-skewering episode “Trapped in the Closet”). Tragically, Hayes passed away on August 10 after suffering a stroke.
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Personally, I was rather affected by Hayes’ passing. Chef was my favorite character on South Park (“Hello children!”) and was particularly heartbroken when he left the show over the Scientology beef. My parents also had a copy of Hot Buttered Soul on vinyl and would give it an occasional spin during my childhood years. One of the more memorable songs on the album was Hayes’ cover of the Glen Campbell/Johnny Rivers number “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” I remember digging the song way back when because it referenced my hometown (albeit in melancholy fashion, as the narrator’s first stop on his journey away from his woman). It’s a rather lengthy cover (running almost 20 minutes) and featuring an eight minute-long improvised spoken word intro where Hayes opined on the troubles of love. It’s a classic bit of late 60s soul that’s a scintillating mix of keyboards, horns, and strings (not to mention the soul singer's silky smooth voice).
I found a version of the song on YouTube recently (which is split into two parts and is set to a slideshow of photos of Hayes as well as his various album covers over the years) and have been listening to it a lot lately. I still think it’s kinda cool that our fair city is memorialized in such a notable song, and maybe y’all will too.
Here’s part one…
…followed by part two