We Can Dig It
Isaac Hayes' life story is so jam-packed that the 5,000-word biography on his website contains only three sentences about the role for which you probably know him best: that of Chef on South Park. Yes, the man has done more in his career than sing "Oh! Suck on my chocolate salty balls, put 'em in your mouth and suck 'em.../they're packed full of goodness/and high in fiber, so suck on balls."
Raised by his grandparents on a farm, Hayes did not set eyes on a grocery store until moving to Memphis at age 7. After one particularly inspirational day working as a busboy, Hayes said, "I told the cook, 'I been watching you -- lemme do a hot dog.' So I prepared an artful hot dog, stuck it up in the window, tapped the bell and stepped back, watched the waitress deliver it, the guy ate it, and it was cool."
Hard to believe, but Hayes was once nervous around the ladies -- so nervous, in fact, that he dropped out of high school because he was afraid he did not look sharp enough. After he'd been gone a few weeks, his teachers brought him some fresh threads and dragged him back to school. Since his voice had begun to crack, he was reluctant to sing, but a guidance counselor persuaded him to enter a talent show. After that, the schoolgirls -- even the older ones -- started inviting him to sit with them at lunch. Says Hayes: "I started pursuing music big time."
At age 21, he finally graduated high school. Shortly afterward, he filled in on keyboards for Booker T., and next thing you know, he was recording with Otis Redding, the Mar-Keys, and the Bar-Kays, creating what came to be known as "the Memphis sound." April 4, 1968, Hayes was supposed to meet with the Rev. Martin Luther King -- but King was assassinated in downtown Memphis that morning. "I was so bitter and so angry," Hayes said. "I thought, What can I do? Well, I can't do a thing about it, so let me become successful and powerful enough where I can have a voice to make a difference."
In 1969, he dropped the landmark Hot Buttered Soul. Next came the theme song for Shaft. Between 1969 and 1980, Hayes put 20 albums on the charts. Then disco ruined him. After stooping to record The Disco Connection and Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak), Hayes went bankrupt. But he bounced back with more records, film roles (Escape from New York, Robin Hood), and, in 1991, the well-loved South Park. Somewhere in there, he fathered 11 children, became buds with Lisa Marie Presley, got crowned as a king in Ghana, hosted two radio shows, opened several restaurants, and released a cookbook that also includes John Travolta's recipe for a Royale with Cheese. Next time someone sings the Shaft song and asks, "Who's the black private dick/that's a sex machine to all the chicks?/Who's the cat that won't cop out/when there's danger all about?" You know who it is -- and you can dig it.
The Riviera Beach Jazz and Blues Festival begins on Friday, April 1, on the beach at Singer Island Beach. Isaac Hayes headlines on Saturday, April 2. Tickets cost $20 to $35. Call 561-845-3405, or visit www.jazzonthebeach.com.
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