Isaac Hayes’s music first entered my life in the mid 1990’s. It was not through crate digging or hip-hop samples. It was through my own father,my very first musical inspiration. This is going to be the story about how I first learned of Isaac Hayes. Its also the story of a little summer camp house,built in the late 1950’s,on a rural Maine lake known as Pushaw. Its not so much a memory based in sentiment. Its a memory that has shaped the way I’ve listened to music,and what I’ve looked for in it for the 21-22 years since this all began.
The summers of 1993-1995 were my final years at this camp. It was where my father (and later my mother and I) would go. It wasn’t actually ours,it was my grandparents. It had no shower,no heating,mosquito’s often invaded us out of our sleep early in the season. But it was beautifully comfy and rustic somehow. It was a pretty fun place for me to be. And it was a source of great meditative solace for my nature loving father. He and my mom both had records they generally kept only at the camp. These have been mentioned in other articles on here. Its where I first heard Heatwave,for example.
I had a neighbor friend named Joseph (whose family summered at the blue camp seen partly in the above photo). He was deeply into the Jacksons/Michael Jackson then The Rolling Stones as well. And we loved listening to them together. Talking about them too. As for my father,new music appeared all the time. It was always changing from year to year,when CD’s and tapes just came out before there was a designated new music release day. Almost all of this music was easily digestible to me from the first listen. One summer,possibly in 1994,there was one major exception to this.
This camp was located generally at a 30-40 minute car drive from our home. We generally listened to music on the car cassette deck. One day,on a rather hot hazy afternoon travelling back in from town after doing errands,my father played a new tape in the car. First thing I heard was a slow rhythm,dragging organ and hazy horns. Then a deep,echoed bluesy guitar. It sounded very Southern to me. And the rural fields,houses and trailers that probably looked about the same as they had in the late 60’s sped by as we drove,and listened. I asked my father what I was hearing. It was “Walk On By” by Isaac Hayes.
The album itself was Hot Buttered Soul. Today,I realize what a classic it is. Something about the visuals surrounding me the first time I heard it though provided a total aural experience. That unspoiled rural landscape,with a human presence ranging from regal to raggedy,reminded me very much of how I felt many areas of the South were like. Hayes’s cover of this Burt Bacharach classic had that same vibe. Rural yet urbane,sweet yet psychedelic, slow and powerful. He played the entire album that day on the car ride. But that first song just stayed with me. And even today,its often playing out somewhere in my mind.
Isaac Hayes would have turned 74 this Sunday if he hadn’t passed away in 2008. Upon reflecting on Hayes’ music,this is the experience that came most to mind. It actually wasn’t even the first time I’d heard his music. Already heard “Theme From Shaft” some years earlier,perhaps even in the late 80’s but oldies radio being what it was,the names of the artists weren’t announced too often. This was one of those few occasions in my life where there was an ideal first understanding of a musical genre. That’s because my first experience with Isaac Hayes’s cinematic soul was indeed cinematic.