Isaac Hayes
08.20.42 - 08.10.08
Jerry Wexler
01.10.17 - 08.15. 08

Two of the greats of soul, R&B, recently died within five days of each other. Isaac Hayes, as close to a one-man definition of soul music for the late 1960s and early 1970s as one gets, died Aug. 10. He was 65.

Five days later, one of the greatest soul, R&B and blues record producers of all time, Jerry Wexler, passed on also, at age 91. The passing of both leaves a hole in the soul of the music they both cherished and did so much to nurture and develop. "The Sky Is Cryin'" indeed, as Elmore James, Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan all told us in song earlier.

But this end is just the beginning, for the magnificent legacies both men left. So it's appropriate to exult with the late Little Milton also, "The Blues Is Alright." The blues masters come and go, but the blues -- and its babies, rock, soul, R&B, live on, and on, and on!

***

Isaac Hayes was born in a tin shack in rural Covington, Tenn. on Aug. 20, 1942, and worked in the cotton fields as a child while attending school. He played in local bands, and by early 1964, at the age of 21, was a studio musician at famed Stax Records in Memphis. His first session gig: backing Otis Redding.

He teamed up with David Porter, and the team of Hayes and Porter was responsible for many of the soul hits of the late 1960s, among them Sam and Dave's "Soul Man" and "Hold On, I'm Comin'." Hayes and Porter also wrote "Wrap It Up," which was notably recorded by the Fabulous Thunderbirds in the 1980s.

Isaac Hayes was also emerging as a solo artist at this time. His unusual 1969 album, Hot Buttered Soul, contained only four songs, including long, lush versions of "Walk On By" and "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," that were also accompanied by long spoken-work segments Hayes called "raps," and rose to No. 8 on the charts.\

The photo of Hayes adorning the cover showed Hayes as he became to be identified: shaved head, dark sunglasses, reams of gold chains around the neck and a bare chest. Hayes then applied his lush, multi-layered arrangements of soul music to the soundtrack for the movie Shaft, and had a top single hit with the "Theme for Shaft," that became memorable both in its expurgated and unexpurgated versions.

In 1971 he followed with a third LP, Black Moses. He received and Oscar for the soundtrack for Shaft, and three Grammys, two for Shaft and one for Black Moses.

Hayes acted in several films from the 1970s into the 1990s, and was the voice of the worldly-wise, womanizing Chef in the satirical cartoon series South Park from 1997 until he quit in protest in 2006 over its spoof of his religion, Scientology. He also hosted a radio show in New York in the 1990s.

Hayes's lush, multi-layered musical arrangements were integral definitions of soul music in the 1970s as exemplified by him and other artists such as Barry White, and also of disco, which became a national craze in the late 1970s. Earlier, in his work with Stax, he was integral in developing the emerging soul music of the late 1960s, and with his collaborator David Porter, creating that raucous Stax sound, a catchy, raw Memphis counterpart to Detroit's Motown.

He was truly Soul Incarnate. Even it he did apply his talents, as in the soundtrack for Shaft, in creating and popularizing that dubious cultural legacy, the blaxploitation film (a genre which another talented black soul artist-composer, Curtis Mayfield, contributed musically, with "Freddie's Dead" and "Superfly").

***

If Hayes, with his shaved head, shades, gold chains and bare chest, visually represented soul music in its premier Black Macho image, then Jerry Wexler, son of Polish immigrants born Jan. 10, 1917, has to represent Blue-Eyed Soul at its finest, so masterful and devoted was his feel and love for black music, and his nurturing of talents such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Solomon Burke, Ruth Brown and Wilson Pickett.

As partner with another legendary record producer, Ahmet Ertegun, at Atlantic Records from 1953 to 1967, he was integral in defining the contemporary blues, R&B, rock 'n' roll and soul music that are revered worldwide as a truly classic African American art form. (And perhaps post-World War II U.S.'s only redeeming grace.)

Wexler also worked seminally with white artists as well, notably Dusty Springfield, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Carlos Santana and many others. Many of the best of pop recordings made in the 1950s through the 1980s have Jerry Wexler's imprint on them.

He produced Bob Dylan's Grammy-award-winning album Slow Train Coming, and also the Grammy-winning album for Aretha Franklin, Amazing Grace. At the beginning of his stint at Atlantic, Wexler produced Ruth Brown's "Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean," not only one of the best-selling R&B records of all time, but also a hit that saved the financial day for fledgling Atlantic.

As a producer also with Stax, Jerry Wexler teamed up a young Wilson Pickett with guitarist Steve Cropper to create "In the Midnight Hour," a defining moment in the then-emerging sound of soul music. He was instrumental in hooking up Aretha Franklin with the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section at the Muscle Shoals, Alabama recording studio, where some of the greatest records of rock and pop have been produced.

In these, Wexler showed not only his uncanny knack for knowing good sounds, but also his color-blindness, having the savvy to link up crucial black-and-white talents that put the music first. (Just as a note here: Steve Cropper and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section are white, as is soul bassist Duck Dunn and several others among the best musicians in soul music.)

Wexler also contributed vitally to the vocabulary of modern-day popular music as well. In 1949, as a young editor at Billboard, Wexler coined the term "Rhythm and Blues" as the title for the best-seller list of black artist recordings, replacing its former title of "Race Records." He also wrote an unusually candid autobiography (co-written with David Ritz) in 1993, Rhythm and the Blues, admitting to extramarital affairs, distant relationships with his children, and extensive drug use. In 1987 Jerry Wexler was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

So yes, "The Sky Is Crying" at the loss of Isaac Blues and Jerry Wexler. But the vital legacies they leave behind also inform us that "The Blues Is Alright" indeed -- because people like Isaac Hayes and Jerry Wexler always find their home in it.

Call for info on regional blues, creative rock music scenes

As part of my self-defined duties as author of "Blues and More," I want to cover as many as I can of the various blues and creative rock music scenes in Indiana and neighboring areas. But I'm geographically located in Indianapolis, so don't often have the info I need. So please, help me out and let me know what's going on in those areas where The Bloomington Alternative reaches, so I can be as inclusive in my coverage as I want to be. Please e-mail me.

George Fish can be reached at georgefish666@yahoo.com.