The drive into the DoG office was punctuated this morning by the sad news of Isaac Hayes’ death. Destined to be known by many as the voice of South Park’s soulful Chef, he was also a Stax records recording star and a prodigiously talented composer, arranger and producer.
If there is any justice in the world, his wonderful soundtrack to the film Shaft – which shifted effortlessly from era-defining super-tight Funk, to the smoothest of lounge jazz – should always be considered his finest hour; though his composition credits for Stax are equally impressive. These include collaborations with David Porter on soul staples Soul Man and Hold On, I’m Comin’, both made into massive hits by Sam & Dave, amongst many others – and his central role in the success of the Stax roster through the mid-60s cannot be underestimated.
After an acrimonious end to his relationship with Stax, which resulted in severe financial problems, Hayes began appearing in films and TV shows – including The Rockford Files, The A-Team and Miami Vice and blacksploitation parody I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. Prior to Chef, however, his most notable role was undoubtedly that of The Duke of New York – replete with chandeliered pimp-mobile Cadillac – in John Carpenter’s sci-fi tour-de-force, Escape From New York – a film well-loved around these parts. Then came Chef.
I cannot begin to tell you how important Isaac Hayes’ voice was to my love-affair with South Park, the jaw dropping surprise at hearing his unmistakeable tones during Cartman Gets An Anal Probe was enough to hook me instantly to this weird new animated show – and when he first sang, well, that was it (‘I just wanna dingle your ling, and fa-la-la your la’… still makes me laugh, even now).
Responsible for many of the show’s funniest moments, best musical interludes and – of course – Chocolate Salty Balls, it was a real shame that he left the show under acrimonious circumstances following the scientology-bashing Trapped In The Closet episode (the one where Tom Cruise refuses to leave Stan’s bedroom wardrobe). It was also a move that seemed totally out of character considering he was a man more than happy to parody himself and his oeuvre mercilessly throughout the show; however, he stuck to his guns and left the show virtually immediately – never to return, save for being lampooned himself through the use of old voice clips in the episode Chef Returns, as Trey Stone and Matt Parker told their side of the spat.
I, however, will always remember seeing Isaac Hayes and his Orchestra, reel off classic after classic during a 45-minute Glastonbury appearance that was like watching a masterclass in entertainment… It was followed by the main man himself stepping out alone for an encore, greeting us with a hearty ‘Hello Children’, and launching into a solo rendition of Chef’s opus that caused many a beer (and some other recreational substances) to be raised in his honour. As, I’m sure, they will be today… And quite rightly so.