ISAAC HAYES: I’M AN HONORARY KING
L.A. RECORD‘s Rena Kosnett interviewed Isaac Hayes last week in preparation for his performance later this month at Sunset Junction. We were saddened today to learn of his passing in Memphis. As far as we know, this is his final interview.
Rolling Stone named ‘Soul Man’ as one of the 500 greatest songs of all time. Do you think most people realize you and David Porter wrote that song?
Maybe, maybe not. Some people, they don’t connect it—they think it was Sam and Dave, because they made it well known.
You said previously that you wrote it in response to the the 12th Street Riots in Detroit—about ‘man’s struggle to rise above his present conditions’?
Yeah because, you know, the riots were going on and we were watching it happen on TV, and we saw that they had written on the walls of the black-owned stores ‘Soul Man.’ And I said, ‘“Soul Man,” that’s a good title.’ At that time in the ‘60s, there was all kindsa crazy stuff goin’ on. That’s why I wrote it, you know.
The Sunset Junction festival started as a way to bring the Latino community and gay community together in East L.A. after several instances of violence. Would you consider writing a ‘Soul Man’ type of song for the gay and Latino struggles?
Oh, um, I’m workin’ on that one. [laughing] I’ve been working on my new album. I’ll just tell you what, though—this new album that’s coming out, it’s good. It’s probably coming out next year.
Is it all new material?
Maybe some, and some is redone.
Lemme see. Maybe a song by the name of [breaking into a serenade] ‘Tonight’s the night, the tiiiime is right, the things I’ve waited for so long…’
That tune is good.
Many credit the musical influence you and David Porter had on Stax with saving the label, but some think your leaving almost killed them. Do you think these are fair judgments?
At that time, maybe so. At Stax, there were many things happening then—many struggles and complications. But my new album is coming out on Stax, so I’m still working good with them.
I read in Peter Guralnick’s book Sweet Soul Music that David Porter tried to sell you life insurance when you first met him. Did you buy any?
I didn’t buy any insurance, but he did try to sell me some. He gave me a good deal. I met David long before I started at Stax. I was singing with a group called the Del Reels, and he sang with the King Tones. And we both played for a talent contest in Memphis.
I won it one week and then he won it the next week, and we started working together after that.
Do you remember what song you sang in the talent contest?
I think it was ‘Looking Back,’ by Nat King Cole.
Your first Stax session was playing keyboard for Otis Redding. Was it an easy process to develop songs with him?
Well, Otis had a way of doing things—he would write the songs at the same time he was singing them. He would start going [breaking into song and imitating Otis Redding] ‘Na na na na, you got to, got to got to…’ and he was writing the songs at the same time. With me and David… there was an understanding we had between us. With ‘Soul Man,’ he said, ‘Look, man, let’s just do it.’ He said, ‘Let’s write something.’ And we did. That’s just how it worked.
Do you have a favorite Burt Bacharach tune?
I did a lot of songs by Bacharach and Hal David. ‘Walk On By’ was a good one. And ‘The Windows of the World.’
Most of the early Stax records were produced communally. Was it a big transition at the label to start thinking about music as a product?
When we started getting credit for the things we did, I thought that was good, because the songs had a lot of personal meaning. Now, they’re just rapping and all that stuff…
You don’t like current hip-hop music?
I like Alicia Keyes. Mary J. Blige.
You like the ladies.
Well, yeeeah. Anthony Hamilton is also good. I like him too.
Who should really be called ‘Black Moses’: you, Harriet Tubman, or Marcus Garvey? There can’t be three, can there?
I got my name as ‘Black Moses’ from Dino Woodward, a pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York [and one-time Stax executive]. He called me Moses, and I said, ‘Hey, that’s sacrilegious, baby!’ But he just kept up with it, so I was like, ‘OK, I get it.’ I finally gave in.
For the cover photo of Juicy Fruit, did you and the six ladies go home after the shoot or did you stay in the pool and make fruit salad?
Those ladies split.
They didn’t stay and hang with you?
You know… [starts singing lines from ‘Juicy Fruit’] ‘Watching girls come and go, juicy fruit, jump suit…’ It was cool, but you know, they went home.
Did Barry White, may he rest in peace, ever thank you for giving him a career?
No. No, he didn’t thank me. We did an album together, though, because they wanted to call us the ‘Deep Throat Brothers.’
Does anyone understand you ‘cept your woman?
Just my woman. My fourth wife, Adjowa. The kids are something else—that’s a different kind of understanding.
What kind of special treatment do you receive when you visit Ghana?
In Ghana, I’m an honorary king there. They have a big parade. They feed me all kinds of good stuff. They gave me my own island! It takes about an hour to circumnavigate it. Don’t know what I want to call it yet. I was last there about two years ago.
Have you ever dated a Jewish girl?
Yeah, I’ve dated all kinds of girls.
Of course you have. I’m a Jewish girl.
Do you think if I went black I’d ever go back?
There were no complaints from my Jewish girls. So from my perspective, you wouldn’t be goin’ back. No way.