Tue. Oct. 19, 2021

Isaac Hayes: I can’t turn around!

Isaac HayesI couldn’t forget about the very first time I got to hear ‘Branded’ back in 1995. An album which would mark the awaited return of Soul icon Isaac Hayes after a 7 year hiatus. Opening on an awesome cover version of Sting‘s famous ‘Fragile’. Enough reasons for me to make sure I would meet him for an interview. Then eventually license the aforementioned on the volume 2 of my ‘Groovetown’ compilation for BMG the year after…


7 years of silence on the recording front. 7 years between the release of Isaac Hayes‘s ‘Love Attack’ on Columbia back in 1988 and the one of its follow-up – ‘Branded’ – on Virgin via Pointblank… Something that would definitely sound unthinkable for nowadays’s actors. With artists most likely taken into the obligation of constantly putting out new material. Therefore in an environment where it feels like it’s the last one who’s talked who stands at the top of the pile! But obviously not for Ike. Ass he would explain me, enjoying the quietness of some luxurious hotel in the West of London…

I couldn’t help myself feeling a delicious tension growing along the way. Thinking at the perspective of meeting a man who got me addicted to Black Music at an early age… From the jazzy wah-wahish theme from ‘Shaft’ to the sizzlin’ hot ‘Moonlight Lovin” (equally known as ‘Ménage à trois’). But also the magnetic ‘I Can’t Turn Around’. A song which would give birth to the early House Music anthem of the likes courtesy of Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley with Keith Nunnally on vocals). Not to mention the frantic ‘Disco Connection’ to name but a (very) few!

“Listen! It’s a heartbeat. It could be yours, could be mine. It could be the heartbeat of a child, it could be the heartbeat of a whale, a dolphin. Could be the heartbeat of the rainforest, our ecological system. If that heartbeat stops, then we cease to exist…”

“Doin’ music for the sake of doin’ music has never been my thing”, he started on his instantly recognizable voice tone. “But more coming from a need to express things at a moment of another! I’ve been around for quite some time. I suppose my music must have been seen as ahead of its time by many. Judging by the impact it had on the crowd as on the ones who’ve sampled it. So rather than compromising with my beliefs and risking to ruin my artistic integrity, I focused on movies until this meeting I had with John Wheeler of Pointblank Records back in 1993. He obviously had the right words to get me back on tracks, if I may say so. He came at me and said: ‘What you gotta do is just be Ike. There’s a market, referring to the ones who’ve been copying your style…’

This is just how he got me signing and go to the studio without any kind of apprehension…” That said, seeing him coming up with a rendition of Sting‘s ‘Fragile’ – one of the former Police frontman’s signature songs, dedicated to the memory of US civil engineer Ben Linder who got killed by the Contras back in 1987 – may not have been seen as the most original ideas one could think of. Even though the exercise hadd been a part of what he accustomed us with along with time…

“That’s typical of me”, he confirmed. “Ever since the days of ‘Walk On By’ (from his 1969 ‘Hot Buttered Soul’ album on Enterprise), I’ve been known for covers. I love putting myself deep into someone else’s song until it starts getting good to me. I love the challenge in itself. When I first heard the song, it got me into a state of deep emotion. I mean it’s like one of these statements that needs to reach the whole world. Get the TV/the radio on and you’ll hear of destructive actions every day. Be it in regards to human/animal/plant life, and this affects the planet in a whole bunch of negative ways. So I decided to give it my own rendition. In a way people wouldn’t have the feeling they’re not preached to. In other words do it in Ike’s way…”

This resulting in not one cut, but four cuts into one. Unless a cut in four acts. With ‘Ike’s Plea’ as an opening rap from Hayes about saving the Earth performed over a heartbeat morphing into a Bossa Nova-influenced rhythm – ‘Life’s Mood’ – introducing to the song itself, followed by an outro (‘Life’s Mood’). All in all, a 14 minute captivating Soul opera…

“I put this rap first over a heartbeat to get people’s attention”, he said. “Then I’ve layered and built the music with a progressive construction conceived with what had to provide the necessary emphasis to lead to the song itself. Finishin’ it up with an extra surprise with the children I managed to get at the end. They are from Memphis where I recorded the whole album. Meawnhile following the advice of a great man who said: ‘In order to repeat a successful action, one’s got to reproduce the steps that initiated it’.

Bringing the kids to sing on the track was to me an extra way to measure its impact on a young audience. I eventually asked them what ‘Fragile’ meant to them. One said: ‘Something delicate’, another: ‘Something easily broken’. My goal was to really take the message to a universal level. To point out that fragility applies not only to Yugoslavia, but the very planet we occupy. I wanted to break it down to day-to-day reality. For me ‘fragile’ is a very righteous word”. Sounding like an echo to Jamiroquai‘s classic ‘Emergency On Planet Earth’ released 2 years before…

“What I like about live musicians is that they have that thing you can’t get with machines. With live musicians, you interact via the language of music while feeding off each other. With real surpassing all the incidents you may encounter while playing. Not to mention the fact that these same incidents may at times lead to new sounds, new ideas…”

Nothing as a matter of fact, but the proper of music which, like any other reputedly living language, is to redefine itself along with time…

(Excerpts of an interview published back in May 1995)

Chosen few
Hot Buttered Soul (Enterprise) – Isaac Hayes
Black Moses (Enterprise) – Isaac Hayes
Shaft (Enterprise) – Isaac Hayes
Joy (Enterprise) – Isaac Hayes
Disco Connection (HBS / ABC Records) – Isaac Hayes Movement
New Horizon (Polydor) – Isaac Hayes
Don’t Let Go (Polydor) – Isaac Hayes
U-Turn (CBS) – Isaac Hayes
Branded (Pointblank) – Isaac Hayes

Interview: Isaac Hayes

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