R&B, Blues, Soul & Stax

VOICES Notes and news on R&B, Blues, Soul & Stax releases

Just Talkin' About Shaft

04 APR 11 ANNE FARNSWORTH

Isaac Hayes was the main creative force behind Stax's golden era. He and his writing partner, David Porter, were responsible for some of the label's greatest Soul and R&B hits. A gifted producer as well, in the '70s he branched out into the world of Blaxploitation movie soundtracks, a fertile musical scene that included some of the greatest American artists working at the time. In 1999, Stax reissued his seminal soundtrack, Shaft [Deluxe Edition], remastered and including bonus material.

Shaft was a $12 million crossover smash and Hayes' funkified score certainly contributed to its success. Shaft is a hero in the Gary Cooper mode, the lone righteous man fighting a sea of depravity and Hayes description of him as the "bad mother..." "who won't cop out" was spot on.

The soundtrack charted for 60 straight weeks and won Hayes a Grammy, an Oscar and a Golden Globe. The title song gave Richard Roundtree's John Shaft even more sex appeal, as if that were possible, with the insistent pulse of the guitar's wah-wah pedal beating like an over-stimulated heart. For better or worse, the opening high-hat groove that accompanies the guitar for over 2 minutes before the vocals begin may have single-handedly created the disco era.

Hayes' score is also notable in its variety. Sophisticated Quincy Jones-style big band cuts mix with tracks of soulful organ trio and hopped-up funk. The renowned jazz trombonist J.J. Johnson, who played on Miles Davis' Birth Of The Cool, arranged and orchestrated the music. This blending of styles and musicians, disparate yet claim to the same parentage is typical of black culture's more ecumenical attitude toward different music genres.