Isaac Hayes' legacy embraced in new music
SUNDAY’S DEATH of Isaac Hayes comes at a time when the soul music he created in the 1960s is enjoying a bit of a revival, not just through historical releases but in the creation of new music.
The resurgence is full of tunes reminiscent of the gritty, no-nonsense numbers Hayes penned with David Porter and Steve Cropper, the “real deal” recordings that formed the backbone of Stax Records, home to Otis Redding, Booker T. and the M.G.’ s and Sam & Dave.
Both new acts and veterans are filling the pipeline. Most importantly, the music is not lingering in a specialty corner where only the cognoscenti or old fans know to look; soul music, whether it is being created anew or reissued, is being positioned as modern and hip, a statement that there’s more to soul than Motown — and for the first time in decades that notion is starting to take hold.
Witness the summer bookings of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, a Brooklyn act whose originals connect with the spirit of Southern soul shacks of 1967 and ‘68. Since delivering a blistering set at Coachella in April, they have been performing almost exclusively at alternative music festivals, including this past weekend’s All Points West festival in northern New Jersey that was headlined by Radiohead and Jack Johnson.
That strategy, putting funk-oriented music in front of indie-rock fans, is paying off the way the Fat Possum blues label put R.L. Burnside in front of punk crowds in the 1990s. The Dynamites featuring Charles Walker, a boisterous funk band from Nashville whose debut “Kaboom” was just released by Outta Sight Records, would be wise to follow that tack, too.
VETERANS, TOO, are back at work as well.
Stax, the restarted by Concord last year, has brought a couple of its artists from the ‘60s back into the fold. Eddie Floyd , 73, (“Knock on Wood”) released late last month “Eddie Loves You So,” his first album of substance in 34 years; guitarist Cropper, 66, has partnered with former Rascals frontman Felix Cavaliere for “Nudge it Up a Notch,” a collection of Cropper originals inspired by Philadelphia soul of the ‘70s.
Add to that Solomon Burke’s “Like a Fire,” issued in June by Shout Factory, a return to the folk-soul of his superb “Don’t Give Up On Me”; George Clinton’s Sept. 16 Shanachie release “And His Gangsters of Love,” a guest-laden party of a record highlighted by a slow groove rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar”; and Charles Wright’s self-released ebullient return to recording, “Finally Got it Wright Remix.”
ALL OF THESE RECORDS have their flaws — some tentative singing, some substandard material, musicianship that could have used another take — but they share the intensity that Hayes’ material brought out in other performers four decades ago. We don’t hear it often enough in modern day R&B — Ryan Shaw’s “45” was a notable exception last year — and part of soul’s rejuvenation has a debut to recent British pop.
Brit singers Amy Winehouse and Joss Stone introduced young American audiences to a sound rooted in the southern U.S. in the early ‘70s; they have been followed by Duffy, whose music is more groomed and manicured, and Adele, who brings folk elements to her soulful purr. It’s no different than the Rolling Stones and the Animals selling the blues and R&B back to Americans in the early 1960s, making fashionable music that was out-of-date for the masses.
Soul music ostensibly died at the end of the 1970s, which mystified those of us who came of age listening to AM radio in the 1960s and free-form FM prior to the country’s bicentennial. There’s a naturalness in soul music that exists in few other forms of pop music and when an Otis Redding reissue in 2008 can get rave reviews from critics of all ages, it reaffirms the belief that the Stax sound is timeless and in need of sustenance.
Hayes helped with the celebrations of the last few years leading up to the 50th anniversary of the founding of Stax, helping to put a recognizable face on the machine behind records by the likes of Redding and Sam & Dave. There was a lot more to the man than “Shaft” and Chef, and by the mere fact that Southern soul is being revived, tribute is being paid.