Soul man Isaac Hayes’ years with Stax Records are collected on the new double-disc set “Ultimate Isaac Hayes: Can You Dig It?,” released last week. Assembled and annotated by Stax biographer Rob Bowman, the album covers Hayes’ prolific period at Stax from 1969 through 1975, which produced “Hot Buttered Soul,” “Black Moses” and the “Shaft” soundtrack and foreshadowed the rise of symphonic soul, funk and disco.
The set’s unreleased material includes three tracks from Hayes’ show-closing performance at the Jesse Jackson-led PUSH EXPO in Chicago in 1972: “Brand New Me,” “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want To Be Right)” and the traditional hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”
A bonus DVD included with the album collects performances of “Rolling Down a Mountainside,” “Theme from ‘Shaft'” and “Soulsville” from the 1972 Wattstax festival in Los Angeles, as well as a historically out-of-place but impossible-to-ignore video of the Hayes-voiced Chef performing “Chocolate Salty Balls” from “South Park.”
But despite its far-reaching influence, Hayes demurs that, 30-plus years on, the music still “resonates” with fans. “[Audiences] still find it interesting,” he tells Billboard.com from his home in Memphis. “Sometimes hip-hoppers like it and think it as something to sample.” Indeed, next to James Brown, Hayes is one of producers’ favorite targets when it comes to sampling. Not that he minds.
“I remember ‘Mind Playin’ Tricks on Me’ by the Geto Boys [which samples Hayes’ “Hung Up on My Baby”] — that was a biggie for them,” he says. “I liked the tracks by Dr. Dre, Erykah Badu and Ashanti. And it goes way, way back. Big Daddy Kane told me, ‘Brace yourself — they’re gonna hit your stuff real hard.’ They did. They’re still hitting it!”
Hayes says he’s started “putting together” a smattering of new music with drummer Steve Jordan, but hasn’t had much chance to consider getting back in the studio. Right now, he’s content to sit back and let “Can You Dig It” take center stage musically for a while. “It’s a chance to bring all this stuff home,” he notes.
He remains busy with his Music-Food-Passion restaurants, based in his hometown of Memphis. And though Hayes no longer hosts his KISS-FM radio show in New York (“I miss it,” he says, “We had a lot of fun”), he’s still on the air in Memphis. “Mine is an evening show, so I kind of mellow out a bit and play a lot of old things,” he says.
Moreover, Comedy Central has just renewed “South Park” for three more seasons, meaning Hayes and Chef will be around until 2008. Hayes admits with a chuckle that if anyone had told him when he signed his contract that the show would reach this far, he’d “have said you were crazy.”
“I thought this would last maybe six weeks, I’d make a little easy money,” he says. “Ten years later — hello!”