I was watching the Olympic swimming trials, when the news flashed that Isaac Hayes had died. Getting to see him as his career skyrocketed has always been a cherished childhood memory for many kids like me, who grew up in south Memphis. He was our attainable icon, a living, breathing example of life's possibilities.
Recently, I produced a play entitled Ride On! How Stax Records Influenced Our Dreams, that uses many of these memories. Built around a teenage cast, the most gratifying aspect of doing it was watching the teenagers in the cast and crew learn about the importance of the city's music culture. I'll never forget the afternoon we all went to the Stax museum. These kids had no idea that Memphis had been "so poppin'!"
I was a bit luckier than most. My mother worked in a beauty shop called Ethel's that was on the same block as Stax. There was Jack's grocery store, the beauty shop, Stax Recording, and the Satellite all lined up, making one safe, beautiful world for the kids in the neighborhood.
Back then, Isaac was just one of the many guys filtering through, trying to meet one of the ladies getting pretty or bumming change to go get a hot dog at the Satellite Cafe. Except for Rufus Thomas -- whom no one who spent more than 30 seconds with him could ever forget -- I was too young to remember all of the stars first-hand, but the stories have been part of my family's folklore around the dinner table since I was a small child.
One day, Isaac's writing partner, David Porter, came in and grabbed a couple of customers, my sister Carolyn among them, to come and sing on a record they were making. The song was the Bar Kays hit, "Soulfinger."
Not long after, Stax bought out the whole block. Miss Ethel moved her shop to Glenview, so Moms and her best friend bought their own shop across the street at McLemore and College.
A lot of the Stax guys still came in and got their hair done, bringing over new records, and sometimes even tickets to shows. I remember my mother calling home on the day Otis Redding's plane crashed. My sister Linda didn't go to school that day; probably like a lot of kids across the city.
And then the coolest thing in the world happened: Isaac's release of the album Hot, Buttered Soul made him a superstar. Then he wrote the soundtrack for the movie Shaft and won an Academy Award!
Right after that, he bought his solid gold Cadillac Eldorado. But even after becoming the biggest thing in Memphis since Elvis, Hayes bought a house in Longview Heights at Frank and Lauderdale Street. Even cooler for us kids, he kept about half-a-dozen of the latest cars parked on the street in front, and we'd see them every morning on the way to school.
After school, it was a regular deal to see him out in his yard playing with his kids or throwing the football around with some of the older fellas -- while dressed in rainbow pants, leather outfits, and monkey-fur boots. It was the best thing in the world. And seeing him on such a regular basis in our neighborhood let us know that whatever we dreamed of, we could achieve.
Godspeed, Mr. Hayes. We'll miss you. And thanks.
-- Tony Jones