A Hot August Night in the Valley
Once upon a dream, in a galaxy far, far away, Isaac Hayes stood not as the vocal track for a silly cable TV cartoon sporting human stool as a character, but as the finest singer/songwriter/musician American music had to offer. Before establishing himself as a top solo draw, Hayes was instrumental in the composition of such soul and R&B classics as "Soul Man," "Hold On, I’m Comin’," and "When Something is Wrong with My Baby."
Once established as "Black Moses," Isaac Hayes composed and performed what is arguably the most dynamic, as well as the most unique and identifiable movie theme of the past 30 years: "The Theme to Shaft "... which is what Hayes chose to open his performance at Wattstax on August 20, 1972. Promoted as the "Black Woodstock," Wattstax was the brainchild of a young Forrest Hamilton, who saw the event as a part of a larger fund-raising mechanism to benefit the black community in Los Angeles. The recorded result became a film and a sprawling two double-LP set that included the highlights of the day’s festivities.
A 30 year old Isaac Hayes preformed for just over an hour. Seventeen minutes of his show made it to the soundtrack, the staggering medley of Bill Wither’s "Ain’t No Sunshine" and Ray Charles "Lonely Avenue," the two songs bisected by Hayes’ own searing alto saxophone solo. Characteristic of Isaac Hayes performances of the period, his ruminations are divided between vocal and instrumental expression. He sings no verses here of either song, and only the final chorus of "...Sunshine." But, like Hot Buttered Soul, the effect is one of expectation and release.
The performance begins boldly with "The Theme from Shaft, " the piece Hayes typically used to close his performances. The song takes off at a ragged clip, not pristine like the studio version but as a plea of urgency. The same can be said of his show-stopping "I Stand Accused." Clifton Davis’ "Never Can Stay Goodbye," a Hayes staple, is performed perfectly. These songs have aged very well, better than "Soulsville" (also from the Shaft soundtrack) and "Your Love is so Doggone Good."
Aside from the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s distracting introduction, this is an excellent addition to the Stax/Fantasy catalog as well as the collections of fans of Memphis soul and the Black Moses.