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Issac Hayes, Shaft

11-03-2018 | By Claude Lemaire | Issue 100

Issac Hayes Shaft


Global Appreciation: 9.5
- Music: A
- Recording: 9.5
- Mastering: 9.5 - Lacquer Cutting: 9.5
- Pressing: 9.5
- Packaging: fairly good gatefold + poly-lined paper inner sleaves

Category: Memphis soul, funk, protodisco, soul-jazz, Blaxploitation soundtrack style. Format: Vinyl (2x 130 to 150 gram approx. LPs at 33 1/3 rpm)


  • Composed and Produced by Isaac Hayes
  • Arranged by Johnny Allen and Isaac Hayes
  • Piano, Vibraphone, Organ, Electric Piano: Isaac Hayes
  • Bass: Ronald Hudson (on track 5)
  • Bass Guitar: James Alexander
  • Bongos, Congas: Gary Jones
  • Drums, Tambourine: Willie Hall
  • Electric Piano: Lester Snell
  • Lead Guitar: Charles Pitts
  • Rhythm Guitar: Michael Toles
  • Piano: Sidney Kirk (track: A5)
  • Rhythm Section: The Bar-Kays, The Movement
  • Strings, Horns: The Memphis Strings & Horns
  • Lead Trumpet: Richard "Johnny" Davis
  • Flute: John Fonville
  • Engineered by Bobby Manuel, Dave Purple, Henry Bush, and William Brown
  • Remixed by Dave Purple and Ron Capone
  • Recorded at Stax Recording Studios, Memphis Tennessee, USA, 1971
  • Lacquers cut and pressed by Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft in Germany
  • Art Direction: The Graffiteria
  • Cover, Design by Tony Seiniger
  • Creative Director: Larry Shaw

Enterprise – ENS-2-5002, Stax – 2628 001 (Ger.) (1971, Aug.)

"You see this cat Shaft is a bad mother shut your mouth But I'm talking about Shaft, Can ya dig it?"

By age ten, I was madly in love with music, listening to the burgeoning sounds of disco and pop playing on the AM dial, but it was only a couple years later visiting relatives, that I discovered the "Theme from Shaft" taken from a compilation album from my cousin's collection. Fascinated by this funkier groove, this musical venture was soon followed by cover versions of Barrabas' "Hi-Jack" and AWB's "Pick Up the Pieces" found on Herbie Mann's 1975 LP Discothèque [Atlantic SD 1670]. 

For these reasons, and many more, Shaft holds a special place in my vinyl collection...

Producer Joel Freeman and pioneer filmmaker Gordon Parks directed the MGM movie that starred newcomer Richard Roundtree in the lead role, which along with Melvin Van Peeples' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song just a few months earlier, heralded a revolution in black cinema.

Known as a producer, session musician, and in-house songwriter for the Stax/Volt Memphis sound—a rawer grittier soul than Detroit's Motown Sound—the iconic Isaac Hayes was a key player behind such gems as Sam & Dave's two biggest hits—"Hold On , I'm Comin'" [Stax SD 708] and "Soul Man" [Stax SD 725]—before venturing out in front of the curtains.

Beginning in late 1967, he had four albums—first with Presenting Isaac Hayes [Enterprise S13-100]; then Hot Buttered Soul [Enterprise ENS-1001 or MoFi MFSL 1-273] in '69; The Isaac Hayes Movement [Enterprise ENS-1010]; and ...To Be Continued [Enterprise ENS-1014] both in 1970—prior to the release of his monumental blaxploitation soundtrack, setting the score for several seventies action-crime cop films to follow: Curtis Mayfield's Super Fly [Curtom CRS-8014-ST]; Marvin Gaye's Trouble Man [Tamla T 322L]; and Bobby Womack, J.J. Johnson's Across 110th Street [United Artists UAS-5225] in 1972; James Brown's Black Caesar [Polydor PD 6014] and Slaughter's Big Rip-Off [Polydor PD 6015] in 1973; while Hayes himself would score, as well as star, in Tough Guys [Enterprise ENS-7504]; and Truck Turner [Enterprise ENS-2-7507] in 1974.

Just as "Twist and Shout" in the early sixties ushered in the buoyant British Invasion along with Beatlemania, so did Shaft signal the shift towards a new decade of decadence, dancefloors, and discomania. Hayes and Johnny Allen's original orchestration and arrangements slowly builds up the track layer upon layer; what distinguishes it from previous soul or funk compositions is its rather lengthy 2'40" instrumental intro, featuring Stax stalwarts The Bar-Kays with Willie Hall's 16th note hi-hat grooves and Charles Pitt's distinctive wah-wah guitar; in addition to keyboards, flute, brass, and strings contributing to the rich harmonic tapestry. All this contributes to a musical foreplay leading up to the legato love-making before the final exciting climax.

That quintessential rhythmic pattern can be traced back to Motown producer Norman Withfield working with The Temptations, first with the psychedelic soul single "Cloud Nine" in October 1968 followed a few months later by "Run Away Child, Running Wild"—both featured on 1969's Cloud Nine [Gordy GS939]—as well as to Tony Williams' mesmerizing groove on Miles Davis' 1969 exploratory In a Silent Way [Columbia CS9875 or MoFi MFSL 1-377]. With its dynamic staccato finale, there is little time remaining for the minimally sung middle part—all of which further contrasts with your typical verse-chorus form hit. Regarding Ike's vocals, his deep rich tone would have a lasting influence on Barry White, in addition to the sensual sultry strings of his symphonic soul. As such, this song structure would be liberally employed in subsequent soul and disco tracks throughout the 1970s; most notably on Rhythm Heritage's 1975 "Theme from S.W.A.T." [ABC Records ABC-12135], Crown Heights Affair's 1976 "Dancin'" [De-Lite DSD 588], Cerrone's late-1976 Euro disco debut "Love in C Minor" [Alligator J 1611] (see entry #46), and the latter-inspired "Touch me, Take me" by The Black Light Orchestra [RCA Victor KPN1-0205] in early 1977. Reciprocally in 1978, a discofied quasi-instrumental extented version by the composer simply titled "Shaft II" was included on For the Sake of Love [Polydor PD-1-6164].

Released in August 1971, the gatefold cover designed double-album was superbly recorded at Stax Recording Studios in Memphis, Tennessee—in all likelihood on Scully recorders through a 16-track Audiotronics console. Engineered by Bobby Manuel, Dave Purple, Henry Bush, and William Brown, with Purple and Ron Capone put in charge of re-mixing—justifiably earning them awards at the 1972 Grammy's for Best Engineered Recording and Best Instrumental Arrangement while Hayes won an Oscar for Best Original Song at the 44th Annual Academy Awards.

My copy is the earliest Stax first pressing, lacquer cut and pressed by Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft in Germany. The tonal balance is spot on with just the right amount of warmth, definition, and dynamics, tending to be a tad sharper in the top end than the typical early 1970's fat and sometimes softer sound.

I did not have an original U.S. Enterprise pressing to compare with but based on many comments found on forums, there seems to be strong consensus that the German pressing is indeed quite superior to the U.S. pressing. Take note that the other tracks do not share the same Shaft style, and run the gamut from lighter soul-jazz to the heaviest hard funk of the final track—the nearly twenty minute "Do Your Thing", which really stands out from the pack. If you don't care to collect all of the tracks, you can get the three most important songs of the soundtrack on the 2003 audiophile 12-inch single titled Hits From Shaft [Analogue Productions APP 88002-45], remastered and cut at 45 rpm by Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman.

As one might expect from the latter team, it sounds wonderful, warm, well balanced, and is strongly recommended. That said, when compared head to head with my old—yet Mint–33 1/3 rpm German LP pressing, the latter surprisingly surpasses the newer 45rpm 12-inch single in top end transparency and directness, making it in the end my favored choice to own and listen to.

Following the MGM theatrical release, the soundtrack, and throughout the 1970s, Hayes would go on to release many soul-funky-disco-imbued albums—but was never able to equal, let alone surpass Shaft's success. So if you are limiting yourself to only one Isaac Hayes LP, look no further; for artistic and sonic merit, this is one bad mother you don't want do without.

Post review:

I have not heard the 2018 180g remastered Shaft [Craft Recordings CR300036] cut by Chris Noel at Los Angeles and Barcelona-based Elysian Masters, so I cannot comment on its sound, nor do I contemplate getting a copy, given that I already rate my above German pressing around 9.5 on 10, and my Analogue Productions 45rpm 12-inch single a close second at 9.3. I prefer acquiring (and comparing) remastered versions when an original pressing would better benefit from sonic improvements, or rate below 9.0. for example.

For more from Claude Lemaire go to his blog...