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Weekend Chat

The Many Lives of Isaac Hayes

He's a DJ, a chef, a 'South Park' regular, a king and--oh yeah--a formidable songwriter.

March 01, 2001|RANDY LEWIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Isaac Hayes might be forgiven for being slow to return to the recording studio. It's been six years since his last album of new material, "Raw and Refined," and he's been talking for a good two years now about making what he describes as a "classic R&B-soul" album.

Simply put, there's no time. Since 1996, the veteran singer, songwriter, producer and sometime actor has been busy five mornings a week hosting a radio show in New York, and last August, he started taping another show that airs every weeknight on a Memphis, Tenn., station.

Fortunately, his DJ duties don't intrude on his ability to provide the voice for the ultra-cool Chef on Comedy Central's "South Park" series, which he considers all play, no work. He's living that role outside "South Park" with his recently published cookbook ("Cooking With Heart & Soul," Putnam). He even has a line of barbecue sauces due to hit stores later this year.

When his contract with WRKS-FM in New York ends next year, Hayes, 58, says he'll delve into the musical projects he's had on the back burner. Until then, fans will have to wait a bit longer for new music from the man who wrote and produced dozens of Stax Records hits for '60s soul acts, including practically all of the classic R&B hits for Sam & Dave, before launching a successful solo career that peaked with his 1971 "Shaft" soundtrack.

Hayes works in a few concerts each year--usually quick weekend trips such as the one that brings him to the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Friday.

Question: What did you think of the remake of "Shaft"?

Answer: It was good, although it couldn't have the impact of the original, which was the first of its kind [a blaxploitation film that became a mainstream hit]. Sam Jackson did a great job. Musically, I didn't have the chance at the time to do the score, but I did record the theme again.

Q: With the "Shaft" theme in the public ear once again, did it open up opportunities for you to get back into film scoring?

A: I got a lot of offers, but I couldn't take them because I was already tied up with these other obligations. All that stuff takes time. Once I free myself of this albatross, then I can dedicate the time. But I don't want to sound negative, this radio show has served me well.

Q: Those R&B records in the '60s you wrote and produced were very compact, catchy songs, but when you started making your own albums, your music became much more atmospheric and expansive--was that a big shift for you?

A: That's where I was all along, when I was playing music just for me and myself. But I had to make the dollar, and Sam & Dave created a lot of money for Dave [Porter, his then-songwriting partner] and me. I gained a lot of experience doing that stuff, so when the time came for me to do my own thing, hey, I was ready.

Q: As one of the architects of '60s and '70s R&B and soul, what's your take on today's R&B?

A: Kids are moving in other directions, but I think they should look back at that [earlier music] and capture more of that in their music. A lot of the songs today don't have the depth those songs had at the time, they don't have the quality of the communication those other songs did. . . . Back in the '60s and '70s and some parts of the '80s, when you heard a record, you knew right away who it was. A lot of the records now sound so much alike.

Q: Did "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone know about your interest in culinary arts when they asked you to do Chef?

A: I was doing that long before "South Park," but I don't think they knew about that. Since I was a kid, I've been trying my hand at culinary things. But with the added benefit of "South Park," that's when somebody suggested I do a cookbook. At first I said "No, I don't have the time." But more and more people kept asking me, so I finally broke down and did it. I've also got the new barbecue sauces. They should hit the market around early summer, and some of the proceeds are going to the Isaac Hayes Foundation.

Q: You've been very active in charity work over the years, and your foundation recently built a school in Ghana. What's that like?

A: I've been wanting to do that for a long time, and it finally came to fruition. I'm just thrilled about it. The classrooms have Internet access and computer technology. We also teach people how to read and write--I'm an international spokesperson for the World Literacy Crusade. We're also making sure they know about the whole AIDS epidemic. We got to tackle that sucker, so we're teaching health awareness at my school.

Q: They even made you a king--is that an honorary title?

A: No, that's the real deal--they made me a real king. That was in 1992, before we opened the school.

Q: Even though notions of what's cool are constantly evolving, Isaac Hayes has been the personification of cool for more than 30 years--why?

A: I don't know--I've just gotten to a place where I'm very comfortable with myself and who I am, and if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I don't have to prove anything to anybody. I know how to satisfy the fans, know what they expect of me and I try to be real with them.

* Isaac Hayes, Friday at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 15700 Center Court Drive. 8 p.m. $45 to $55. (800) 300-4345.

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