Isaac Hayes ‘Hot Buttered Soul’ Album Review

Backed by the inimitable Stax Records session group The Bar-Kays, Isaac Hayes’ second solo record was a simmering masterpiece of hot soul music.

I’m on my third copy of this album, a recording which is one I’ve treasured for more than 50 years, almost as long as I’ve known DHP, the lifelong friend who introduced me to the music of Isaac Hayes. There is no album in my library that more clearly defines a place, a time and a friendship. Music can do that.

A basement apartment on Kennedy Street in Winnipeg, a Sansui 15 watt per channel amplifier, a Dual turntable with Shure cartridge and some serviceable no-name speakers, all purchased from a Phil Silvers lookalike named Max. He was the chief salesman and fast-talking loan officer at the nearly reputable House of Stein on Portage Avenue. The system cost me nearly $500, with $100 down and the balance financed by friendly Max, through Household Finance Corporation at barely legal rates.

DHP and I lived together on Kennedy Street for a time, bonded by a love of music, a 1967 blue Dodge Dart which I’d sold him in a weak moment, and a disdain for fame and fortune. He was a musician on the side, and I was a writer of sorts. We supported ourselves with unmentionable corporate jobs and dated whoever deigned to go out with us. So we listened to a lot of records, from Fred Neil’s Little Bit of Rain to Herbie Mann’s Memphis Underground to Harvey Mandel’s Cristo Redentor. Substances may have been ingested and/or inhaled from time to time.

Hot Buttered Soul was unlike any other record we had ever heard. We knew that right away. There were only four songs on the forty-five minute album. “Walk On By”, a cover of a Hal David-Burt Bacharach-Dionne Warwick tune, clocked in at 12 minutes, and from the opening dream-like funk one stepped into a world deep, hot and soulful. The next tune “Hyperbolicsyallabicsesquedalymystic” seemed to be a dramatic depiction of sex, and it still plays that way today. “One Woman” was a five minute heartbreaker about infidelity, regret and desire. The album closer was almost 19 minutes long, and contained an introductory rap that rang so true the song itself was nearly an afterthought. Except that the song was by “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”, created by the masterful songwriter Jimmy Webb.

From start to finish this record is a simmering soulful masterpiece.

Hayes was previously known as a staff songwriter for Stax Records, and he was well acquainted with their main session band The Bar-Kays. When the Stax hit-maker Otis Redding died in a plane crash in 1967, so did several members of The Bar-Kays. Stax management felt that Isaac Hayes had potential as a replacement for Redding, and issued a Hayes solo album in 1968 that flopped badly. Hayes insisted he would record again only if he had complete creative control. The combination of Hayes’ vocal abilities and the reconstituted Bar-Kays proved to be a winning formula. Hot Buttered Soul made it to Number One on the R & B album charts in 1969.

Moreover, the soaring orchestral arrangements, supported by an innovative pre-delay reverb process gave the record a hypnotic, psychedelic feel that other artists soon adopted, including Marvin Gaye for What’s Going On. Then there’s the undeniable rap component, Isaac’s spontaneous-sounding, but carefully scripted monologue that introduced “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”. It is a tour de force that deserves to be acknowledged as a major influence in the music of the last 30 years.

Still one of my favourite records, And as the saying goes, a shout-out to the adventurous DHP.

Album details

release date 1969 via Stax USA STX 1014

Brian Miller

Brian Miller is the Publisher and Editor of Vivascene, which he founded in 2010. A former record store owner, business executive and business writer, he is devoted to vinyl records, classical guitar, and b&w photography.

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