If you’re one of those unfortunate people who only know Isaac Hayes as Chef from South Park, or, maybe, the guy who recorded the “Theme from Shaft,” a new box set out now might be a good way to educate yourself and stop being such a loser. It’s called The Spirit of Memphis (1962-1976), and it’s as good a Hayes primer as you’re likely to find in this galaxy.
The Spirit of Memphis guides the listener from Hayes early days as a songwriter and arranger at Stax Records, then to his solo recording career, with hits like the aforementioned Shaft theme song. The box set is rounded out by a whole disc devoted to Hayes’ role as a “Cover Man” (he’s unquestionably one of the greatest singer and arranger of covers of all time) and another for outtakes and other rarities.
This is the glorious 21st century, so if you can’t afford to plunk down untold riches on a box set, you can still listen to the whole thing on Spotify. Here’s a taste, selected by yours truly, to give you an idea that this guy was a lot more than Chef and the Duke of New York.