Per a request, here is the text of a tribute I wrote about Isaac Hayes and recording "Hot Buttered Soul," as linked above...
by Terry Manning
Many thought we were gathering for a “throw away” session.
After all, our protagonist wasn't really known as an artist around Stax.
He was a writer. A really good one.
He was a producer. Often uncredited, yes...but a very real one.
He was a keyboard player. An extraordinarily talented one.
And he had arrived on the scene as a saxophonist.
But a true artist? No, that lofty perch was reserved for others.
Plus, the guy had already released one album around our place. But it hadn't really done very much...it was seen more as a collection of simple song demos, not as a real album. There had been no special production, no coordinating theme. It was a throw away, a bone thrown to one of our top writer-producer-musicians to help keep him happy.
Why should this time be any different?
Mr. Isaac Hayes always carried himself with authority and grace. He was no small man, and when he came into the room, even before becoming that true artist, you knew it. In fact, he had been playing live shows at a couple of Midtown Memphis clubs, and had been developing a singular sound. Women in particular seemed to be drawn to his long, soulful, sexy songs, with their long, articulate spoken intros.
But none of this meant that he was a recording artist to be reckoned with. After all, you couldn't put such songs on an album. “Record” songs were three minutes and ten seconds long.
The players arrived first, and started setting up. The Bar-Kays. Michael, James, Willie. They had been playing with Ike in the clubs, but even they didn't really know what to expect on this session. I hustled around as usual, setting up microphones, exchanging pleasantries with the guys. Michael Toles had just bought one of my favourite guitars from me, a red Telecaster into which I had installed a Gibson humbucking pickup. This would be its first session under his control. He was excited about the prospect; I was already lamenting the loss of my instrument.
Alan Jones, the Bar-Kays' Manager/Producer, and co-producer for this session, arrived next; we all knew about it before he even came inside. He was out in the parking lot, just behind the control room window, revving his Mustang engine loudly. He always did this...to “charge up his battery.” Marvell Thomas was close behind, another co-producer, and no mean keyboardist himself.
So with the stage set, with everyone in readiness, Al Bell, Producer, and Mr. Isaac Hayes, Writer-Producer-Musician-but-not-yet-True-Artist, strode into the room.
Everyone loved Al; everyone loved Ike. There was such a sense of family, of camaraderie within Stax. If memory serves well, it can be said that all were friends, and all were good people. Especially Mr. Isaac Hayes.
Isaac had such a lovely spirit about him. He just exuded talent, exuded charm, but somehow he hadn't let it go to his head. But we still weren't sure what kind of album we were going to make.
The Hammond organ, Leslie speaker cabinet, and vocal microphone were set and ready; perhaps they sensed what was about to come. I put a reel of tape on the Scully eight track machine, hit record, and Isaac started to play “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.” Almost without knowing, the band realised that they were joining in to a live-like, long, and building arrangement. It seemed to take forever for something to “happen.” This wasn't a three minute single!
As the music grew, the tension started to build in the studio...Isaac spoke...the band followed his lead...emotion filled the room. The long buildup gave me time to actually experiment in real time during the actual recording...I madly patched things in, including a tape delay of the reverb send to the EMT plate, recording the effects live to the master take. Then I started to wonder...how long would this song go on? Was there enough tape to capture the whole thing? I started to make a backup plan, ready to record a live mixed version onto a stereo machine, should we approach the end of the eight track reel. Fortunately, that never (quite) happened.
But something magical did happen that night. Mr. Isaac Hayes grew instantaneously into a True Artist. Hot Buttered Soul turned out to be one of those albums that touches the collective souls of a gratified public. Certainly no one in the room that first night had any doubt that something special was happening. It turned out that Isaac had asked for, and received, final creative control. But he needn't have worried...Al Bell had been fully on board, once had he heard the concept.
Isaac Hayes of course went on to do far more in music. He won an Oscar. He toured the World. He sold millions of albums and singles. He became a Chef. He had his ups, and he did indeed have some downs as well. But he always remained that larger-than-life, gentle soul; the man who spoke those lyrics that night was the real man we knew. He felt his music, deeply.
All these years later, I can see that room clearly. A beautiful man with a shaven head sits at the Hammond, playing, while softly speaking into a Neumann U-87 microphone, building, building...only he knows when he will break into song.