My Pop Life #60 : Theme From “Shaft” – Isaac Hayes


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Theme From ‘Shaft’   –   Isaac Hayes

“…who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks ?  Shaft !  Damn right

Who is the man that would risk his neck for his brother man?  Shaft !  Can you dig it?

Who’s the cat that walk about when there’s danger all about ?  Shaft !  Right on…”

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I first met Paulette Randall in the spring of 1984, at some rehearsal rooms in north London – I think – where she was Assistant Director to Danny Boyle, directing a play by Alan Brown for the Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court called PANIC!    The first read-through took us around five hours, and it had been even longer than that.  The rehearsal period was short, and concentrated on making the play shorter.  The play was mental.  There were scenes between pets that spoke (they had mini-speakers inside them).  David Fielder played Pan, with hairy legs and a giant cock and balls, and he was castrated on Polaroid halfway through the second half.  The set was a house on a clifftop about to fall into the sea.  the family were from all over Britain – Dad was Welsh (Alan David), Mum was Geordie (Val McClane), oldest son was scouse (Ken Sharrock RIP), his wife was home counties (Marion Bailey), second son was cockney (me) and daughter was west country (Harriet Bagnall).   I believe we ate the brains of the indian newsagent for dinner, listened to Parsifal and Beethoven and waited for the apocalypse.   Danny marshalled all of this joy with charm and humour assisted by Paulette.  I liked Paulette very much and we started to hang out together.   I met her sister Beverley shortly afterwards, perhaps once the play had opened in a wine bar on Sloane Square.   Little did I know at the time that I had entered a very special world.

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Beverley and Paulette were brought up in Brixton and Clapham by their Jamaican parents during the 60s/70s.  They were the first black people I’d actually made friends with.  Or who had made friends with me.  I’d studied with, worked with, but never really hung out.   At some point that summer of 84, waiting for the apocalypse, I ended up on Clapham Common near to where P lived, and still does, on William Bonney Estate.  She introduced me to her friend David Lawrence, a postman with an absurd streak and a wry sense of humour.  I can’t remember what we were drinking but it could have been a bottle of whisky.  We sat on a bench in the wee small hours laughing.  Laughing hard.  I remember little about what made us laugh so much.    In fact was Beverley there too ?  I wonder – she worked at Coutts the bank at the time on the Strand.   Lost to drink now – except for two distinct moments.  At one point around 3am we stopped talking and just sang.  One of the highlights of the night was “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love To Town” by Kenny Rogers, a performance that David can actually conjure up on command like a performing seal, and so, to be fair , can I.    This never fails to bring the house down when David does it, unless he does it twice…or three times…then he will be cussed.   Of course, we all knew all the words.  The other song was Shaft by Isaac Hayes, in particular the lines quoted above which I knew off by heart, and performed as if in an Isaac Hayes cover band..

“…they say this cat Shaft is a bad mother – ‘shut your mouth!’

but I’m talking ’bout Shaft  –  ‘then we can dig it’

He’s a complicated man, but no one understands him but his woman

John Shaft !”

… almost made Paulette wet herself.  I guess you had to be there.

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For many years we would gather at Paulette’s flat, usually on a Saturday night, call it Club 61 and drink and smoke until we fell over, playing loud music and shouting at each other.  A clan of regulars would congregate – and I’m cutting forward now to the 90s when I was with Jenny – including Eugene McCaffrey, Nicky, Randall cousins Janet & Donna, Pat, cousins Jackie & Debbie, Sharon Henry, Elaine McKenzie, Michael Whiting, cousin Atlee, many others, whoever Paulette was working with at the time, people would arrive at all hours, drink would be drunk, people would dance, Paulette would DJ, people would shout more.   It was funny.  It was great.  It was release.  It was family.  With the exception of Simon Korner, soul brother from school, Paulette has remained my best friend.   She would go on to direct Sanctuary, the play I wrote for Joint Stock, she would witness my wedding, I was one of the first people she called when Danny Boyle asked her to help him to direct the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympic Games.   She and Beverley are chalk and cheese but inseparable and equal.  They were living together when we met, peas in a pod.  It’s a long story.  Theme From Shaft was one of our early bonding moments.  How powerful a song can be.

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Isaac Hayes joined Stax Records in 1963 as a session musician, started filling in for Booker T on keys when he was away at Indiana University and in1965 wrote Sam & Dave’s first hit : I Take What I Want with partner David Porter.  Porter/Hayes would write and produce a string of brilliant soul singles for Sam and Dave almost unmatched in the 1960s for the consistent level of genius.  His 1969 solo LP Hot Buttered Soul was Stax Records bestseller of that year, and was followed up by 2 more in the same vein before he was asked to write the music for Gordon Park’s black detective movie hero Shaft, played by actor Richard Roundtree in 1971.   The resulting single was a new level of symphonic soul which was very much of its time – the Temptations and Stylistics were on similar ground as was the whole Philadelphia Sound.  The wah-wah guitar shape is simply iconic, the piano dark and dramatic, the arrangement tight and superb, it changes shape adds instruments, textures before the break and those words “who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks?”  I mean, by then – 2.30 into the song (a record length intro) we actually want to know, this is the genius of the song.  Shaft !   It’s got a bit of Pearl and Dean, funked out of its tiny mind and forced to groove.  It’s a Theme, more than a song.  It’s a moment in musical culture.  It’s an extra-ordinary tune.

Bev and Miss P – I love you x

Theme From Shaft :

the actual film credits – slightly faster music and re-recorded, or mixed differently :

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. stevekalinich
    May 07, 2015 @ 17:11:01

    Fond memories for Shaft .I love it I knew Isaac from Booker T days . That whole gang .A lovely blog and very interesting..Once you hear Shaft you can never get it out of your brain .Thank you again Ralph for grand journey in music .stevie

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  2. beverleyrandall09
    May 10, 2015 @ 10:59:04

    Each of your Pop Life’s add a little more texture to the songs but this one is now my favourite! So much drinking, so much singing, so much laughter and so much love. Thanks for rekindling those beautiful and crazy times… Lots of love ❤️❤️ and Jenny! ❤️❤️

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