The Memphis Sound
Tue June 26, 2012
The Chronicle Of Isaac, Samuel, And The Two Davids
Isaac, David and Samuel are familiar names to biblical scholars, and not at all unfamiliar to faithful fans of the funky sound that emanated from the Stax studio on McLemore.
Sam and Dave came to Stax in an arrangement with Atlantic Records. The duo viewed it as punishment, but it would be the best thing that ever happened to their careers.
Another David would contribute to their success, David Porter. He grew up from a kid who sacked groceries at the Big Star across the street from the studio to become the first salaried writer at Stax. He more than earned his keep with the songs he supplied Sam And Dave, but not until he linked up with Isaac.
Isaac Hayes moved to Memphis as a kid from up in Tipton County. His upbringing in rural West Tennessee exposed him to music on the radio ranging from the Grand Ole Opry to the gospel and blues programming he heard via WDIA. Hoping for a better life, his family traded rural poverty for urban poverty. His personal life was fraught with the constant change that comes from the persistent search for a roof over his head and food to eat. Isaac found an clue to his future in the recognition his musical abilities brought him during his days at Manassas High. He spent his nights working the clubs and ingratiating himself to the likes of Fred Ford, Ben Branch and Floyd Newman. Following high school graduation he took a job in a slaughterhouse, but kept up his musical pursuits. Learning about the newly opened American Studio, Hayes and a friend audition for Chips Moman, and Isaac recorded a single for Moman’s Youngstown Records, “Laura, We’re On Our Last Go-Round.”
Although Isaac really wasn’t a pianist, per se, he took a keyboard gig filling in with a band for a new-year’s eve party. Night after night he worked at honing his skills, earning a spot with Floyd Newman’s band at the Plantation Inn. When Floyd came in to record a song at Stax, Hayes played piano, and the label folks marveled at his natural ear, and his ease at improvising songs simply off the cuff. Booker T. Jones had recently left for college, which kept the Stax folks on the lookout for the next great keyboard phenomenon.
Isaac joined the other Stax regulars backing Otis Redding’s fourth single, “Come To Me.” Otis released two more singles in late 1964, “Chained And Bound,” and another inspired by a nickname which came from WDIA jock A.C. Williams. Whenever Moohah, as he was known on the air, played a Redding ballad, Williams called the singer “Mr. Pitiful.” Guitarist and writer Steve Cropper caught this, and translated the title into a song.
Otis co-wrote his next single with singer Jerry Butler while on tour in Buffalo. “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” would be the most successful single Redding enjoyed before he died.
Although I don’t know of any biblical Otis-es, his pianist, Isaac, would later become know as Moses, kind of, and some of his efforts with Samuel and the two Davids would kind of lead Stax out of the wilderness, somewhat.