Mr Hot Buttered Soul, on a roll

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The Independent Online
Back in 1974, the sound of seduction came in three clearly marked packages. In the endless quest of a leg-over, it was to this triumvirate that we Essex would boys would turn. Our tactics were sadly predictable: soften them up with the lovey-dovey lyricism of Al Green, get the hormones surging with the passion of Marvin Gaye and, on those rare occasions when you were ready to swing from the chandelier, finish them off with Black Moses. I'm talking about Mr Hot Buttered Soul, the coolest, badest, sex- maddest mother of them all: Isaac Hayes.

Not only had Isaac perfected the soundtrack for a slow grind, he had the iconography down, to boot. While other soul musicians of the time fannied around in lurex vests and silver platforms, their hair frizzed out or slicked down, Isaac Hayes albums depicted a heavyweight, streetwise dude who had shaved his head, grown a beard and donned regal African robes. The look was unorthodox yet cool, elegant and assertive.

By contrast, we dressed in a mish-mash of styles unwittingly plundered from the Twenties, Forties and Fifties: bowling shirt, leather bomber jacket, a pair of "elephant bags", two-tone correspondent shoes. We fancied that we, too, looked cool, elegant and assertive, and were willing to head-butt anyone under a certain height who might disagree. After all, if anyone laughed at Isaac, he would pull out a gun and shoot them. You only had to look at his album covers to know that. We regarded him as a totem, signifying our intention to show the world how life should be lived.

Kenny Harris and I were the oldest, both 17. Johnny Lee was 16. Andy Hollington, 14, was the baby, and the butt of most jokes. Thanks to Kenny's long blonde eyelashes we befriended a Jamaican railway signalman called Ken, a lonely, middle-aged bachelor who just happened to own the only Oldsmobile Tornado in Essex, perhaps England. The car was a horrible shitty- brown colour, but still impossibly flash - the size of a yacht, with electric windows, leather seats and a novelty horn that made a noise like a cow mooing. Best of all, it had a five-litre V6 engine, which could burn off even the fastest Broadspeed Capri.

Imagine the eloquent hand signals we would direct at such vehicles as we flew along the A13 towards the Goldmine, on Canvey Island. Imagine the swagger as the five of us emerged from our swank Yank limo and walked across the car park in the summer twilight. Imagine the lies we would tell those secretaries and shopgirls from Southend in our vain attempts to get into their pants. "No, it's mine, but I lost me licence last month so I'm letting me mate drive it." That car was our dream machine with our theme tune pumping out of the eight-track cassette - Isaac's Soundtrack from Shaft.

I found myself immersed in these memories as I waited to meet Isaac Hayes, two decades later, to discuss his new album, Branded. Perhaps the highest praise one can bestow is to say it sounds exactly like his classic recordings, full of satin-sheet grooves and lyrical heavy-breathing. It also features Skip Charles, the man responsible for the funkiest and most famous wah- wah guitar ever recorded, on the intro to "Theme from Shaft".

In the intervening years, Hayes has been cloned, sampled and cannibalised by several generations, from lurve walrus Barry White right up to Portishead, by way of countless swingbeat stars, the latest being R Kelly. So how does Isaac Hayes avoid sounding like someone who sounds like Isaac Hayes?

"I knew," he says in that low, rumbling tone of his, "it was just a matter of doing what I do and being relaxed about it." Hayes has cheated time. Though shaven heads long ago ceased to be fashion news, he still looks cool, elegant and assertive. These days he wears a tracksuit, though as a newly-crowned Ghanaian king, he is entitled to those regal African robes.

His take on the latest crop of boudoir balladeers. "These guys are too upfront. Y'see, the chase and the challenge, there's a thrill to that. I mean, she know what you want. Dude, savour the moment, slowly stalk it , work it down. And by the time you get to it, they're burnin up!"

It sounds almost too convincing to be true. Is he putting me on, I wonder. Does he still feel it, or is it simply showbiz? Just then, a leggy blonde walks past.

"Oh, my God!" he whispers. He stares. He rubs his eyes. He says it again: "My God!"

Isaac, put your tongue back in your mouth, I tell him. He shakes his head and laughs, "Oh, she just ... give me a headache, man. Damn."

Black Moss is back. I wonder what I did with that bowling shirt.

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