Stax songwriters David Porter (left) and Isaac Hayes. Photo by @API photographers B Carrier It was summer 1967, and Isaac Hayes was in Memphis watching Detroit burn. The local news carried alarming reports of a massive riot in Motor City, which started when a police raid on an after-hours bar turned into a tense standoff with patrons and bystanders. Governor George W. Romney (father of Mitt) deployed the Michigan National Guard to quell the violence, which lasted five days altogether, left 43 people dead, nearly 1,200 injured, more than 7,000 arrested, and thousands of buildings burned or ransacked. Even at the time, it was seen as a major event in the American Civil Rights movement, as well as proof that racial friction was not limited to the South. Hayes, an untrained but deeply talented musician who had found steady work as a songwriter at Stax Records in Memphis, watched as the news report explained that black business owners had been spraypainting the word soul on their buildings to let the demonstrators know not to break those windows. Hayes recounts the story in Robert Gordon’s essential history Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion: “I realized the word soul keeps them from burning up their establishments. Wow, soul. Soul. Soul man.” The phrase stuck in Hayes’ head, and he mentioned it to his songwriting partner, David Porter. Together, they crafted one of the biggest r&b hits of the decade — of the century, even — based on that one word and all that it represented. Written, rehearsed, recorded, pressed, and released barely two months after the Detroit riots, “Soul Man” is an... Sign In to Keep Reading
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