Isaac Hayes: Beyond Black Tights And Chains (The Pittsburgh Press/Jul 09/1981/US) By Jim Davidson


"What is this, a James Bond car?" the photographer asked before seeing it.

"No it's more like a Liberace car," Isaac Hayes joked.

This is Isaac Hayes? The scowling macho man in chains, Black Moses himself, the Oscar - and Grammy Award-winning singer, composer, producer, movie villain and all-round legend?

Hayes showed a private side of himself yesterday during a visit to promote his new movie, Escape From New York. He talked forthrightly about such topics as his acting career, his public image and the 1977 bankruptcy proceedings that found him
$6 million in debt, including $463.969 in federal tax liens.

In Pittsburgh he shared billing with the car, a gray 1977 Cadillac Fleetwood with chandeliers mounted on the hood and a mirror ball hanging fro the rear-view mirror.

Hayes - and a chauffeur - drive it in Escape, an action movie directed by John Carpenter that opens tomorrow at the Fulton, Cinemette South, Cinemette East, Bethel, Showcase West, Showcase North, Showcase East and about 650 other theaters nationwide.

In Hayes entourage was Mario Simon of Los Angeles, the car's owner and designer. Simon says the chandeliers cost $189 apiece and can withstand speeds of 65 mph.

Choosing them was easy. "We decided to go with Sears because there's a Sears everywhere in the country. It's a very universal kind of chandelier," he says, adding diplomatically, "I hear that now J.C. Penney carries it, too."

Hayes plays a convict named Duke in the movie set in 1997. Duke is top man among the 3 million sentenced to life imprisonment in Manhattan, which has become a mammoth prison without bars. Duke totes a shotgun and scowls a lot in one of the movie's larger roles.

Asked why he likes playing the bad guy, Hayes raises his arms, arches his back and grins.

"Power."

He elaborates. It's a lot of power. You snap your fingers and people do what you tell them to do. I like being heavies. I'll get other roles once I'm accepted as an actor."

His acting credits aren't extensive. A small part here, an unreleased movie there, the title role in the movie Truck Turner in 1973, and good notices for playing Jim Rockford's prison buddy, Gandy, in three episodes of The Rockford Files.

Before Gandy " I didn't get a lot of TV because people would say I was a little too militant or a little too risque with the black tights," he explains. "They just weren't ready for it."

Acting is part of Hayes' financial comeback. He filed for bankruptcy in 1977, the year after Stax Records went kaplooey while still owing him money. That was only part of it.

"It was mismanagement of funds. People I trusted. I got ripped off a lot," Hayes says. "It's difficult to be a creative person and deal with financial matters. I'm not a dummy, but..."

Hayes admits he feel resentful about news accounts of his bankruptcy.

"I was resentful because of the kind of image they were tagging on me. They didn't have the facts, but they said, 'He blew his money.'"

"I didn't deal in drugs, I had sound investments, I gave a lot of money to charities. I could afford to do it.

"I bought cars, but I used them. I bought furs, but I wore them. Even my gold-plated Cadillac would go on tour to auto shows," he says, and the receipts would be donated to charity.

Hayes makes clear he is still paying off the back tax bill. The Internal Revenue Service is full of "reasonable people," he says with a smile.

Hayes did extensive concert tours from 1969 to 1975. Now, he says, it would take back-to-back smash hits to put him back on the road. "I could do (a tour) now, but I couldn't do it the way I'd want to."

His way entailed a 40-piece orchestra and a variety of backup acts. And his way was pure macho - bared chest, huge biceps, the head he first shaved in 1963, his sensuous Ike's Rap between numbers. Plus the chains. Pounds and pounds of chains.

"I used to wear a vest with fringes, then one day I wore a chain necklace and belt. A guy comes up and says, 'Let me design you a chain vest.'"

"It was cool on stage," he explains. "I didn't have to wear a three-piece suit. It felt cool and loose. I liked it."

Hayes, 38 years old, has been married to his third wife for the past eight years. He has nine children, ranging from 4 to 19.

His career started rolling 20 years ago, "gigging blues, gospel, rock 'n' roll" in back-country clubs in Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas.

"At 19 I learned how to play piano out of necessity. I took a gig and had to play. On the gig I learned nobody else knew how to play."

In the 1960s at Stax Records in Memphis he graduated from side musician to songwriter, supplying hits for Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, the Bar-Kays and especially Sam and Dave before hitting it big with Shaft. More recently Hayes wrote Deja Vu for Dionne Warwick.

Hayes and his sister were raised by their grandparents in the rural whistle-stop of Rialto, Tenn., outside the slightly larger town of Covington. Rialto "only had a train track and a water tank for the train and a general store."

He moved to Memphis at age 7, but much later took one last look at Rialto. "One day I got in my Jaguar and drove there. I went right back to the spot I was born, in a tin-top house."

Those memories, he says, have helped him make it through the ordeal of his bankruptcy. "My lifestyle changed drastically, but I could adjust because I came from nothing, financially speaking.

"It was a dream. I was trying to build something. I was trying to prove that an entertainer - especially a black entertainer - could  build something out of the fruits of his labor.

"I haven't given up on it. I'll do it. I've given myself five years and there are four left," he says of his comeback.

"I'm a very stubborn person. I'm a very determined person. I do not accept defeat. I'm bouncing back."