Heather Hayes wants you to know something: She is not her father. Can you dig it? Growing up as Isaac Hayes' daughter afforded her a comfortable life, but trying to escape his shadow hasn't been easy since she started her own music career. "Most people don't see me -- they see him first, and the expectation is much greater," she said, the practiced tone of her response making it clear this wasn't the first time she'd discussed the problem. "If I'm not almost perfect, then it was awful. "There's not a lot of leeway to be mediocre just because of all that he's accomplished and the extraordinary expectation of what I should be. (People) don't separate that we're two totally different human beings."
Although she's constantly fighting an uphill battle to make a distinction between herself and her father, a childhood surrounded by music inevitably set her on a path similar to his, she said. "(Growing up, it) was all about being creative," she said. "Music was definitely all around. My dad would get boxes of records, and I would go through the boxes, play the records and make up an entire performance." Not every child of celebrity goes on to achieve a parent's fame, and name recognition isn't necessarily advantageous in the attempt, she said.
When the time came to leave her performing-arts school, Hayes said she was careful not to let people know who she was to avoid achieving success solely because of her father. On her own merits, she got a spot on a show with James Brown. She stayed there for five years, working as a dancer and later as a singer. Swearing all those aware of who her father was to silence, she managed three months of secrecy before a friend of the family recognized her and let the cat out of the bag. "From that point on, he knew, and I remember him coming in my dressing room and asking me, 'Why didn't you tell me? You probably would have had a job a long time ago,' " she said. "But I wanted to be hired because I was good, not because my father was good. I didn't want to get a free pass."
In 2004, she formed her band, the Heather Hayes Band, and has been touring with them ever since. Her shows cover a lot of ground, musically. Their song list includes artists from 50 Cent and Frank Sinatra to Van Morrison and The Black Eyed Peas. Given the variety of songs, her voice is powerful and versatile by necessity, drawing from a number of influences -- most directly divas such as Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston.
Her repertoire might surprise those expecting a heavy emphasis on funk or soul like her father, but circumstance makes the artist, and she didn't have the same experiences he did growing up. "I wasn't a kid who grew up in the ghetto. I was a suburban kid who liked Pat Benatar," she said, laughing. "(My father's) music told a story of where he came from, but I really didn't come from that."
Fans of Issac's music will get a chance to judge her for themselves when she takes the stage at Rhythm & Brews tonight.