Fifty years ago, I was driving along the John Lodge Freeway in Detroit, Issac Hayes’ theme from the movie Shaft blaring away on the radio. That theme played constantly back then, its beat perfectly synchronized to the traffic on the John Lodge—to life in Detroit!
The news that Shaft was released half a century ago today, brought back memories of that drive along the John Lodge: “Who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks—Shaft! Ya damn right!”
Well, okay, no one paid much attention to the lyrics.
In those days I was doing an interview show for a Windsor radio station, desperate for anyone to talk to. At the same time, the so-called Blaxploitation era of movies was starting up, inspired by the huge success of Shaft. Detroit publicists were anxious to fill interview schedules for the visiting stars of those movies. Mostly, the mainstream Detroit press was uninterested in them or their movies.
But an unknown Canadian interviewer? I was more than willing to hurry across the Detroit River clutching my portable tape recorder and the publicists were only too glad to have me. Thus I spent time with everyone from Ron O’Neal (Superfly) to Pam Grier (Coffy) to Fred Williamson (Black Caesar) and Raymond St. Jacques (Cotton Comes to Harlem). Even Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte got into the act with Buck and the Preacher.
The irony was that almost none of these movies was ever released in Canada. It didn’t matter to me, and no one I talked to seemed to mind that they were spending time with someone who wasn’t going to be much help to them.
I don’t remember at the time interviewing Richard Roundtree, the guy who started it all. But years later my then wife Lynda and I ended up spending an evening in Toronto with him and his girlfriend Cathy Lee Crosby. Beautifully dressed, ridiculously handsome, Roundtree was a delightful, charming man, and as un-Shaftlike as you can imagine.
The radio show ended when I moved on to Toronto. The Blaxploitation era of movies was short-lived. But this morning, with the theme from Shaft once again blaring from the radio, the years dropped away and I was back on the John Lodge Freeway.
Can ya dig it?