The Shaft Dispute (1973)
Above is a pic of Gordon Parks, who directed Shaft and Shaft’s Big Score! but had a rich and consequential life well beyond that.
When we did the 3CD set we called the Shaft Anthology: His Big Score and More! (now out of print)—containing the original soundtrack to Isaac Hayes’ Shaft (distinct from to the LP recording), the complete Shaft’s Big Score! by Parks, and Johnny Pate’s music for the short-lived Shaft TV series—we unearthed some controversy about the second of those projects.
The score to Shaft’s Big Score! was by Parks, who got sole composing credit despite relying pretty heavily on the arranging and orchestrating duties of Tom McIntosh—who had served a similar function for Hayes on the first film. Here’s McIntosh, who died in 2017.
We touched a bit on the controversy in the liner notes, but that was really not the time and place to go deep into the “he said/he said” of who really “wrote” the music.
Here are the “outtakes” from the liner notes, which I think I wrote myself. I have no memory of that, but I have sole credit in the booklet...so I guess I did?
Anyway, I stumbled upon the cut paragraphs from all those years ago (2008), which I had the foresight to save for later use—and maybe I already did, somewhere?
Memory fails me. But here it is:
After [Shaft’s Big Score!]’s release, Tom McIntosh felt that he had been given short shrift with regard to writing credits (which affected royalties) and took his case to the press. Two articles appeared in the Los Angeles Times Calendar section in early 1973, first with McIntosh’s side of the story, then a rebuttal from Parks. (Also published was a letter to the editor from the first film’s producer, Joel Freeman.) The articles offered a fascinating and rare glimpse into the often collaborative nature of film scoring, with sharp accusations from McIntosh, who recounted his 1969 assignment assisting Parks on The Learning Tree: “Gordon can play piano in the key of F sharp…. He has a system of putting notes together, but he can’t write music in the accepted sense of the term. The themes were his, but I was the man who laid down the basic structure, the score.”
McIntosh smarted from his “technical assistant” credit on the first Shaft with Isaac Hayes: “Some of the music, where there was no dialogue, achieved the kind of sound Isaac gets on records. He took care of that, and it really didn’t involve composing as such, but songwriting. But then there was also the essential dramatic stuff. The industry calls it adaptation, but the composer knows it’s much more than that.” McIntosh stated he understood the commercial nature of the credits—“Isaac Hayes had a public and I didn’t”—but “I was just listed as technical advisor, not even as orchestrator. So all this performance-credit money was made and I got none of it. I felt very hurt that I didn’t even get mentioned at the Academy Awards when Isaac was up there thanking his grandmother, or that I didn’t get some kind of financial return; but that’s my own fault for not seeing to those things in front.”
Nonetheless, McIntosh agreed to assist Hayes again on the Shaft sequel—then Hayes backed out. “Gordon said to me, ‘Let’s work the same way we did on The Learning Tree.’ I said no, I couldn’t afford to support anybody’s image anymore. He then asked me would I help him to the extent I had helped Isaac Hayes. Well, Gordon had been responsible for my coming out to Hollywood, and I felt it would have been unfair to refuse.” McIntosh acknowledged that Parks supplied for the sequel a ballad, some other melody lines, and lyrics, but alleged, “This time…I put my name on everything I wrote, on all the cue sheets. But I made it too easy. I put it in pencil, and later found that somebody, I don’t know who, had erased my name.” (McIntosh did go on to score films on his own, among them Slither—for M-G-M—and Girls on the Road, both 1973.)
Parks dismissed many of McIntosh’s complaints in the “rebuttal” article. Parks said that after McIntosh agreed to work with him, “The next thing I did was get Joe Pass, the guitarist, and Ray Mace, who can write music down as fast as I can play it. The three of us worked night and day for better than a week. We had O.C. Smith recording ‘Don’t Misunderstand,’ in three different versions. Later on, Tom came into the picture. He listened to everything and coordinated the whole situation…. Tom is a very gifted individual, a very good musician; but in order for him to receive the credits he deserves, it’s not necessary to give the impression that I did nothing except peck out a one-finger line while he did all the rest; or that Isaac Hayes is anything les than a major talent.”
Joe Pass was also quoted: “Gordon may lack formal training, but in his own special way he’s a very sophisticated musician. He played me his concerto. Beautiful! Kind of Ellington type voicings, and he plays real two-handed piano. He has a background steeped in jazz, and he knows just what he wants.”
In his concurrent letter to the editor, Joel Freeman wrote, “Following Shaft, Gordon and I kept in very close touch. In turn when Gordon informed me that he was going to do the music for Shaft’s Big Score! he asked my wife and I to his home to listen to two of the themes that he had written for the film. He played them for us on the piano in various tempos and in various keys…. I can understand a man fighting for recognition [McIntosh] but I find it difficult to stand by without comment when someone suggests that talent in others should not be recognized as well.”
Well, there you go.
If I can make a confession, I never really liked the Shaft’s Big Score! soundtrack as much as the other classics from the “blaxploitation” genre. It didn’t quite seem as “funky” as the rest.
I later included some of Tom McIntosh’s music for an episode of Then Came Bronson (1969–70 TV series) on a 2CD set of that soundtrack for Intrada. I was glad to do that, he was a good composer.
On a happier note, one of my fonder memories of this Shaft project was reaching out to Johnny Pate, who I understand is still going strong at 98. Pate did the arrangements for Curtis Mayfield on Superfly, and also wrote the terrific scores for Shaft in Africa and Brother on the Run. Here’s the latter:
I have several emails from Pate from 2008 and he was nothing but warm and gracious. I don’t think it’s some great breach of confidentiality if I give an example:
No problem if you want to use the photo on the website. The one thing I remember mostly about the Shaft TV scoring was the fun I had with Isaac Hayes original tune. If you listen closely, you'll hear where I "dropped in" bits of it from time to time. I really had a ball doing it. Feel free if I can be of any other help.
Here’s much more with Johnny Pate—great resource!