SAM MOORE: SOUL MAN
This is another favourite interview I did which got lost in a publication
extinction-event, and never actually got to see print. But I enjoyed doing
it, and felt a real affection - as well as respect, for Sam Moore.
So I'm putting in here to share my pleasure with you.
Sam Moore - the ‘Sam’ of SAM & DAVE, is the great survivor of a lost era
of Sweet Soul Music. Except it’s not quite lost. Because they eventually
found - and released, his ‘Great Lost Solo Album’ ‘Plenty Good Lovin’.
Here, Sam tells the full story, plus his legends of heroin addiction,
an ‘unnecessary’ wife-shooting, the low-down on how his Mama’s
warning failed to stop him fathering twelve children,
and how Lulu swallowed up “Soul Man” ...
Across the late 1960’s Sam & Dave were the Twin Towers of Soul Power. You know their hits even if you don’t know the names. “Soul Man”, “Hold On, I’m Coming”, “Soul Sister, Brown Sugar” and the rest. If Otis Redding wrote the ‘Complete And Unbelievable Dictionary Of Soul’ then Sam (Moore) & Dave (Prater) did it all in Double-Entry Book-Keeping. Now, ‘Sam’ of Sam & Dave, is the great survivor of that lost era of Sweet Soul Music. Except it’s not quite lost. Because they found - and eventually released, ‘Plenty Good Lovin’ (Swing Cafe 001). The Great Lost Atlantic Album. The one intended to launch Sam Moore as a solo artist. It meant everything to him. And it vanished. Ten pristine tracks recorded across late 1970 into early ‘71 under the watchful production eye of Soul legend King Curtis, plussed out with star sidemen of the collectible calibre of hit-maker Donny Hathaway, bassist Chuck Rainey, Cornelius Dupree, drummer Bernard Prudie, the Sweet Inspirations - and Aretha Franklin! Yet the tracks got filed away and lost in the confusing chaos of record label politics and artistic narcotic complications. There was murder too. With King Curtis shot to death by an unknown assailant soon after the session’s end. Then the tapes were feared torched in a massive storage depot inferno. But no. They survived. Only to be rediscovered by diligent fan archaeology initiated through researching a Sam & Dave ‘Beg Scream & Shout’ retro box-set for Rhino, and by Sam’s determinedly strong-willed wife Joyce.
Now it’s the twenty-first century, and I’m sat here, telling Sam Moore that – on its release, that long-delayed solo debut album was named ‘Observer’ CD of the week (on Sunday, 13th January 2002), scoring high over all the then-current crop of Rap, Nu-metal, Dance and guitar bands. “Ah - you’re kidding? That’s amazing, isn’t it? WOW!!!” Sure it’s 100% incredible, for an album originally recorded way back in 1970! “Yes, but that’s when it was. That’s when it all happened. And I would suppose, you now have to believe that it has stood the test of time. So that’s - that’s, that’s - ah, that’s so good to hear Yeah.”
But what does that rapturous reception say about the R&B and the Soul on the radio, and seen on MTV today? How does it compare? “Ah - I wouldn’t say there’s any comparison with all the stuff that is being done today, Andy” he’s careful to inclusively use my name with impressive frequency. “And as regards the music that you see on the Telly today? I really don’t know. Some of it is good. Some of it is questionable. With some of it you go - OOOOH-OK !!! But nowadays, it’s all about how you market the stuff. If you are marketing music towards the younger CD-buyers or whatnot, then they’re going to buy the stuff they hear today. But, if you’re marketing stuff familiar to my generation - people who were with music from up to thirty years ago, then you’re not gonna really get that much of a young audience to listen to that stuff. That’s the way I look at it.”
But isn’t that Aretha Franklin playing churchy piano on the doomy 6:23-minute album highlight “Part Time Love”? “Ah - yes, that’s ‘Ree playing on “Part Time Love”. We call her ‘Ree’. And I don’t think I could have been in better company. Yeah.” But Hip-Hop regularly samples James Brown and George Clinton. It respects ‘Ree’ Franklin. So why not Sam Moore? “Well, y’know, I’ll tell you Andy,” that seductive intimacy again. “Ah - I think what happens there is that they’re looking beyond time - and rightfully so. They’re looking at her talent, as a singer. When she got with Atlantic and she had all those hits, everything that she put out came through that instrument inside of her body. And everybody had to reckon with that, and go ‘Wow! She can really sing!’ You know? So if you were to put me in that same category I would imagine that - I would guess they would look at me that way. I don’t know.”
Three of the album’s titles were lifted for single release (Swing 002) - headed by Sam’s own composition “Plenty Good Lovin’”, a lustfully bragging ‘Shoo-doo-wah Doo-wha-doo’ Soul swagger that first demands ‘now listen to me’ then proclaims ‘I never met a girl I couldn’t satisfy... Yeah!!’ The easy-swinging “Hi Di Hi” follows - also from Sam’s pen, and then there’s an impassioned reading of Allan Toussaint’s “Get Out My Life Woman” - laden beneath ‘heartaches by the pound’, to complete this gem of a single. But to me, the album’s stand-out is the aforementioned “Part Time Love”, an ‘Every Little But Hurts’ or a ‘Take Another Little Piece Of My Heart’, with Aretha’s sympathetic piano illuminating a lyrical scenario so doomily emotive it envies the dead. ‘If you don’t mind’ he heartbreaks, ‘I’m so tired and weary, I just wanna moan a little while, I wanna say - Mmmmmmmmm’. If I’d been around here in 1971, and if it’d been issued then - when it should have emerged, I’d have loved it. But as it is, the album remains a marvellous trip, one that extends from the cool groove of “I Can’t Stand It” to a warped Country “Tennessee Waltz” so punch-full of riffing horns it’s impossible to waltz to. A track that skirts into Joe Tex, or possibly Solomon Burke territory, but is uniquely Sam Moore...
But to contradict the supposed Motown / Stax rivalry, Otis recorded Smokie Robinson’s “My Girl”, and now here is Sam Moore doing a gutsy full-blooded version of the Miracles smooth early hit “Shop Around”. A very different version to the original, punched out with ‘Mr Pitiful’-style brass. “Ah - the ‘Shop Around’ thing. Yes, I’ve always tried to interpret the way I felt like I could do it. It’s all about interpretation. In the approach that we take with the song. And over the years I’ve heard Gladys, Aretha, all these people - from Jackie Wilson, to Sam Cooke, the Willie Johns, the Bullmoose Jackson’s - erm, and these are people that I totally - totally admire. And the way that they approach a song. I’m talking ‘Singer’s Singers’ here. And I’ve always been like that. That’s where it is with me. If you want to call me a ‘Singer’s Singer’ then OK, I appreciate that, that’s fine. But it doesn’t always work to my advantage. That’s true too. But if I was working with a person that I respected, like Isaac Hayes or Tom Dowd, or people of that highest calibre, I would listen to them - not interpret, but I would probably listen to the way they wanted me to approach a song. If Tom Dowd asked me to push it in a certain way, yeah. If Isaac asked me to push it in a certain way. He’d maybe not just want me to start singing my brains out right away, but just to - as Isaac used to say, ‘build a pyramid’. Build the song brick by brick towards the highest point. And I would listen. But if I ran into a person where I didn’t know their work, or that it’s not so much that I disrespected their work, but just that I wasn’t familiar with their work, and they were there trying to call themselves ‘producers’ producing me... then I probably wouldn’t. Because not everybody can produce. Not everyone can do it. Not everyone can produce an Aretha. Not everybody can produce a Gladys Knight.”
The “Shop Around” track opens with Sam’s spoken voice-over about his Mama giving one of those awkward ‘birds-and-the-bees’ pep-talks to his young pubescent self, ‘Sam, c’mon here, sit down son, let Mama talk to you for a minute’ before she delivers the timely message that when it comes to girls ‘all that shines is not gold’. “On the record, that was Smokie Robinson writing” points out Sam. Yes, but did your Mama REALLY give you advice about girls? A guffaw from Sam. “Did my Mama ever give me advice about girls? Yes she did, Andy - yes, she did. But...” a perfectly calculated pause, “twelve children later - I didn’t listen to her did I? She did, I have to tell you, she tried to talk to me about girls - bless her pea-picking heart, she tried to help me, but it just didn’t get through to this brain of mine.”
‘THE LEGEND OF A SOUL MAN...’
There are long pauses. There are long ‘ah-ah-ah-ah-ah’s as he orders his thoughts, or searches for the right word. He moves from the garden - the back yard, to his front room, where his latest daughter - Tullulah looks on curiously. His giant jovial warmth fills the room. While wife Joyce is on the ‘phone in the background talking sharply to someone else, explaining forcefully ‘that’s not Sam’s problem, he just wants to make a little money. It’s your problem if you’re so stoooopid. Which is dangerous...’
While I’m remembering that in December 1967 Otis Redding’s pall-bearers were Joe Tex, Joe Simon, Johnnie Taylor, Solomon Burke, Percy Sledge, Don Covay - and this guy, Sam Moore. Sam has known hard times. But things really began to fall apart when Sam & Dave got artistically stranded by Stax losing its distribution deal with Atlantic. Then Dave shot his wife in the head in a domestic spat - a shooting that Sam, with breathtaking understatement, described as ‘unnecessary’ (on TV’s ‘Top Ten Sixties Soul’). Dave escaped prosecution, but the incident poisoned what was already a fraught partnership. “I put myself up as judge, jury and executioner” he explains now, “but if you ask me if I would do that again - I would probably say ‘yes’.” Out of the personal and professional chaos of this period, in which the tapes for ‘Plenty Good Lovin’ got lost, Sam - the dominant lead voice of the Grammy-winning duo they called ‘Double Dynamite’, got deeper into heroin. Money disappeared. There were Sam & Dave reunions, with new recordings for the UA label, and bizarre support slots on US tours with Clash and the Undertones! But famously they kept working together, and drifting apart, on and off, for a further ten years, without once speaking to each other! Until Dave’s death in an auto-accident on the 9th April 1988 placed the final punctuation on the story.
Yet at their peak Sam & Dave had been an integral part of the 1967 European Stax-Volt tour, an all-star package also boasting Otis, Eddie Floyd, Carla Thomas, and Booker T & the MG’s. A tour which did much to open up Soul Music to European audiences. “Yah - I remember that, back in nineteen-sixty-er...whatever, at the Hammerstein Theatre” - he means the Hammersmith Odeon! “That’s where I tore my knees up real bad!” ‘They don’t just sing’ enthused journalist Alan Smith at the time, ‘they dance and scorch-up the stage like Soul ended tonight’ (‘NME’ 1st November 1967). “Yeah, that’s also where I heard about “Soul Man” being stopped from reaching no.1 on the U.S. chart. It had already got to no.1 on the R&B charts, but it stopped at no.2 on the national Pop chart because Lulu - bless her little heart... you’re laughing now” and indeed it’s true, his unique narrative style has me laughing out loud. “But yes, her “To Sir With Love” just swallowed up “Soul Man”. But that’s OK. I approve of just how far that song did go.”
Chart-topper or not, the razor-cut couplets of “Soul Man” stand out as a classic of Sixties Soul. “Yeah” he admits, unconvinced. “‘Soul Man’ has been a blessing - and an albatross. It has been good and bad for me for many many years. In fact, to be honest - I never understood what it was about ‘Soul Man’ that made it so big. And I asked someone that time while I was England, ‘what is it about ‘Soul Man’? And he said to me ‘Sam, it’s a HAPPY song. People walk out of the place and they’re either humming or singing it, or they’re dancing and clapping their hands’. They relate to that song better than anything in the world. And that is something to hear, my friend.”
What Sam now perceives as the problem is his status as - what Eric Morecambe used to call the phenomenon of being ‘half a star’. His name permanently linked with the other 50% of a high-profile double-act. Hopefully, the long-overdue reception of ‘Plenty Good Lovin’ helped to shift that perception some and establish the Sam Moore name as a brand in its own right, although in every other way his career seems to be enjoying a long-overdue resurgence anyway. He talks of the (eventually unfounded) rumours of his maybe participating in the UK’s Golden Jubilee hoopla concerts alongside Brian Wilson - who will always be ‘former Beach-Boys’, regardless of whatever else he achieves. So - if that had happened, would you have done ‘Soul Man’ for the Queen? “I guess so. Because, if I’m singing - I can do anything else that I want to do in a performance, on stage or whatever, but I HAVE to do that one. And I tell you, a while ago, I was doing a TV show in New York called ‘Voices’, and I was doing “Part Time Love”, and we had to do it over and over and over and over. And at the end of the night, I’ll tell you, people were standing up out of the audience and screaming and shouting ‘yeah, that’s good, but what about ‘Soul Man’...?’ And if I hadn’t have done it...?!? I think I would have had serious PROBLEMS!!! So I had to do ‘Soul Man’.”
You did it with Dan Ackroyd at the 1988 Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Show. And you did it for a movie soundtrack with Lou Reed. “I did. I did it with Lou Reed. And since then I did it with... Pat Boone too.” Now that must be something to hear. But meanwhile, there’s a wealth of great music in the Sam Moore back-catalogue. “Well, thank you sir. Thank you very much,” and surely being remembered as half of Soul’s biggest-ever duo - Sam & Dave, can be no bad thing? Some things are so deeply rooted in Pop mythology that they stay inescapable.
BY ANDREW DARLINGTON