The words “humble” and “legend” don’t often get used in the same sentence, especially when you are talking about a recording artist with over six decades in the business. But those two words describe Sam Moore, the legendary soul man of Sam & Dave — and later Swanky Modes fame — perfectly.
In his 60 years of recording and performing live, Mr. Moore created some of the genre’s greatest songs, including “Hold on I’m Comin’,” “I Thank You” and the signature tune “Soul Man.” But if you ask Mr. Moore about those songs and his amazing voice, he humbly replies, “I just used the gift he [God] gave me.”
If there is a musical hall of fame of any merit, then Mr. Moore is in it, including The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and his upcoming inductions into both The Georgia Music Hall of Fame and Memphis Hall of Fame. But to Mr. Moore those honors are simply “nice, I guess.”
He is a living legend. But the man is far too humble to admit it.
In honor of Mr. Moore’s 80th birthday, we sat down for this exclusive chat, which felt more like catching up with a dear old friend than an interview. Mr. Moore reflected on what awards mean to him, The Blues Brothers and his role in the cult classic film “Tapeheads.”
Question: Do awards mean anything to you?
Answer: The induction into The [Georgia] Hall of Fame means something because of our connection to Georgia, Dave and I. This is very special to me. Memphis is nice because of the Stax connection.
Q: Was The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the greatest honor you received?
A: Used to be. Or was at first. I’m proud to have the honor of being inducted. But it takes away a little bit because the peers that I came up with are not in. It still grinds me. I really wish they had been them in there with us. Billy Preston isn’t in — they say because he was a sideman. One day it might happen.
Q: Take me back to the beginning of Sam & Dave.
A: Sam & Dave was a fluke. At the time I was a young fella passing by this black club called King of Hearts. They had a sign in the window that they were hiring. I went in and told the owner I could do the job. They wanted an MC/comedian/singer. I knew I could cover one: I could sing. But I only knew but one song. And it was gospel! [laughs]
The lie was that I was a comedian and also an MC — not knowing what an MC was! I got hired for that job one night and fired the next.
The next night the owner said, “Is that your joke? That’s not a joke. I like your singing, but don’t you have other songs?” He kept me on as a singer. Then he remembered a singer I had introduced the night before. That turned out to be [Dave Prater], my partner for the next 22 years. The club owner liked what he saw, not what he heard. He liked the interaction.
It was a fluke because when Dave came on, he was nervous. He dropped the mic, and I fell down to get the mic. He thought that was an act.
Q: If Dave was less clumsy, might you may have never become a team?
A: It would have never been born! Because it wasn’t like we came together because someone thought the voices would blend. “Oh, the harmonies!” No. Klutz! Pratfall! [laughs]
Q: How did it become Sam & Dave and not Dave & Sam? And was Dave jealous of the billing?
A: There was no argument. The owner of the club said, “You’re Sam & Dave.” That was it. That’s the way it stayed.
Q: How did you guys end up at Stax Records?
A: We had been with so many other record companies that didn’t know what to do with us. Roulette was one of them, because I had such a gospel background. I sang sharp.
Jackie Wilson and I put together a couple songs. None of it worked. When we got singed by Atlantic, they said they were going to send us down to Memphis to record. I said, “Memphis?! What is going on there?” When I got to Stax to record and was introduced to Isaac Hayes, it clicked.
Q: Did you like when The Blues Brothers covered “Soul Man?”
A: I thought it was a respectable thing at first. But they disrespected Sam & Dave as the founders or originators of the song, and they made The Blues Brothers the thing. Made people think “Soul Man” was their song. I felt insulted every time Danny [Aykroyd] called me to perform. I didn’t say anything because I needed the money. But every time I went out to perform with him and John [Belushi]’s brother [Jim], I realized they only had me there because they couldn’t do it. That’s not respect.
Q: Later in your career, you became one of the Swanky Modes in the film “Tapeheads.” How did that happen?
A: There was a script sent to me, and it was called “Tapeheads.” I didn’t know anything about making movies. But I went to a reading audition. They let me ad lib. At the audition I saw the Whispers, the two brothers. I saw Bobby [Hatfield] and Bill [Medley] from The Righteous Brothers. I never expected no call back. Oh, “Tapeheads.” It was so much fun!
Q: Do you think you’ll ever retire?
A: I’m not ready. But I don’t wanna sing “Soul Man” every night. I don’t sing “Soul Man” every week. I wanna go back to my roots. I hope I have a chance to do it. After I do that, I will do whatever [God] wants me to do.
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