UPDATE: The show's organizers have announced that Salute the Soul Man: A Benefit for Sam Moore has been postponed until Spring 2016. We'll update the story when a specific date is announced.
Musical duo Sam & Dave, the effusive singers behind the timeless hit "Soul Man," may have come to define the sound of Memphis in the '60s. But Samuel David Moore was, in fact, born and raised right here, in Miami's historic — and at times troubled — Overtown.
It was here, in Overtown — at the time, a hotbed for local and national black music culture — where Moore made his reputation as a singer following his graduation from Booker T. Washington High School. And it was here, in Liberty City, where Moore met Georgia transplant Dave Prater, coming to Prater's rescue as the singer stumbled through a Jackie Wilson tune at a Moore-hosted open mike. The two would go on to form one of R&B's most successful partnerships.
Music was an integral part of the fabric of day-to-day life in Overtown, and it's that filter through which Moore recalls the community at the time. "It's much different today than it was back then," he says. "Back then, growing up and in the business, there was love, there was concentration, there was faith in one another. If you had any kind of talent, most of the time — most of the time, not all of the time, but most of the time — you would get a deal. There was always a togetherness. Everybody looked for the love and the music to put together."
Still, if regional success came quickly, it was years before Moore found national attention. "It took Sam & Dave, I would say, six or seven, maybe eight years," Moore recalls. "We weren't signed directly to Atlantic at first. We had different record companies locally. The records that we did record, they went as far as from Miami to maybe... Fort Lauderdale!"
He vividly recalls the night they caught their big break. "We were singing at this club, the King of Hearts in Miami, and these three guys showed up unannounced. It was [Atlantic Records execs] Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd and Ahmet Ertegun. And they listened to us, and the next thing I knew, they had signed us. But hey, man, we were all over the place before we really got fixed into a record deal."
That deal eventually took Moore and Prater from South Florida to Memphis, Tennessee, where Atlantic had forged a partnership with Stax Records. It was a city that would become integral to the Sam & Dave mythos. But the move was hardly a smooth one for Moore. "I was almost [ready] to give up, to tell you the truth," he says.
"Actually, I had given up when I first went to Memphis." It was a time of transition, and Moore was struggling to find his fit in the rapidly changing world. "Rock 'n' roll was still hanging around at that time. It was still that doo-wop. And then we got caught up into the Motown [sound]. When we transferred to Memphis, tears started coming down my face because I had my eyes set on [singing] songs like Jackie Wilson and the Coasters and people like that — Brook Benton and Ray Charles. Shows you how much I knew. Everything was just so, so screwed up. I just didn't see any way we were going to make it as whatever they were looking for in Sam & Dave."
Indeed, Moore remained dubious even when presented with the song that would one day grow to be his most iconic hit. "When they came out with 'Soul Man,' I didn't know. I just felt, Well, uh, OK? I didn't know it was going to be a hit. I really didn't. You see how everyone has jumped on the wagon behind that 'Soul Man' thing? Oh boy!"
Oh boy, indeed.
In addition to releasing the unstoppable "Soul Man," Sam & Dave would go on to issue a steady stream of era-defining songs in their Memphis years that set the mold for soul music as a genre, tracks like the horn-fueled "Hold On, I'm Comin'?" and the gospel-tinged lament "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby." When the dust cleared, Sam & Dave had released a hot streak of ten consecutive Top 20 R&B singles from 1965 to '68. Though success grew fleeting for the group in the '70s, leading to a rancorous split in 1981 (one that culminated in a legal tussle after Prater recruited a different "Sam" to tour under the Sam & Dave name), the duo's legacy has proven
This Saturday, Moore will return to his South Florida home to host Salute the Soul Man, a star-studded celebration of his six decades in the industry. The night's guest performers — Sting, Jon Bon Jovi, Don Henley, Michael McDonald, and many others — are a
Moore recounts first meeting Bon Jovi (whom he calls "Johnny") and the rocker's then-girlfriend decades ago: "It was brought to my attention that she said to him: 'If you don't take me to see Sam & Dave, I'm not going to go out on those dates or marry you!' So he brought her to see Sam & Dave, and now they've been together 25 years. I think that's a pretty good start."
Proceeds from Salute the Soul Man will benefit Moore's own Soul, Arts & Music Foundation (SAM), a not-for-profit corporation tasked with two causes near and dear to Moore's heart: recovering rights for American legacy recording artists and, with the help of Florida International University, developing curricula and programs dedicated to preserving the history of American music in underfunded schools — beginning with those in his childhood home of Overtown. When it's suggested that the latter cause is a particularly noble one, Moore demurs. "I don't know if it's so noble. It's important and it's very special and, more than anything in the world, it is the right thing to do."
Now 80 years old, Moore has seen and done it all, yet his humble upbringing in Overtown remains at the core of his makeup. "I never relished being this big — a superstar and all this stuff," he protests. "As I do now, I favored the gospel side, the Christian side. But when I was just really pushed, pushed, pushed to concentrate on this — [soul] is what I came up with." And while popular music tastes have changed radically in his lifetime, soul endures, because as far as Moore is concerned,
Salute the Soul Man: A Benefit for the Soul, Music & Arts Foundation Hosted by Sam Moore. With Sting, Jon Bon Jovi, Michael McDonald, Randy Jackson, Don Henley, and others. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 21, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7300; fillmoremb.com. Tickets cost $150 to $500 plus fees via livenation.com.