Song of Salvation

R&B legend Sam Moore finds serenity in Scottsdale

As his body shivered and convulsed, Sam Moore mumbled a quiet prayer.

"Dear God, please . . ."

Moore knew about praying. He knew the church and his almighty Lord, even if he hadn't always followed Him. He had stood in His house, been moved by His spirit and had sung in His choir. And now, he asked God to spare his life, to soothe his quivering, heroin-ravaged body.

Paolo Vescia
Soul personified: The legendary Sam Moore.
Paolo Vescia
Soul personified: The legendary Sam Moore.

The folks back at Beth Israel Baptist in Overtown, Florida, couldn't have comprehended his plight. Not his grandmama nor his mother, both dead 20 years now. They wouldn't understand the cure he was taking to try to kick his habit, or why he'd gone back for another taste of the stuff -- mixing the two incompatible chemicals and pushing himself to the brink of collapse.

If he'd been able to steady his mind, he might've cursed himself -- for blowing his first live solo gig, for betraying his new bride. Cursed the fact that he was stuck in a motel room in Houston, Texas, trying to fight off the DTs and losing; realizing more and more what a fool he'd been.

He didn't regret the lost fortune, that would come later. He reserved his lament for what he'd done to himself. He had always taken pride in who he was. Sam Moore. A player, a professional, a serious man. A legend. He was the Sam of Sam and Dave -- once among the most exciting musical acts in the world. "Double Dynamite" they called them. But that partnership had become a nihilistic mutation. A decade spent playing at the behest of dealers instead of fans; getting paid off in powder. He had wilted under the thumb of the drugs. The very thought of it made his stomach churn even more.

But mostly, as he lay in a strange bed, he wondered if there was a way he could be saved.

"I did pray that night. 'Cause it looked like I was gonna leave here. It was that bad."

Moore delivers these words some 18 years after the fact, in the warmth and comfort of his Scottsdale home. But he shivers at the thought of the old memory, a parched pall in his mouth.

"I asked God, 'Please, if you let me live, I ain't gonna do this no more. I won't ever do this again.'"

Like all junkie promises, it was broken, but never again in the same way. He had finally been convinced: He had wasted too much of his life.

Sam Moore doesn't always reveal himself so easily. Many critics contend that Moore -- a Grammy winner and member of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame -- is the world's greatest living singer. That much is easy to grasp. But to really know Sam Moore, you have to gain a sense of the intense contradictions that govern the man.

Born into poverty, his adolescence was spent in middle-class respectability. Though raised by honest people, he found his true home on the streets, robbing and pimping. A street-smart hustler, yet he has been ripped off by nickel-and-dime scammers and billion-dollar corporations alike. Blessed with a rare musical gift, he is loath to admit his talent.

"There is a lot of stuff going on there," says noted rock writer Dave Marsh, who edited a 1998 oral history of Sam and Dave and knows the singer as well as any outsider. "There are -- and for good reason -- a number of conflicts within him. It's obvious to me that he still carries a great many burdens."

As Moore approaches his 65th year, he continues to toil to reverse the damage done to his name -- by himself and others. To restore his reputation and legacy. And, in the process, get what is rightfully his. That battle has taken him many places -- mostly law offices and courtrooms. But he has persevered against powerful adversaries. His fight is far from over and may eventually lead to the Supreme Court.

Moore's escape to the Valley from Los Angeles in 1988 proved pivotal in helping him attain a sense of peace. Twelve years later, he's ensconced in the life of an active desert retiree, playing golf and finally connecting with his estranged children. His adopted home has provided a wealth of career opportunities. In the past year alone, Moore has been designated musical ambassador for the Phoenix Suns, has performed with the Phoenix Symphony and has been signed to launch his own show, Soul Sessions, for, a Mesa-based Internet company.

Regardless of who he's become or how his crusade ends, Sam Moore's journey has been so arduous and singular that it's impossible to separate him from it.

The story of Sam Moore began in October 1935 with his birth to Louise "Baby" Robinson and John Richard Hicks. Delivered two months premature, Samuel David Hicks weighed scarcely three pounds. He barely survived.

His struggling family lived in a black Miami ghetto known as Overtown. Raised by his maternal grandmother, Virginia Robinson, and his mother, Sam spent his early years without a true father figure. His own father, a railroad porter, didn't live with the family and was, as Moore describes him, "a ladies' man and a gambler." John Hicks was a singer as well, mostly in church, where the women in attendance would shout their approval whenever he testified.

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