Song of Salvation

R&B legend Sam Moore finds serenity in Scottsdale

Moore tried to get paid for the song, and Early promised to arrange a meeting with Stone to rectify the situation. But in an ugly twist, Early was shot and paralyzed before a deal was made.

"Money" has been covered hundreds of times, by everyone from the Beatles to Waylon Jennings, and has appeared on countless soundtracks and commercials. It's generated millions. With the capital he earned from its success, Berry Gordy would go on to found and expand his Motown empire. Aside from a $500 pittance from Henry Stone, Sam Moore has never received a penny, or ever been properly credited as the song's co-writer -- an incomprehensible and appalling injustice.

By 1960, Moore was playing amateur nights and working the chitlin circuit, earning a few dollars here and there. He landed a spot at a nightclub called the King of Hearts, where he would MC a weekly talent show. Though Moore found the attention gratifying, music was not providing enough to make a living and seemed an unlikely choice for a long-term career.

Sam and Dave, all smiles with friend and tourmate Otis Redding (center).
Sam and Dave, all smiles with friend and tourmate Otis Redding (center).
Sweat 'n' soul: "[The] things that they did with their bodies and with their voices," says rock critic Dave Marsh, "are simply unparalleled."
Sweat 'n' soul: "[The] things that they did with their bodies and with their voices," says rock critic Dave Marsh, "are simply unparalleled."

His burdens would increase the next year as he was forced to care for his mother, who was battling cancer (she would pass away not long after; Moore's grandmother died the following year). By 1961, Moore found himself an ex-con with a child the state was threatening to take away, a $90-a-month mortgage he could no longer afford and family that he'd buried.

"I was lost," says Moore, shaking his head, "I was very lost at that time. I really didn't know what I was going to do."

Fate intervened in the form of a Georgia bumpkin and aspiring singer by the name of Dave Prater.

Sam Moore is trying hard to hide a tortured expression, extinguish a spark of anger. Talking about Sam and Dave, the "act," is difficult. It's not that Moore isn't forthcoming. Throughout days of interviews, he never flinches, even in describing the most sordid details of his life. He's been deeply conflicted by the Sam and Dave experience since the group's final 1981 split. To Moore, Sam and Dave is hardly about the music. It represents enslavement to drugs, the duo's difficult breakup, scurrilous rumors spread about him, the lasting damage it's done to his life and career.

Reliving his 20-year partnership with Prater, he stammers and stops, yells in exasperation and then breaks into a beatific smile of acceptance that has become the truest sign of his recovery, from both the addiction and resentment that once ruled him.

Sam Moore and Dave Prater met one night at the King of Hearts, when Prater, unfamiliar with all the words to the Jackie Wilson hit, "Doggin' Around," asked Moore to join him onstage. The two shared an instant chemistry that electrified the crowd.

Sam and Dave was born.

Prater, a native of Ocilla, Georgia, was in many ways Moore's complete opposite. Sam was a savvy street player, interested in music primarily as a means to escape hard work. Dave was a clean-cut country kid who pined for stardom. Sam possessed a bright and powerful croon; Dave's voice was a low, coarse rumble. Whatever their differences, their mutual steeping in the gospel tradition and affection for R&B led to a spectacular professional union.

Since their voices were too disparate to harmonize, they relied on the old call-and-response of church music -- trading lines, shouting evocations, ad-libbing. It would become their hallmark.

"We sang, but we were more like evangelical signers. Like the old tent singers used to be. We were actually testifying, preaching," recalls Moore.

If their music appropriated the spirit of gospel, their stage show captured its glorious fervor. Moore remembered how the scriptures had moved him as a small boy, how the minister would punctuate his oratory with moans and groans and then fall to his knees, collapsing in cries of pathos. Instinctively, Sam incorporated those elements into the act. Dave would follow suit, and soon audiences became touched with a kind of strange epiphany through a haze of smoke and the clatter of cocktail glasses.

"We'd be onstage at this nightclub," says Moore, "and you'd hear people say, 'Yeah, man! Sing! Amen!'"

"They were an incredible act," says author Dave Marsh. "There were things that they did with their bodies and with their voices that are simply from that day to this, in my opinion, unparalleled. They had these amazing physical instincts and were shameless about it. The funny thing about their relationship to the church is that no one -- including James Brown -- has ever pushed it that far. It was just all-out 'I'm gonna bust some church on ya now.'"

Moore explains: "We weren't dancers. It's not that we couldn't learn dance steps, it's that everything we did was spontaneous. We were comfortable being spontaneous; it worked for us. We believed in getting the audience involved, we believed in that. We wanted that audience to feel what we were feeling."

As their reputations grew, they began to make regional tours -- Nassau, Jacksonville, St. Pete, Tallahassee. Finally, the demand became so strong they were obliged to record. They signed with New York's Roulette Records, a company run by infamous mob insider Morris Levy. Sam and Dave went to the Big Apple, but the label's hotshot producers were unable to capture the sound and feel that made their live delivery so potent.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets