Song of Salvation

R&B legend Sam Moore finds serenity in Scottsdale

The group's royalties from Atlantic started to dwindle. As it is with most record-company math, there were discrepancies. By the end of the decade, their checks from the label disappeared. And nothing, it seemed, could boost their careers. Even the success of the Blues Brothers, an act modeled closely on Sam and Dave, failed to reverse their sagging fortunes.

Still, they trundled out a desperate road show 150 nights a year, but the fruits of their labor were scarce. As both Brown and the drugs drained the income stream, Moore found himself running from creditors, having his car repossessed and watching as marshals seized his home and belongings. It had been a long and dramatic fall from the days of private jets and gold records.

Sam Moore had strayed mightily; he'd become the type of character that the preachers of his youth sermonized against. But he didn't want to hear religious platitudes, he didn't need them; he had his dope.

(Top) Onstage with Phil Collins and Dan Aykroyd. (Below) Recording with Don Henley.
(Top) Onstage with Phil Collins and Dan Aykroyd. (Below) Recording with Don Henley.
Sam being led from the stage by wife Joyce, with dogs in tow.
Sam being led from the stage by wife Joyce, with dogs in tow.

Moore was convinced he'd be hooked on the junk until he died -- a fate that seemed more and more imminent.


Joyce Moore is impossible to ignore. It's a quality developed over years of practice. She's made a professional nuisance of herself, becoming a thorn in the side of those who would try to rob and harm her husband. She punctuates her conversation with deadpan humor, jabbing her finger in the imagined chests of far-flung foes as she sits in her Scottsdale kitchen.

She is fiercely protective of her husband and his legacy. It is not an exaggeration to say that Joyce saved Sam Moore's life -- and not always with his cooperation.

Born Joyce Howard, the Chicago native was a piano prodigy at the age of three. Howard was an aspiring singer when her career was derailed after a serious car accident in 1968. She drifted to the other side of the business, working in booking and promotion.

Though Joyce and Sam first crossed paths in the late '60s, when her friend Judy Gilbert began dating Dave Prater, they had not seen each other in years.

In the interim, Joyce had become close with one of Moore's idols, singer Jackie Wilson. After Wilson suffered a heart attack onstage in 1975 and lapsed into a coma, Joyce was called to New Jersey to testify in a guardianship hearing for Wilson, then being characterized as a vegetable with no potential for recovery. That's a claim that Joyce says "was an absolute lie. He could have been helped. He was purposely abandoned and neglected."

There were ominous forces at work to keep Wilson locked in a medical purgatory, and without the kind of treatment he desperately needed (he would eventually die in a nursing home in 1984 at the age of 50). Chief among them was Brunswick Records owner Nat Tarnapol, eventually convicted of federal fraud and conspiracy charges for taking artist royalties (the convictions were later overturned). Tarnapol owned all of Wilson's lucrative masters and had a million-dollar life insurance policy on him.

Newly separated from her second husband, Joyce relocated to Jersey to be by Wilson's side and try to help him reconnect in some way with the friends and colleagues who had been shut out of his life. She hoped his desperate condition might improve with some human contact.

One of the first people she looked up was Sam Moore. While the two would grow close, Joyce remained oblivious to the fact that Moore was in the depths of heroin addiction.

"I was unbelievably clueless when it came to that kind of stuff. One time I found his needles under the sink and I thought he was diabetic -- that's how naive I was," she says.

In 1979, Joyce moved to California to work for the Jackson family and later in promotion for MCA Records.

Her friendship with Moore grew into romance. If Joyce was unaware of Sam's addiction, she became convinced that Sam and Dave's manger, Jeff Brown, was keeping the duo locked in a pattern of difficult road gigs while he robbed them blind.

High one night, Moore admitted to her he was a junkie. Her first instinct was to run, escape an ugly situation. But, says Joyce, "I was already in love with him."

Collapsing under the weight of his addiction, Moore pleaded for her help.

"When he told me that, I thought, 'If I don't help him and he dies, I'm gonna live with that for the rest of my life,'" says Joyce. "I had already gone through this horrific trauma with the whole Jackie thing. I knew I couldn't save Jackie because the people involved were bigger than me. But I couldn't let it happen with Sam."

The first step was to free Moore from Jeff Brown. They set up a sting to catch Brown shortchanging. Armed with the evidence, and with the help of famed promoter Bill Graham, Moore eluded Brown's grasp, and Prater's. Sam and Dave played their final gig in San Francisco on New Year's Eve 1981.

Moore moved to be with Joyce in Los Angeles. The next step was to escape 13 years of chemical dependency. Moore got on an experimental anti-opiate recovery program. While Moore believed Joyce was supplanting his heroin addiction with Darvon and Methadone, she was secretly detoxing him, watering down his daily intake, to the point where he no longer craved the drugs.

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