Song of Salvation

R&B legend Sam Moore finds serenity in Scottsdale

After Sam and Dave were inducted to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, the Moores traveled to Florida to consult with attorneys regarding a number of royalty-related suits. While researching their case, the lawyers came up with what Joyce calls "the bomb" -- Moore v. American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).

The $7 billion dollar class-action suit was filed in federal court in Atlanta against AFTRA and virtually every recording company in the United States, accusing them of cheating recording artists out of hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits.

The suit is being pressed under the Racketeering Influence and Corruption Act of 1970 (RICO). This action has serious implications for the record companies. If found guilty, the industry will be characterized as a "racketeering enterprise" and be open to a variety of individual and class-action suits that would further expose industry practices. This means record companies may have to open up their books and explain how they've been exploiting artists for decades.

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

Marsh calls the suit "potentially the single most important piece of litigation ever filed in the history of music."

The case has vacillated. In October 1994 and March 1995, a federal judge threw most of it out, saying artists who felt cheated should pursue their grievance through existing AFTRA channels.

At that point, the only part that remained was the lone claim that record companies had violated RICO statutes. However, in 1997, a judge reinstated the AFTRA claim, agreeing with the artists' argument that AFTRA's procedures were "futile."

Last month, the case suffered another setback in appellate court as it lost its status as a class-action grievance.

The Moores have asked the entire appellate panel to rehear the case. The likelihood of that is slim. However, because there have been rulings in similar cases in other courts, it's possible the case may be heard by the Supreme Court.

Whatever the ultimate outcome, Joyce is adamant that "we're not going away."

Several of the original plaintiffs in Moore v. AFTRA have died since the action was first brought. The names listed in the complaint read like an obituary notice: Curtis Mayfield, Doris Jackson, Barbara Acklin, Mary Wells, Jackie Wilson.

Estates will pick up the fight, but the damage to older artists continues. Many have suffered and died without the benefits they deserve. In a sense, the case has turned into a war of attrition.

Sam Moore is beaming. Or he's panting. Both expressions seem to cross the singer's face as he jumps and dances across the stage. Outside, the cumbersome heat of late July has given way to a slight breeze.

The last time Moore sang, he was onstage at Carnegie Hall. Tonight, it's the Oasis Lounge at Harrah's Ak-Chin Casino, south of Phoenix. Such are the vagaries of the music business.

Against the din of buzzers and slot machines, he'll play two sets a night for two nights, all of them to overflow crowds. The show is free, but still, people have come out to see a legend.

"I think he was in the Blues Brothers or something," whispers a besotted blonde to her friend.

There are those who are more knowledgeable, for whom this is a genuine event. Black and brown faces are scattered across the room, flashing recognition with each old number.

The set is light on Sam and Dave material. He sings period pieces, mostly -- a little Pickett, a little Jackie, a couple of Memphis covers. It's rendered beautifully. Not at all the soggy misfire of a talent past its prime.

He does "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay," aping Otis' inflections beautifully. And though the song will degenerate into minor shtick -- he asks the audience to whistle the coda -- there are a few moments early on when it feels like the crowd is gone and the room has been transformed into a sacred place.

In his honeyed croon, Moore squeezes life out of a tired classic, delivering each line with a spiritual conviction. He carves those filigrees with the deft hand of a master, the kind of ease that comes only after a lifetime.

He's no longer the 5-year-old preaching from atop a crate, but he still feels the tug of the revival.

"Yes, yes, I think that's true," nods Moore, quietly. "That's always with me. And I still want to make a gospel album. I'm still determined to do it. If nothing else, I'd like to have that."

Sam Moore might have left the church, but the church, it seems, never left him.

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