Song of Salvation
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.
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 BoomBoxRadio.com, 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.
Like most children of the South, Moore's earliest exposure to music came from the elaborate Sunday rituals of the church. "It was definitely a show," he recalls. "First they'd have a spirited song, then they'd take up a collection. Then the choir would sing and have prayer. After that the lead singer in the choir would come on and do a solo to set it up for the minister. Man, by the time the preacher got up to give his sermon it was like, 'Waaaaaaaah!' The excitement was terrific."
The days spent in church had a profound effect on the boy -- he wanted to be a minister. His grandmother would often find 5-year-old Sam atop a crate at the end of their block, preaching to passers-by.
Yet he grew into a difficult adolescence. His family considered him "incorrigible." Especially his mother, who hated that she saw so much of his father in him. They threatened to send him to a juvenile home, but instead he went to his aunt's house in Ft. Lauderdale. By the time he started high school, he'd returned to his mother, who had moved to the more middle-class Miami suburb of Liberty City. "Baby" would eventually marry Charles Moore, one of the first black architects in Florida and a man whose last name Sam would take.
Although he'd dabbled in it, music had not yet become a defining passion. In fact, little caught Moore's attention during his teen years except the opposite sex. He was every bit his father's son when it came to the ladies. During his teen years, Moore was shot twice, once by a scorned girlfriend and once by a jealous husband who caught Sam in the act with his wife. "He got me in the leg," he recalls, pulling down his sock to point out a 45-year-old scar. "He was aiming for my groin."
After high school, Sam took to the streets. What began with small cons -- rigged dice games, three-card Monty -- evolved into full-time pimping and scamming by the mid-'50s. Moore and his crew would travel throughout the rural Deep South -- Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia -- in pursuit of easy marks.
"We'd get into a town and I'd be out running a game of three-card Monty, but I'd be able to stand in a position to watch the girls," he recalls. "The girls would start talking to a guy [who would be] thinking she was going to go to sleep with him, and we'd get him in the alley and roll him. 'Clip him,' that's what they called it back then.
"We'd have dice games on the street -- play with crooked dice, the Monty -- anything, anything to make a dollar. We were going from town to town doing this all over. We might come back home with a couple thousand dollars -- that was big money in those days. We we're always ducking the cops. Always a few steps ahead of the law."
Well, not always. Moore eventually was busted for transporting a minor across state lines. He pleaded guilty and served 18 months at a prison work farm in Daytona. For the brash and cocky young Moore, it was a sobering experience.
"It was hard 'cause you got four, five, even six guys staying in one tiny room. You learned your lesson behind smelling feet and body odor, and guys trying to rape you. When I got out of there I didn't ever want to go back."
Moore was released in 1959 and returned to Miami. By this time, he had a daughter, Deborah, who would be the first and closest of the 20-plus children he would father. Though he kept a much lower profile, Moore continued to hustle. "I just didn't want a job, I didn't want to do manual labor," he says, laughing.
His aversion to labor led Moore to rediscover his talent for singing. Before jail, Moore had performed in church and had even been recruited by the gospel vocalists the Soul Stirrers. "I went to the rehearsals and I basically made it, but the night I was getting ready to leave with them I went and saw Jackie Wilson," remembers Moore. "Watching Jackie -- the way he moved, the way the women were going crazy for him -- I knew that's what I wanted to do."
Moore dabbled in songwriting, working with a Miami rhythm and blues singer named Sam Early, who had some dubious industry connections. It was here that Moore would learn the first of his many lessons about the larcenous nature of the music business. One of the songs the pair came up with, and for which Moore penned the lyrics, was called "Money" ("Money buys everything it's true/What it don't buy I can't use/I need money.")
When the cut turned up as a hit for Barret Strong in 1958, it was credited to an aspiring Michigan music mogul named Berry Gordy Jr. and songwriter Janie Bradford. Though it's not exactly clear how the song made its way into Gordy's possession, it seems likely that Early sold the song to Miami record distributor Henry Stone, who in turn sold it himself, resulting in the Gordy/Bradford (or sometimes Gordy/Robinson) credit.
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.
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.
After releasing a handful of singles that stalled on the charts, it seemed their prospects as a national act were dim. Listening to the Roulette sides (which were put out seven years later -- after the pair found success with another label -- as a full-length album called Sam & Dave), it's easy to see why the public was apathetic. The material was straight-ahead period-piece R&B, lacking the magic and spark of their later work. Roulette's producers could hardly be blamed. They were used to working with polished urban talents like Sarah Vaughn and Big Joe Turner; they had little idea what to do with two rough-edged rubes.
"It was a little too church and a little too Southern," says Moore. "It was like, 'What do we write for them? How do we sell this?'
"After a while we were stuck. The people [at Roulette] told us they weren't going to do any more promotion or anything, so we figured we better see if we can't get something else going -- another deal or whatever."
Few people were eager to cross Levy, whose underworld connections made him the most feared of the era's record bosses (he would eventually be convicted of extortion and racketeering in a Mafia-related case). But Moore, ignorant of their label head's notoriety, decided he and Prater should pay a visit to Levy's Miami home. The pair went to his mansion blissfully unaware of the risk they were taking.
"It shows you how sometimes it's good to be dumb," Moore says with a laugh.
After a few confusing moments that made it clear Levy had no idea who the two musicians were, Moore bit the bullet. "I said, 'It looks like our records aren't selling, and, um, well, we'd like our contract back.'"
Whether it was uncharacteristic benevolence or sheer surprise at their moxie, Levy was generous, tearing up their deal.
Sam and Dave returned to the King of Hearts and continued to work the Florida club circuit. By 1965, they caught the eye of Atlantic co-owners Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler and were signed to the label. Getting ready to make their first recordings for the imprint, Moore assumed they would return to New York, where Atlantic was headquartered, or perhaps travel to studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where the label had sent Percy Sledge and Aretha Franklin. Instead, Sam and Dave were given two bus tickets to Memphis, home of Stax Records.
Stax would become the epicenter of a revolution. The label's dusty headquarters -- a renovated movie theater -- was a place where black and white musicians would integrate, creating a special brotherhood that was beautifully incongruous amid the '60s turmoil of the South. It would also be the place Otis Redding would record "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay," where Wilson Pickett waited for the "Midnight Hour" and where so many other epics were laid down.
Sam and Dave hardly envisioned such greatness when they got off a Greyhound coach in the River City.
The duo was entrusted to the writing/producing team of David Porter and Isaac Hayes. The two seemed unlikely to succeed where the well-established pros at Roulette had failed. Porter was splitting time as an insurance salesman and grocer, and Hayes, well, Hayes seemed to be from another planet.
"The first time I saw Isaac he was wearing pink socks, green pants and a yellow flowered shirt -- and he was completely bald," says Moore. "I wanted to cry. I thought, 'Who are these people? Where have they sent us? They don't care about us.'
"I walked in the [Stax] studio and looked around. The piano was a beat-up, raggedy-looking thing with scratches and it was out of tune. Oh, God! Well, Isaac Hayes sat down and started describing the songs they had for us -- most of which I really didn't like at first. After a while it became clear to me that he couldn't read music! I was not used to this. And when I saw that these were the people who were supposed get us hits, I thought, 'That's it.' I really felt we were done at that point. Shows you how much I knew."
Hayes and Porter proved their mettle as writers and arrangers. Despair turned into a jubilation after Sam and Dave hit the charts in 1966 with the Porter/Hayes-penned "You Don't Know Like I Know." A string of hit singles followed -- "Hold On, I'm Comin'," "Soul Man," "I Thank You" -- songs that would provide Stax with its greatest chart success, and along with the work of Otis Redding and Booker T. and the MG's (the Stax studio house band), they helped define the company's growing identity.
Unlike Motown, the other preeminent black hit factory of the '60s, Stax, and the music of Sam and Dave in particular, were a wholesale rejection of the pop aesthetic. While Motown trumpeted itself as the "Sound of Young America," Stax maintained an image and a catalogue that cast it closer to the sound of the South -- the Staple Singers, Eddie Floyd, Rufus Thomas. Its records were raw and unpolished, baptized in the soul and funk of the Mississippi and rooted in a bedrock of spiritual fervor.
Sam and Dave were at their critical and commercial zenith, selling millions of records and winning a Grammy. They remained a peerless live act. As Peter Guralnick -- award-winning author of the Elvis Presley bios Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love -- notes, "I don't think anyone who saw them at the peak soon forgot the impact of their performance." Among those who would not forget was Otis Redding. As Guralnick recounts in his seminal study, Sweet Soul Music, Redding -- a man generally regarded as the most electrifying showman of his era -- was so overwhelmed having to follow Sam and Dave during a Stax package tour that he asked to be excused from ever sharing a bill with them again.
The formula that the label had established with Sam and Dave continued to work throughout 1967 and 1968, yielding further chart success. The duo capitalized by touring incessantly, buying their own bus and jet. Moore and Prater hit the road for an average of 300 dates a year; the remainder of the days were spent in the studio or doing promotion.
But just as it appeared things could get no better, three events occurred that would damage Sam and Dave irreparably. In late 1968, Atlantic's distribution deal with Stax ended, which meant that Sam and Dave could longer record there or count on the Porter/Hayes team to provide them with material. Eventually, the pair went back to the parent company, recording with Atlantic head Jerry Wexler in New York, then with Dave Crawford in Muscle Shoals. Just as quickly as the hits had come, they dried up; the group could not replicate its previous magic.
By the early '70s, Sam and Dave were living in separate cities; Moore in New York and Prater in Miami. While their commercial collapse was straining the partnership, a far greater breach developed when Prater shot his second wife, Judy Gilbert, in the face during an argument. Prater escaped prosecution when Gilbert refused to testify against him. But for Moore, it was the final straw in the relationship. In a now-famous quote, he told Prater, "Dave, I'll sing with you, but I shall not ever, ever speak to you again."
Though the act lasted another decade, those would be the last words to pass between the two -- except, as Moore concedes, "when we were both crazy on drugs."
Moore's recreational use of cocaine in the late '60s turned into full-blown heroin abuse by the early '70s. Prater followed suit.
On the career track, things weren't much better. The pair broke up briefly in 1970. Moore signed as a solo artist with Atlantic, putting out a trio of singles in '70 and '71, and recording an album that was never released. Prater also embarked on a short-lived solo bid in 1972.
They needed each other. The names Sam and Dave, though rapidly fading, were still the only real cachet they possessed. The duo reunited in 1974, recording Back At 'Cha, an ill-fated "comeback" album for the United Artists label, and releasing a set of singles which, again, went nowhere.
By now, touring had become a grim ritual. "It was all about getting enough money to buy the next fix," sighs Moore.
Their performances grew erratic. Their following diminished. "You couldn't fool the audience. They could see that these guys are junkies, losers."
Where they had once shone on the stages of the Copacabana and the Apollo Theater, the rest of the decade saw their descent hasten.
"Now, we're playing after-hours clubs for drug dealers -- 12 o'clock to 4 o'clock in the morning," recounts Moore. "No more playing in clubs where you have Mick Jagger or Rod Stewart in the audience. This is for the drug people. They didn't pay us in money. They paid us in drugs. It was really ugly by that time."
Once a robust ebony figure in a tilted porkpie hat, Moore was now emaciated by chemical abuse. "At first I was skin-popping the heroin, 'cause I didn't want no marks. I did that for two or three years, then I went to mainlining; hired a gopher to shoot me up. It just got worse, until I learned to be the doctor and shoot myself up.
"For a long time I was really embarrassed. I hid behind a beard. I would never step out in the spotlight. The bottom line was that I knew what I had done to myself. You can't help but know when you look in the mirror in the morning and see you're 118 pounds, when you had once been 180. You're wearing someone else's clothes, 'cause your own don't fit you anymore. You're a slave to what I call your woman, your needle."
Moreover, Sam and Dave had come under the sway of a manager named Jeff Brown. Brown had guided Ray Charles' career and, it would later turn out, swindled Charles out of a healthy sum of money.
Brown did little for the band aside from setting up a number of vacuous quick-hit jobs -- a rerecording of their greatest hits in '78, a session that Prater did not show up for. Mostly, he had the duo on the road playing destructive one-night stands -- in effect, keeping them addicted. Brown had his reasons. He'd become the "and" in Sam and Dave, taking a third of the group's profits for himself and whatever other money he could outright steal, including the bulk of the $50,000 advance for the UA album. (In a bizarre move, Brown even posed in the group's publicity photo, standing between a robed Sam and Dave.)
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.
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.
During this time, Moore signed on to perform as part of a European R&B package tour, with Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge and others. (The tour bombed after Pickett had a psychotic episode onstage in Brussels, nearly starting a riot.)
Joyce and Sam were married during the tour, but there was little wedding bliss when the musical caravan ended up stuck and broke in Amsterdam -- the drug capital of the world. The days in Holland passed tenuously, but Joyce was somehow able to help Moore maintain his sobriety.
The couple returned home to L.A. and back to the clinic to begin the final phase of Moore's treatment. Tests revealed that he had flushed his system of the heroin and was ready to begin taking the anti-opiate called Naltrexan. His first dose caused a violent reaction. Gradually, he eased into the treatment, showing a marked physical improvement.
Still, the needle beckoned. "A part of what happens with an addict is that they're going to go back and try it," says Joyce. "I knew that it would happen."
When he did relapse on the eve of his live solo debut in Houston, Sam decided to shoot up and then take the anti-opiate, causing the episode that sent him hurtling toward his hotel-room epiphany.
"You may not believe it, but this is true," says Sam, drawing out the words slowly, "I never thought I would not be a junkie. I always thought I would shoot dope. I always felt as though my life was going to be as a junkie or a drug dealer."
There were, as Joyce describes it, "a couple more close calls." And though he remained at risk for several more years, Moore had finally beaten his jones. Joyce had triumphed in helping save his life. The battle to save his career loomed.
In October 1982, word began to spread that Sam and Dave were back on the road. The only problem was, Sam Moore knew nothing about it.
Dave Prater had hired the first in a series of "fake Sams," going out on tour billed as "The Sam and Dave Revue." This was not only a questionable move, but an illegal one -- Prater had sold his rights to the name and partnership to Moore in 1968 for $38,000 to settle a debt.
Prater's camp also began spreading rumors as to why Moore wasn't performing.
"They came up with every story," says Joyce, bristling. "That Sam had cancer, that he was retired or locked up in rehab. That the fake Sam was actually the real, original Sam who had gone in the Army years earlier -- just total bullshit. Every kind of story and rumor and fantasy was perpetrated.
"It was a disgrace. They were playing these dives, opening for wet tee-shirt nights and ruining the name of Sam and Dave, and effectively Sam Moore."
Sam says, "We tried to get him to stop. We offered to reunite, to do specials, record, whatever. But he never responded. He just kept going."
The damage caused by Prater's barnstorming act still rankles the couple.
"There was only a limited amount of goodwill left with the industry toward Sam and Dave," says Joyce. "It took years for us to convince people that Sam wasn't the fake Sam. To this day we have people coming up and telling him, 'Hey, I booked you in 1986' and, 'Boy you sure look different' or, 'You sure sound different.'"
The Moores spent much of the '80s in court, getting injunctions, contempt orders, arrest warrants, chasing after Prater and the fake Sams. In fact, Joyce was ready to serve him with yet another injunction at a show New Jersey when the call came that Prater (who had been sentenced for selling crack cocaine a week before) had died in a car accident.
Moore's contempt for his late partner has mellowed. He remembered him fondly during the duo's induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. He sang at Prater's induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
But the years after his recovery were tortuous.
"People never knew we had a hard time eating," says Moore.
With little or no royalty income and a growing stack of legal bills to fight Prater and Atlantic, Joyce eventually lost her house and had to pawn her jewelry. At one point, the Moores, her daughter, his grandson and two dogs lived in a motel room in West Hollywood.
"People never knew we were that down," adds Joyce. "Because in this business, you have to maintain an image. But it got pretty bad for a while."
Throughout the '80s, Sam's phone would ring with the occasional offer: a recording session with Don Henley, a role in the film Tapeheads, a duet with Lou Reed for the soundtrack to the comedy Soul Man.
The appearances left a false impression. "Whenever you saw him, it was on TV or at some big-time affair, but then we'd go home and starve. The truth is, during that period he might get five gigs a year. Sometimes more, sometimes less," remembers Joyce.
At its lowest point, it was enough to make Sam yearn for the security of heroin. But he resisted the temptation.
Financially, things began to change after Prater's death. In 1988, royalties from Atlantic started to loosen up. The company was planning an elaborate 40th anniversary celebration. "They started to give in a little at that time because we were prepared to ruin [Atlantic founder] Ahmet's Ertegun's party if we had to," says Joyce.
That year, Joyce began consulting for Valley resident Ed Buck, who was campaigning to recall Governor Evan Mecham. Commuting to Phoenix, she and Moore decided to escape the overpriced real estate market in L.A. and move to the desert.
"I didn't know quite what to expect -- I had been out here with Sam and Dave, but that was years before. Once we got out here I really fell in love with the place," says Sam.
Moore's career steadily rebounded into the '90s. He sang with Bruce Springsteen on his 1992 Human Touch album; he earned notice among country music fans when he guested on TNN's Nashville Now; he sang a touching 1993 duet with Conway Twitty on "Rainy Night in Georgia," the last recording of Twitty's life.
Long-overdue accolades came his way from critics and peers. In April, Moore joined Sting, Billy Joel, Ricky Martin and others at a Carnegie Hall benefit to preserve rain forests. The event turned into a salute to Moore, with the biggest names in music singing his praises.
Moore has expanded his efforts, landing a scene-stealing role in the upcoming indie film feature Night of the Golden Eagle.
The serenity of Valley life, away from the bustle and lingering memories of L.A., proved to be just the tonic Moore needed.
"Getting straight, coming out here -- it's been good," says Moore. ". . . I consider myself to have been very fortunate. My life could've ended a whole different way."
Dave Marsh is well-versed in the hypocrisy of record executives. First, as a founding editor at Creem, then later at Rolling Stone, Marsh has long championed artists in their fight to receive proper compensation from those who hold the keys to the music-industry vaults.
In 1988, the Rhythm and Blues Foundation was set up as part of the push toward royalty reform and artist remuneration. For the start-up, Atlantic Records contributed several million dollars in reparations for aggrieved musicians; the foundation would distribute the money on a case-by-case basis. It was an initiative that Marsh says "began with the noblest of intentions and wound up as a catastrophic betrayal."
Part of the original theory behind the R&B Foundation was that rampant abuses would end and that artists would begin getting fair and accurate accountings. That goal was never fully realized.
In 1992, Atlantic decided to restructure its commitment to the organization. It became clear to Marsh and Joyce Moore, both board members at the time, that the R&B Foundation was no longer going to exist as a means for reparations but rather as a front to allow record companies to rehabilitate their images. Marsh and Moore both resigned in protest.
In the wake of general reform, artists -- even the ones who have received payment -- are still being cheated.
"The problem is most remedies at law are prohibitively expensive," says Marsh. "And these performers are kept in such pernicious conditions that they'll settle for a nickel or a penny on the dollar."
Sam and Joyce Moore have refused to bend. Both can recite a litany of incredible tales of record-company theft and malfeasance.
Marsh stresses that there is no exaggeration in the Moores' claims.
"There's a difference between Sam and most of the other people who were treated exactly the same way. Sam's complaint is generic -- there are thousands of artists who have been treated that way. But the force and commitment Sam and Joyce bring to it is unique. They refuse to settle for anything less than what they deserve."
Among the claims against Atlantic, they allege that the label has quietly dried up the market for Sam and Dave CDs, all of which, save for a couple of best-ofs, are out of print. (Rhino Records, a reissue house, actually has stewardship of Atlantic's back catalogue. The label says it has given Moore the rights to his unissued Atlantic solo album; Night of the Golden Eagle producers are considering using the music as the film's soundtrack.) Worse, the Moores claim that Atlantic's licensing practices are dubious at best and that the foreign reporting of Sam and Dave sales is woefully inaccurate.
"Every time I go to Europe, I find Sam and Dave records that I bring back home and send them and say, 'Are you getting paid for these?'" says Marsh. "I remember I found one in Italy that was a Sam and Dave CD in a tin box -- and I'm not kidding you about this -- there were blackface figures from minstrel shows on the cover of it. The callousness of the whole thing is mind-boggling. The [record companies] just don't care."
The Moores have been committed to the fight for nearly two decades. But winning a war against a large corporate army is a daunting task, especially if it has to be waged over relatively minor sums.
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.
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.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.