Sam And Dave
Sam Moore – circa 1975
“Comin’ to ya, on a dusty road / Good lovin’, I got a truck load” – ‘Soul Man’ (Isaac Hayes, David Porter)
“The tears started streaming down my face,” confesses Sam Moore, one half of the soul music duo Sam And Dave. “I looked at Dave and I said, ‘Oh my God, how could Atlantic [Records] do this to us?’” What catastrophe could provoke such an extreme reaction? Have Sam And Dave been dumped from their record label? Have they been cheated out of royalties? No. Believe it or not, the hysteria is caused by the duo being sent to Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee, for a recording session. Although Sam And Dave may have been uneasy about the situation (to put it mildly), it turns out to be the most fortuitous turn of fate in their career.
Samuel David Moore is born 12 October 1935 in Miami, Florida, U.S.A. He begins singing in his father’s Baptist church. Sam Moore graduates to singing with gospel groups The Gales and The Mellionaires. He moves on to solo gigs around Miami.
David Prater, Jr (9 May 1937 – 9 April 1988) is born in Ocilla, Georgia, U.S.A. Like Sam Moore, Dave Prater makes his start with gospel music, performing with his brother’s group, The Sensational Hummingbirds.
In between singing engagements, Dave Prater works as a cook at a diner. One of his regular customers is Sam Moore.
An amateur hour talent show is held at Miami’s King of Hearts nightclub in 1961. Sam Moore is acting as host for the show. Dave Prater is one of the contestants. While performing ‘Doggin’ Around’, a 1960 hit for rhythm and blues singer Jackie Wilson, Dave forgets the words. Genially, Sam Moore helps him out by singing along. The crowd loves the combination of their voices and the duo of Sam And Dave is born. John Lomelo, the owner of the King of Hearts, becomes their manager.
In March 1962 Dave Prater marries Annie Belle Henderson. The couple have five children together.
Sam And Dave’s first recordings are issued on the Marlin label. These are the 1962 singles ‘I Need Love’ and ‘No More Pain’.
Morris Levy then signs them to Roulette Records. Henry Glover, a veteran of rhythm and blues recordings, acts as producer. In 1963 Sam And Dave issue the singles ‘She’s Alright’, ‘It Was So Nice While It Lasted’ and ‘If She’ll Still Have Me’, ‘but no hits’ are achieved. One album is released by the duo during this time as well, their debut, ‘Sam And Dave’ (1964). ‘I Found Out’ in 1964 is Sam And Dave’s last single for Roulette.
The 1964 Sam And Dave single ‘I’ll Never, Never’ comes out on the Alston label.
Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records catches a Sam And Dave gig at the King of Hearts in 1964. He is impressed enough to sign them to Atlantic in 1965. Atlantic, based in New York, is a much larger and more prestigious label than Marlin, Roulette or Alston. It is particularly famous for its rhythm and blues recordings. All of this augers well for the future of Sam And Dave.
The mid-1960s are a pivotal time for African-American music in the U.S.A. Rhythm and blues has been the dominant force in the black musical community since the early 1950s. It grows out of electrified blues music of the 1940s – 1950s. Rhythm and blues is more upbeat and dance-oriented. The mid-1950s birth of rock ‘n’ roll is a fusion of white country and western and black rhythm and blues. In the early 1960s a move to re-establish a more consciously black music results in the creation of soul. The difference between rhythm and blues and soul is that the latter borrows more from gospel music and the singing styles popular in black churches. Solomon Burke’s ‘Just Out Of Reach (Of My Two Open Arms)’ – released on Atlantic Records in 1961 – is generally considered the first soul record. The home of soul – ‘Soulsville, U.S.A.’ – is Stax Records in Memphis. Although soul is clearly identified with African-American singers, Stax is in the hands of Jim Stewart, a white man, and about half of the studio’s regular musicians are also white. This in no way detracts from the authenticity of Stax’s sound.
Atlantic Records has a business arrangement with Stax. Jerry Wexler (who, by the way, is also white) leases recordings from Stax for Atlantic and helps distribute Stax’s product. This is why Atlantic’s latest signing, Sam And Dave, are sent to Stax to record. Given both Sam Moore and Dave Prater have backgrounds in gospel music, they are well suited to get into the soul music groove. Also, since Sam And Dave hail from Florida in the American south, it probably makes economic sense to send them to Stax in Tennessee (the south) rather than bring them to New York (the north). Sam And Dave’s dismay at this decision may be due to a couple of factors. Firstly, at the time, Stax is still an up-and-coming label in comparison to Atlantic’s longer history, so they may have thought it was not the prestigious home they were expecting. Secondly, casual racism is still a fact of life in 1960s America, particularly in the southern states. Although Florida may be a bit more sophisticated and multicultural than Tennessee, it is less so than New York. Sam And Dave may have been displeased at the prospect of being thrust into the company of racist rednecks – though, at least within the Stax studio, the personnel are admirably racially colour-blind.
When Sam And Dave are asked to describe their style of music, they both chime together with the words, “Soul, rhythm and blues.” Sam Moore tries to differentiate between rock ‘n’ roll and what they do. “Rock ‘n’ roll, you would have more or less a rhythm section – drums, guitar, a bass. With rhythm and blues, you have a horn [saxophones and/or a trumpet or trombone]. This is where we come in. We came in to the trend where you added horns…to give it more of a build-up.” “More of a soul sound,” suggests Dave Prater.
At Stax Records, Sam And Dave’s recordings are usually masterminded by the team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter. Sam And Dave are not songwriters. Hayes and Porter write most of their hits and produce them as well. On most of their recordings, Sam And Dave are backed by the Stax house-band, Booker T. And The MG’s: Booker T. Jones (keyboards), Steve Cropper (guitar), Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn (bass) and Al Jackson (drums). (MGs stands for Memphis Group.) They are augmented by The Memphis Horns: Andrew Love (saxophone), Floyd Newman (saxophone) and Wayne Jackson (trumpet). “We’re singing the things the kids like,” says Sam Moore. “It’s the beat more or less now…We try to keep it light as we possibly can [without our own personal problems becoming themes for songs].”
The singing voices of Sam And Dave provide a sharp contrast. The more loquacious Sam Moore has a higher voice. He is the soul music incarnation of a tent show revivalist preacher. Dave Prater is more reserved. His deep and gritty voice sets off his partner’s exhortations perfectly. Dave tries to explain that, “Along with the lyrics, you’re putting feeling into it. Whatever comes to you is what you do.” Part of Sam And Dave’s appeal is their stage show. “You have to put something in it to make [the crowd] move,” claims Sam. “If you come out on the stage cold, naturally [the audience] is gonna stay cold.” ‘The dynamic duo’s complete performance is simply a series of visual and aural antics designed to take the crowd over the top, generating climax after climax.’ There are ‘frenetic dance moves…a floor drop…microphone twirling…[and] an unbelievable amount of sweat.’
Sam And Dave open their account at Stax with three singles in 1965: ‘A Place Nobody Can Find’ (written by David Porter), ‘I Take What I Want’ (by Porter, Isaac Hayes and Mabon Hodges), and ‘You Don’t Know Like I Know’ (US no. 90) (composed by the team of Hayes and Porter – who write all Sam And Dave’s subsequent hits at Stax).
In 1966 Sam And Dave strike gold with their best single, ‘Hold On, I’m Comin’’ (US no. 21). The song is built on a classic rhythm and a strong horn arrangement. As is customary, Sam Moore sings the first verse in his showy, impassioned manner: “Lean on me, when times get bad / When the day comes and I know you’re down / In a river of troubles you’re about to drown.” After combining on the chorus, Dave Prater handles the second verse in his gruff, straight-forward style. With its inspirational message, ‘Hold On, I’m Comin’’ makes the most of soul music’s church roots. Instead of offering religious salvation, it uses the same trappings to serve up a more secular message of one person’s love saving the soul of another person, the narrator’s lover. Combined with Sam And Dave’s gospel-trained delivery, this track embodies the duo’s greatest strengths. The title’s sexual double entendre doesn’t hurt either.
The album, ‘Hold On, I’m Comin’’ (1966) (US no. 45) in April is probably Sam And Dave’s best full-length outing. As well as the title track, the album includes the duo’s two previous singles, ‘I Take What I Want’ and ‘You Don’t Known Like I Know’.
Also in 1966 Sam And Dave issue another single, ‘Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody’ (US no. 64), and another album, ‘Double Dynamite’ (1966) (US no. 118).
In 1967 the Stax-Volt revue tours England and Europe. Volt is a subsidiary label of Stax and home to the tour’s headliner, Otis Redding. Also along for the trip are Carla Thomas and Booker T. And The MGs, the latter acting as backing group for the sets by Redding, Thomas, and Sam And Dave, in addition to doing their own clutch of instrumentals. “And the European people went crazy, and I’m goin’, ‘Hey, they like us!’ Y’know,” says a surprised Sam Moore. Recalling the show in Norway on 7 April 1967, Moore continues, “We just…y’know…We would throw our coats off and spin and then turn and sing and…Oh!…That was it…”
Returning to the U.S.A., 1967 is another bumper year for Sam And Dave. ‘You Got Me Hummin’’ (US no. 77) is followed by the aching ballad ‘When Something Is Wrong With My Baby’ (US no. 42). The dynamic duo gives a live version of the Sam Cooke song ‘Soothe Me’ (US no. 56, UK no. 35) an authoritative reading. ‘Soul Man’ (US no. 2, UK no. 24) proves to be the nearest rival to ‘Hold On, I’m Comin’’ as Sam And Dave’s definitive song. Sam Moore offers this interpretation: “’I’m a soul man’…Well, it mean, ‘I’m a black man’ [to a lot of folks]…It didn’t mean that, it meant that whatever hardship in your life, you were able to get up, get movin’.” In the song, Sam Moore sings, “I was brought up on a side street / I learned how to love before I could eat.” Amid stringy, lean guitars and punchy horns, Dave Prater offers, “Grab a rope, let me pull ya in.” The accompanying album, ‘Soul Men’ (1967) (US no. 2), is released in October.
The insistent ‘I Thank You’ (US no. 9, UK no. 34) takes Sam And Dave into 1968. Offering “some of that o-o-old soul clappin’”, Sam And Dave sing, “You didn’t have to love me / But you did and you did and you did / And I thank you.” This song shows every sign of continuing Sam And Dave’s run of success – but it is not to be.
In 1968 Stax dissolves its distribution deal with Atlantic. There is a falling out between the two companies when Stax finds that, due to an item in the small print of their legal contract, Atlantic actually owns all of Stax’s material, not just distributes it. Because Sam And Dave are signed to Atlantic and just loaned out to Stax, when the two companies are at loggerheads, Atlantic simply reclaims the duo. “It was a family thing [at Stax],” Sam Moore notes. “That chemistry works. So when they broke that mould and took us back…It all went downhill after that.” Indeed, their ‘recorded work takes a dip in quality’ after leaving Stax.
Although the single called ‘I Thank You’ is issued by Stax, the album titled ‘I Thank You’ (1968) is issued by Atlantic. Working in Miami, 1968 singles for Atlantic are ‘You Don’t Know What You Mean To Me’ (US no. 48) (written by Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper); ‘Can’t Find Another Way’ (US no. 54) (penned by Homer Banks and Raymond Jackson); and ‘Everybody Got To Believe In Somebody’ (US no. 73) (Porter & Hayes). They also release the album ‘Double Trouble’ (1968).
In 1968 Dave Prater escapes prosecution after shooting his wife. Presumably the wound is non-fatal since their marriage does not end until November 1969.
David Porter and Isaac Hayes write both of the 1969 singles for Sam And Dave. The ‘amazing’ ‘Soul Sister, Brown Sugar’ (US no. 41, UK no. 15) has a marching beat over which Sam And Dave declare, “Sweeter than honey that the bees make / You’re soul sister, brown sugar.” This is followed by ‘Born Again’ (US no. 92).
On 13 June 1969 Sam And Dave perform at Soul Bowl ’69, allegedly ‘the biggest soul music festival ever.’ Joining them in Texas at the Houston Astrodome are such acts as Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, The Reverend James Cleveland and The Staple Singers.
On 25 November 1969 Dave Prater marries his second wife, Judith T. Gilbert.
As the 1960s draw to a close, Sam And Dave are ‘apparently on bad terms’. They have a ‘frequently volatile relationship.’ ‘They frequently fight off-stage’ and ‘can hardly stand each other’s presence.’
Sam And Dave struggle into 1970 with ‘Baby Don’t Stop Now’ (US no. 117), the last song written for them by David Porter and Isaac Hayes. ‘One Part Love, Two Parts Pain’ (US no. 123) is composed by Alvertis Isbell and Allen Jones.
In June 1970 Sam And Dave split up.
In 1971 Atlantic raids the vaults for another Sam And Dave single, the previously unreleased recording of ‘Don’t Pull Your Love’ (US no. 102), a Dave Crawford and Willie Martin tune.
Sam Moore and Dave Prater both attempt solo careers in the 1970s that, almost inevitably, fail to meet with much success. They reunite and part a number of times during the decade. During one of those reunions, they cut a new Sam And Dave album for United Artists, ‘Back At Cha’ (1975).
Comedians Dan Akroyd and John Belushi record a straight and reverential version of ‘Soul Man’ for their album ‘Briefcase Of Blues’ (1979) recorded under the alias of The Blues Brothers. The popularity of the recording gives Sam And Dave the impetus to unite again but, as usual, the pairing proves relatively short-lived. Sam And Dave’s final performance together is on 31 December 1981 at the Old Waldorf, San Francisco, California.
From 1982 to 1988 Dave Prater tours with Sam Davies as a new Sam And Dave. “I’m a workin’ man,” protests Prater. “Been getting’ down so long. I don’t be thinkin’ about will I make it up again. Now what’s a music man like me gonna do? What’s he do, ‘less he entertains till he dies.” In 1987 Prater is arrested for selling crack to an undercover policeman. The ersatz Sam And Dave’s activities are brought to a halt in 1988 when Sam Moore launches legal action against them.
On his way to his mother’s house, Dave Prater dies in a single vehicle car crash in Sycamore, Georgia, on 9 April 1988. He was 50 years old.
Sam And Dave worried about recording for the Stax label but that period (1965 – 1968) turned out to be the highpoint of their career. Working with songwriters / producers David Porter and Isaac Hayes brought Sam And Dave their best material. The expert musicians in Booker T. And The MG’s helped bring out some of the best soul music ever recorded. It is ironic that something like the move to Stax could induce such dismay for Sam And Dave when it was actually a major stroke of good fortune for them. ‘Sam And Dave released records that combined urgency with an unbridled passion.’ ‘As the 1960s top soul duo, Sam And Dave occupy a well-deserved niche in pop history.’
- ‘Respect Yourself – The Stax Records Story’ (Universal Music 2007) – documentary film with ‘Stax-Volt Revue – Live in Norway 1967’ video disc
- sonicnet.com, ‘Sam And Dave’ – uncredited author (as at 21 August 2001)
- rockhall.com/inductees/sam-and-dave/bio as at 1 March 2014
- wikipedia.org as at 23 December 2013
- rockabilly.nl/references/messages/dave-prater.html as at 1 March 2014
- allmusic.com, ‘Sam And Dave’ by Colin Escott as at 1 March 2014
- ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘Jackie Wilson’ by Joe McEwen, ‘Soul’ by Peter Guralnick, ‘The Sound of Memphis’ by Robert Palmer (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 142, 261, 262, 265, 267, 270
- ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 187, 188, 265
- ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p. 87
- Television interview with Sam And Dave (Finnish National Broadcasting, YLE Network) (1967)
- ‘Stax-Volt Revue – Live in Norway 1967’ video disc, liner notes by Rob Bowman (Universal Music, 2007)
- ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 159, 294
- ‘Nowhere To Run’ by Jeri Hershey (Southbank Publishing, 1984) (via (4) above)
- lyricsfreak.com as at 15 September 2014
Song lyrics copyright Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group with the exception of ‘Soul Man’ (EMI Music Publishing, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.)
Last revised 17 September 2014