As half of the legendary soul duo, Sam and Dave, Sam Moore sang some of the biggest R&B hits of the ’60s, including “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” “When Something is Wrong with My Baby,” “You Don’t Know Like I Know” and, of course, “Soul Man.”
Their songs weren’t inherently political, but their success was. They crossed over to white America during the civil rights era, when — at least in some parts of the country — white people simply didn’t listen to music by African-Americans. During this time, Moore became friendly with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and performed at some of his speeches.
Earlier this year, Moore released a solo single (his Sam and Dave bandmate Dave Prater died in 1988), “They Killed a King,” in the civil rights leader’s honor. He worries that Dr. King’s messages are fading away: “There are young black kids, young white kids, that don’t even know about him!” The man has seen a lot, and as he closes in on his 80th birthday, he’s not impressed with a lot of popular culture today. Yeah, it may sound curmudgeonly when he criticizes “the licking of the hammers and the twerking,” and advises young pop stars to “have some class,” but this is a guy whose female peers were Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Diana Ross.
He’s also critical of the African-American community and the liberal use of the “N-word,” particularly when it’s still taboo for white people do so. “I cringe when I hear these comedians ‘N-word-ing’ all over the place! I used to cringe when I heard Richard Pryor [use the term]! Well, you take issue when the white comedians do it?” he asks hypothetically. “That’s not right.”
He warms considerably when discussing the recording of “They Killed a King,” which was cut in analog at the legendary Royal Studios in Memphis, owned by “Boo” Mitchell, the grandson of the studio’s former owner, legendary producer Willie Mitchell (most famous for producing Al Green’s classic albums). The musicians who played on it, he beams, are “Stars in their own right.” Some of those stars include former Isaac Hayes side-men Lester Snell (keyboards) and James Robertson (drums), former Al Green side-men Charles (keyboards) and Leroy Hodges (bass), and former Bar-Kays guitarist Michael Toles. When recalling his reaction when he was told they’d all play on his record, he glows, saying “Do you know how that made me feel?”