During that bright burst of Memphis music magic that lit up radios, record players and concert stages in the mid-’60s, no act outshined the dynamic rhythm and blues duo known as Sam and Dave. Alongside legendary performers such as Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, and Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Sam Moore and Dave Prater ran up a string of chart hits for the Stax label that included such soul anthems as “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” “Soul Man” and “I Thank You.” The duo first parted ways in 1970 and by the early ’80s, had broken up for good. Prater died in an auto accident in 1988, and Moore’s career overcame numerous setbacks. But Moore endured, going on to enjoy the duo’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1992 and a 2006 Grammy nom for his version of the song “You Are So Beautiful,” among many career highlights. Variety first noted Moore on June 22, 1966, when he and Prater hit the singles charts with “Hold On, I’m Comin’.”
You and Dave Prater put out records before you broke through on Stax. But none of those records ever clicked?
We were signed, and we had a producer who’d worked with Joe Williams, Count Basie and Dinah Washington. We came up with some pretty good stuff. But it became clear that nothing was working, and I finally said, “We’re not going any further with you guys. Could you let us out of our contract?”
Roulette was owned by Morris Levy, who was very famously, shall we say, difficult, or impossible, to negotiate with.
What did I know? I was just a kid from the block. They told us to talk to Morris, so we found out where he lived. He had a beach house in Miami. We knocked on the door, and a maid answered and asked us what we wanted. We said, “We’re here to see Mr. Levy.” Right, two black guys in that neighborhood, and remember, this is back in the early ’60s, and we’re not that close to integration. She says, “Go around the back, and Mr. Levy will see you.” So we go around, and we’re greeted by three guys wearing overcoats in the middle of the summer, and you can see these bulges in their coats right where you’d be carrying a gun. Levy comes out and says, “What do you want?” We said, “We’re Sam and Dave. We’re on your label. We’ve cut some tracks.” “What do you want from me?” “You’re losing money with us, and we can’t find a way to do anything.” Then I started to sit down, and he said, “Did I ask you to sit down?”
You know that other acts had very bad things happen to them after that kind of conversation with Morris Levy.
He took out a box and found some papers, and he signed things and crossed things out. He said, “Let me know if you get any offers. How are you getting back?” We told him we had our car and thanked him and left. When we got back and told our manager, he said, “Morris Levy let you out of your contract? OK, let’s see how far this goes.”
Essentially, from many different directions, you were being robbed.
And the more confused I got, the more I shot dope and I got more confused. Eventually, I learned that being angry, resentful and hurting wasn’t helping anything. I found a way to move on.
Such a horrible business experience but we still have all those amazing records. Is there anything you might have done differently?
To tell you the truth, I love those records, and when I made them, I knew they were songs
I could sink my teeth into. But my background is gospel. The truth is, I wanted to stay in the gospel field. But it wasn’t paying the bills.