Sam Moore wasn't so sure about Memphis. The first half of Stax super duo Sam & Dave had an ignominious introduction to the Bluff City. But his next arrival here — to receive the prestigious Pyramid Award at the 20th Anniversary Blues Ball — will be a celebration of his contributions to Memphis' musical culture.
Moore, a Miami native, will join the ranks of Memphis' musical luminaries in receiving the award on Saturday, September 21st, at the Gibson Guitar Factory. Past honorees include W.C. Handy, Al Bell, and the Bar-Kays. The Blues Ball is hosted by Pat Kerr's Memphis Charitable Foundation and is a fund-raising juggernaut for local charities.
Moore — the sharp tenor voice over Dave Prater's husky baritone on some of Stax's biggest hits like "Soul Man" and "Hold On, I'm Comin'" — spoke to the Flyer from his home, where he was finishing up a swim and looking after a new puppy.
Flyer: What was the music scene like when you were growing up in Miami?
Sam Moore: Back in those days, when I got into it, it was rock-and-roll like the Coasters and Little Richard. But, see, I was still in gospel then. The cute thing about it is that my grandmother, she was really emphatically against that rock stuff in the house. So I didn't do it in the house, but I did it outside the house, you know.
When did you know that you had a voice?
Oh, you never know that. In fact, I didn't start singing lead until I got with Dave. And I wouldn't have done it then had I not been forced to take the lead on some songs. I was always into that gospel thing, and I still am today. Don't get me wrong. But I never said, "Oh, I've got the voice." It caught on after I was signed to Atlantic.
What was your reaction to how your and Dave's voices blended?
A lot of people thought that Dave and I harmonized. You see, we didn't know each other. When we got together, it was a fluke. He was singing Jackie Wilson's "Doggin' Me" (that's not a harmonizing song). Dave forgot the verses to the song. I was backing him up. I saw the young man was scared and nervous.
So when I was stepping back, my foot got entangled in the chord and knocked over the mic. He went for the mic; I went for the mic. And that was the beginning of Sam & Dave.
What were your thoughts about coming to Memphis?
When Dave and I were signed to Atlantic, my mouth was all gussied up to sing what I had been hearing by Clyde McPhatter, Big Joe Turner, and on and on. They said we're going to Memphis, I said, "Memphis?"
To show you how dumb I was, I said, "We don't sing country." They said, "They don't play country, stupid. There's a record company down there called Stax."
Here came Isaac [Hayes]. I said right away, because of how he was dressed, I said, "Oh God, what have they put us with? We're not clowns." My whole heart just dropped. I almost wanted to cry.
If it was up to me, I would have gone back to Miami. It was not a pleasant introduction, with the songs we were introduced to and then seeing Isaac, the way he was dressed up. I was like, "Oh my God, Barnum and Bailey."
How was your adjustment to the Memphis Sound?
The sound actually belonged to Isaac. See, Isaac was the one, when they talk about the Memphis Sound. I can't speak for everyone else, but that sound he gave Sam & Dave; that was Isaac.
So when people say that pop, country, that mixture of everything; that was Isaac. Even when he got successful, they never honed in on that he was a great producer and an arranger. He was the Memphis Sound.
In your solo career, you've worked with everyone on the planet. Who's still out there that you want to work with?
I've recorded with so many people. I have! I was getting ready to do something with Pavarotti, I mean God bless America. It gave me the confidence that I belong.
I'm very funny about who I would sing with. I guess I would do something with Gladys [Knight]. Now, Kelly Clarkson. Jordin Sparks. These are singers. I don't see any man that I would hook up with, because everybody would compare that to Sam & Dave. Just leave that alone.
So, are you excited about coming back to Memphis for the award?
I appreciate what Pat and her staff have done and that I came to mind to think of in that way. I'm honored.
The Blues Ball
Gibson Guitar Factory
Saturday, September 21st
See memphischaritable.org/bluesball2013 for more information.