© 2016 Center for Southern Folklore Archives from The Deanie Parker Collection
Designated “Double Dynamite,” “The Sultans of Sweat,” and “The Dynamic Duo,” Sam Moore and Dave Prater joined forces to form the world’s greatest soul duo and one of the most thrilling live acts of the 1960s.
Members of the vaunted roster at Stax Records, Sam and Dave expertly blended black gospel and modern pop to create some of the most iconic songs of the 20th century. While the duo’s moniker may have been subtle, the rafter-shaking Sam and Dave were anything but.
Before their paths would serendipitously cross years later, Prater and Moore shared a remarkably similar musical background. Sam Moore was born in Miami where he sang gospel music in the church choir before becoming a member of the gospel groups The Majestics, The Gales, and The Mellonaires. At the same time, David Prater--who also cut his teeth singing gospel in church--had recently moved to Miami from Georgia to join The Sensational Hummingbirds, a gospel group founded by his older brother J.T.
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In 1961, Moore was working as the host of a talent show at a night club called the King of Hearts in his native Miami. According to Sam, Dave Prater arrived at the club one night still wearing his white baker’s garb from his day job. At the audition, Dave sang a Jackie Wilson song, but struggled to remember the words. Sam volunteered to stand near and feed him the lines, but accidentally stumbled and sent the mike stand falling off the stage. Dave went down to catch the microphone and Sam reached out to secure Dave and the two came up together sharing the mike and singing together.
In a moment that now seems eerily predestined, a duo was formed that would forever change the face a popular music.
Both Moore and Prater were electrifying performers in their own right and their partnership resulted in an explosion of energy, with Sam’s tenor and Dave’s baritone bolstering one another. They began by performing gospel-inspired call and response songs, an element of their style that would be prevalent throughout their twenty-two year history. After releasing a handful of 45s and creating a regional buzz, Sam and Dave were introduced to Atlantic Record’s Jerry Wexler, who promptly signed them to a deal. Recognizing the opportunity to unite Sam and Dave with the gritty, raw sound coming out of Stax Records, Wexler sent the two “on loan” to Jim Stewart and his Memphis soul powerhouse.
At Stax, Sam and Dave quickly developed a repertoire with the label’s songwriting team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter. Both Prater and Moore grew up idolizing subtle singers like Sam Cooke and Nat King Cole, but David Porter had a completely different vision. According to Moore, Porter admonished them to embrace their raw power and to stop “trying to compete with Motown.” Despite some initial reluctance, Porter’s vision was soon fulfilled and the hits started flowing. That was chemistry. Sam and Dave, Hayes and Porter. Just like the chemistry between Berry Gordy and Motown and between Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones.
That was chemistry. Sam and Dave, Hayes and Porter. Just like the chemistry between Berry Gordy and Motown and between Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones.
— Sam Moore
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In 1966, “Hold On, I’m Comin’” was released and became the group’s first major hit, earning the group a #1 hit on the R&B charts. The song also established the duo’s typical format, with Moore taking the lead on the first verse and Prater was giving the response role and second verse. Sam & Dave’s crossover appeal was evident immediately, and their album Hold On, I’m Coming proved to be the breakthrough for Stax’s album sales. Throughout 1966, the group continued churning out smash singles like “When Something is Wrong With My Baby” and “You Got Me Hummin,” proving that the recipe that had made “Hold On” a success was no fluke.
The following year, Sam and Dave released “Soul Man”, a rousing soul romp that became the duo’s most successful and enduring hit. With its sense of unbridled energy, “Soul Man” rocketed to the top of the charts and helped to popularize the term “soul music.” Today, “Soul Man” is an oft-covered soul standard that has been recognized as one of the best or most influential songs of 50 years by the The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,Grammy Hall of Fame, Rolling Stone, and R.I.A.A. Songs of the Century.
As raw and unpolished as Sam and Dave’s recordings were, their studio work could not hold a candle to the sweaty, passionate energy that exemplified their live performances. In March 1967, Sam and Dave were co-headliners with Otis Redding for the Stax/Volt Revue in Europe. Sam and Dave stole the show night after night with their unbelievably energetic shows, prompting Otis Redding’s manager Phil Walden to refuse co-billing with Sam and Dave ever again.
"I think Sam and Dave will probably stand the test of time as being the best live act that there ever was. Those guys were absolutely unbelievable. Every night they were awesome,” Walden said. The duo returned home, but their earth scorching campaign was far from over. Between 1967 and 1969, Sam and Dave performed an average of 280 shows a year, including heralded performances on The Ed Sullivan Show, American Bandstand, and The Tonight Show.
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After releasing the hit “Soul Sister, Brown Sugar” in 1969, Sam and Dave left Stax to return to Atlantic Records under the tutelage of Jerry Wexler. Unfortunately, Wexler was unable to recreate the magic that had occurred in Memphis, admitting “I never really got into their sensibilities as a producer."
In June 1970, Sam and Dave split when Sam Moore decided to pursue a solo career. Their divorce was short lived, however, and the duo reunited a year later. With their recording career largely finished by this point, Sam and Dave took to the road and played countless shows throughout Europe and the U.S.
In 1979, Sam and Dave enjoyed a career resurgence fueled by the popularity of The Blues Brothers, sketch characters created by Saturday Night Live comedians Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. The Blues Brothers stage presence and personae were based on Sam and Dave and the novelty group had a hit with their cover of “Soul Man.” The renewed attention allowed Sam and Dave to tour with The Clash, perform on SNL, and appear in Paul Simon’s film One Trick Pony. The duo’s last performance came soon after during a 1981 New Year's Eve show in San Francisco.
According to Moore, this was the last time the duo ever spoke to each other.
On April 9, 1988, David Prater was tragically killed in a car accident only six days after performing at a Stax Reunion at the Atlanta Civic Center.
Sam Moore continues to perform and make public appearances and released his debut solo album Overnight Sensational in 2006.
Today, Sam and Dave’s music is as ubiquitous as ever and can often be heard on television, film, campaign trails, and through renditions performed by other artists.
I cut my musical teeth on the soul music of the sixties. Regrettably I never seen a live Sam and Dave but I sure enjoyed their recordings. Wonderful.