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'Soul Man' returns with a touch of 'Idol'

By Todd Leopold
CNN
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(CNN) -- Sam Moore, who once made the musical statement "Hold On, I'm Comin'," gets on the phone right away from his New York hotel room.

But he is one tired "Soul Man."

The previous day, he says, he did interviews and promotions from 6 p.m. until well into the wee hours. Now it's another day, another morning, another string of questioners asking him about his new album, "Overnight Sensational" (Rhino), and he's beat.

"It's been a long night and a long day," he says in a phone interview. Which is not to say that Moore, once half of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame duo Sam and Dave, is not in the mood to talk. On the contrary: He is loquacious, animated, candid and enthusiastic.

"Overnight Sensational," which he recorded with producer and "American Idol" judge Randy Jackson, features duets with Bruce Springsteen, Steve Winwood and the late Billy Preston, among many others. It's the album he wanted to make, and he is happy to say so.

"Randy really does get it," he says. He'd been trying to make a new record for years, he says, but except for the occasional guest appearance -- with Lou Reed on a 1986 version of "Soul Man," with Bruce Springsteen on Springsteen's album "Human Touch" -- he didn't like the way he was approached.

"You have people ... they say, 'We want to see Sam come back one more time,' " he says. "And then they say, 'You recorded with Springsteen -- you think you can call him?' This went on for more than 20 years. ... I think they were using me to get to any of these big artists."

The new album almost didn't come off either, he says. He was contacted by producer Joe Henry (Solomon Burke's "Don't Give Up on Me," Bettye LaVette's "I Got My Own Hell to Raise") about doing a record a few years ago, but decided his and Henry's visions didn't match.

Then there was the label that wanted him to redo a bunch of soul classics. "I thought, 'I don't want to do that,' " Moore says. "I've done that already."

'Double Dynamite's' series of soul classics

Indeed he has.

Moore, 70, was already a veteran of gospel and R&B groups when he met Dave Prater at a club in Miami, Florida, in 1961. Musically, the two fit together like bacon and corn bread, and when Jerry Wexler signed them to the Atlantic Records family in 1965, assigning them to Atlantic partner Stax Records, they finally had a label that knew how to use them.

The duo was teamed with writer/producers Isaac Hayes and David Porter, and with the crack musical support of Booker T. and the MG's and the Memphis Horns, cranked out a series of soul classics: "You Don't Know Like I Know," "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby," "Hold On, I'm Comin'," "Soul Man," "I Thank You."

Their nickname was "Double Dynamite." But socially, the two got to the point where they could barely stand each other, a condition that affected their shows.

Moore remembers one concert in which each tried to upstage the other, a routine that climaxed in Moore singing "She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain" over Prater while an unhappy band and stunned audience looked on.

The reviews were terrible.

"He had his dressing room, I had mine," Moore recalls. "And drugs were involved. Sometimes I'd show up and he didn't, sometimes he'd show up and I didn't. Sometimes neither of us would show up."

Sam and Dave split in 1969, and though there would be occasional reunions, the two never really patched things up. Prater died in a car accident in 1988.

Relations with Hayes and Porter haven't been much better, though they weren't always so chilly, says Moore. He says he was hurt by comments Porter made in interviews that "Stax didn't want" Sam and Dave. "That was far from the truth," Moore says, adding that he and Hayes had a falling out over Hayes' adherence to Scientology.

Producer makes perfect pitch

Other relationships held up over the years, particularly a friendship with Atlantic producer Tom Dowd. It was Dowd who introduced him to Jackson, in a way: Dowd took Moore to see a Journey concert in San Francisco in the mid-'80s. Jackson was Journey's bassist at the time.

"Jackson said he got into producing because of Tom Dowd," Moore says.

Moore credits the pairing with Jackson to "Fox411" columnist Roger Friedman, who spread the word after Moore's contract signing. (Friedman, a producer of the 2002 soul music documentary, "Only the Strong Survive," -- which featured Moore -- gets an associate executive producer credit for "Overnight Sensational.")

"Everybody said, 'I know Sam is not going to record without me.' I said, 'Roger, what have you done?' " Moore laughs. "He did that with Randy, too. ... I thought [Jackson] wouldn't have the time."

But Jackson, he adds, was the perfect fit. "I felt so comfortable when I walked into his office," Moore recalls. "He said, 'Let the lawyers deal with the [legal issues] -- let's you and me do some music.' And I said, 'Randy, this is my career. I've been around the corner more than once and if you don't know what you're doing, I most likely will take a pass on you.' ... [But] he wasn't afraid to challenge you. That's what I call a producer."

So, when Moore was "pitchy," Jackson wouldn't hesitate to say so? Absolutely, says Moore. One afternoon, he went home "very pleased with myself" after a session only to get a call from Jackson to come back and redo the work.

"His thing was, '[Somebody would say] that was good,' " Moore recalls. "But he'd say, 'Yeah, but he's still flat.' "

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Soul singer Sam Moore, left, teams up with producer Randy Jackson of "American Idol" fame for the album "Overnight Sensational."

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