“Soul Man” Sam Moore (who turns 78 next month) and his late parter Dave Prater were an integral part of the Memphis music sound that became Stax Records in the mid 1960s. But they were always on loan to Stax from Atlantic Records, unlike Rufus and Carla Thomas or The Dramatics or Otis Redding.
Moore hadn’t even visited Memphis since the 1980s until he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Blues Ball. Then he and his band rocked the outdoor formal dining event for 2500 guests like they’d never heard it before.
To say it was a great night was an understatement. Moore was on fire. Adding to his own show he brought on Carla Thomas to sing “Night Time is the Right Time,” her brother Marvel, the famed Stax keyboardist, and then Don Bryant to perform a blistering gospel vocal cameo “I Can’t Stand the Rain.” Bryant co-wrote the song with his wife, the amazing Ann Peebles, who was in the audience but is still recuperating very nicely from a mild stroke last year. I can tell you Peebles looked like a million bucks and is doing very well.
Also performing on another stage at the Blues Ball was Eddie Floyd (“Knock on Wood”). William Bell, who had the first Stax hit ever, was a guest. And the outdoor event, out together by Pat Kerr Tigrett on a closed off street in front of Gibson Guitars (the main sponsor, with Fedex), was loaded with Memphis’s most famous if sometimes unheralded musicians. Queen of Beale Street Ruby Wilson opened the show with a bluesy, beautifully raucous set.
The whole evening– actually everything about Memphis — was kind of a gorgeous repudiation of the top 40 type manufactured pop celebrities who’ve taken over the music business in the last 20 years. This was soul, with soul, and everything was live– no AutoTune or lip synching or faking of any kind. Some of the conversation through the weekend did touch on lamenting what had happened to pop and R&B,, and many of the musicians scoffing at the mention of various “famous” names.
There was an effort to explain “twerking”–which everyone agreed was simply “shaking your booty.” Carla Thomas admitted, “I do like Katy Perry.” Sam Moore agreed, “She can saing!” Moore dedicated the night to his late friend, Isaac Hayes, who wrote most of his big hits and left a lasting legacy in Memphis.
PS An award was given to Al Green as well. But he didn’t show, in keeping with his usual behavior.