Saturday, June 27, 2009

When Something Is Wrong With My Baby, Sam and Dave (1967)

"Even now he can describe a set of red suits worn by Sam and Dave the way some kids would lovingly remember a set of electric trains ... "Vented sides ... pegged pants ... matching patent leather boots." -- Gerri Hirshey, on Michael Jackson in Nowhere to Run

Back in the day, the Jackson Five opened for a lot of blockbuster soul performers and, from his position in the wings at venues like the Apollo Theater, Michael Jackson studied the minutiae of their acts as though his life depended on it.

In addition to learning how to dress for maximum effect, from Sam and Dave Jackson could have learned many things, not the least of which was how to all but surrender to the performance and wring every last bit of soul out of a song. And the Sultans of Sweat, as they were known, were the epitome of soul. "Unless my body reaches a certain temperature, starts to liquefy, I just don't feel right," Sam Moore told Hirshey.

Moore and Dave Prater met in Miami at a time when Jackie Wilson was influencing black singers reared in the gospel tradition to take their electrifying voices and use them in secular (and for the times, often shocking) ways. Sam, who was the son of a church deacon, was emceeing at a small club when Dave, then working as a short-order cook and baker's assistant, introduced himself during a break and the two quickly realized that their voices as a unit were gritty and pleasing all at once. (Sadly, the harmony that their voices achieved was limited to their voices alone; for various reasons they grew to despise each other, not speaking for years or looking at each other on stage.)

A rare Sam and Dave ballad, When Something's Wrong With My Baby showcased the duo's emotion-charged, gospel-infused talents like no other song that Isaac Hayes and David Porter wrote for them. Via Stax' partnership with Atlantic Records, which had signed them, Jerry Wexler matched their intense, scorching vocals with the instrumental artistry of house band Booker T & the MGs along with the Memphis Horns - the result became synonymous with Memphis soul and remains the gold standard for soul duos, with the possible exception of the Righteous Brothers.


Nutcracker Buck said...

I do believe that is the slowest song I have ever heard, beatwise. Kudos to the drummer for remembering where in the space-time continuum everybody was approximately located.

I learn a lot from you. Sam and Dave, like a lot of the acts you write about, are pretty much off my radar. I know the name, know they're soul singers, probably knew they were Memphis-associated, but beyond that, no idea. Couldn't have named one of their songs with any confidence. I'm surprised that the Righteous Brothers might be seen as being in that general league, just because I thought they were just that one song ("Lovin' Feelin'"). I didn't know they had legs beyond that.

No matter where you go, turn around and there's Isaac Hayes. Walk only a few steps further, and there's Ike Turner. Those guys had it covered, eh?

Mark said...

A great tune - one of my favorites from their Greatest Hits LP.

Snooty Primadona said...

I saw Sam & Dave at the Dallas Pop Festival back in the 70's. Unfortunately, my brain was busy seeking a mind-bending experience, so I just wanted them to go away so I could see/hear Led Zeppelin (who was the next act).

Climbing the Stairway To Heaven...

Hey - I was young & foolish, okay?