Our LCM Classic this week was first released back in 1967 and became a big hit for Atlantic Records and Grammy winning duo Sam & Dave (Sam Moore and Dave Prater). The song was written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter.
Co-author Isaac Hayes found the inspiration for "Soul Man" in the turmoil of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. In July 1967, watching a television newscast of the aftermath of the 12th Street riot in Detroit, Michigan, Hayes noted that black residents had marked buildings that had not been destroyed during the riots – mostly African-American owned and operated institutions – with the word "soul". Relating this occurrence to the biblical story of the Passover, Hayes and songwriting partner David Porter came up with the idea, in Hayes' words, of "a story about one's struggle to rise above his present conditions. It's almost a tune [where it's] kind of like boasting 'I'm a soul man'. It's a pride thing."
Sam sings the first verse, with Dave joining in the chorus. Dave sings the second verse, with Sam joining in the chorus. Sam sings the third verse, with Dave joining in the chorus. This is followed by a brief bridge section by Dave and then a coda, in which both Sam and Dave repeat the title phrase a half-step up, before the song's fade.
Issued on the Atlantic-distributed Stax label for which Hayes and Porter worked, Sam and Dave's "Soul Man" was the most successful Stax single to date upon its release. The single peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot Black Singles chart, number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States during the autumn of 1967, and number two in Canada. "Soul Man" was awarded the 1968 Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Group Performance, Vocal or Instrumental.
The exclamation "Play it, Steve" heard in the song refers to guitarist Steve Cropper of Booker T. & the M.G.'s, the house band who provided the instrumentation for this and many other Sam and Dave singles. Cropper provided guitar for both the original Sam and Dave recording as well as the live and studio covers by the Blues Brothers.
Nicknamed "Double Dynamite," "The Sultans of Sweat," and "The Dynamic Duo" for their gritty, gospel-infused performances, Sam & Dave are considered one of the greatest live acts of the 1960s. Many subsequent musicians have named them as an influence, including Bruce Springsteen, Al Green, Tom Petty, Phil Collins, Michael Jackson, Elvis Costello, The Jam, Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Joel and Steve Winwood. The Blues Brothers, who helped create a resurgence of popularity for soul, R&B, and blues in the 1980s, were influenced by Sam & Dave – their biggest hit was a cover of "Soul Man," and their act and stage show contained many homages to the duo.