Legendary music man: Radio has got no soul


WASHINGTON -- Sam Moore was resplendent in cool suede jacket, cool luminescent shirt and really cool shoes. I don't usually pay attention to other men's shoes, but they were really cool. I guess that just goes to show, when you've got cool, it never goes away.

When Moore was half of the singing duo Sam and Dave, he helped define cool. At the height of the disco era, when I went to high school and college, I quit listening to radio and went plowing through the record bins searching for music made by people like Sam and Dave.

I was a bluesman back then. I guess I still am, though I've always had a tinge of country and western. About the same time I "discovered" Sam and Dave, I also "discovered" Bob Wills and Muddy Waters. They weren't playing those guys on the radio, when "Copacabana (At The Copa)" was topping the charts, but in the 1960s they burned up the airwaves.

Recently, I wrote about meeting guitar god Steve Cropper and how cool it was to meet the guy to whom I pretended to say: "Play It, Steve!" whenever I sang "Soul Man." Now I've come full circle as I met the guy I pretended to be when I was singing.

I was surprised when Moore told lawmakers that his performance before the House's copyright subcommittee was "probably the most important gig of my life."

Moore and Judy Collins want the law changed so performers will get paid when their songs are played on radio. Artists and the labels aren't paid when radio airs their songs. In 1972, Congress decided the promotional benefit performers and labels receive substitute for actual cash.

After Moore's testimony, Cox Radio CEO Robert Neil criticized their performance.

"I saw the testimony yesterday, and the reality is a lot of those people would be sitting in a shack somewhere in a small town if it wasn't for the fact that radio supported their music when it was coming up," Neil reportedly said during an investor call.

It was at best an impolitic thing to say. Moore told me that he had a middle-class, albeit segregated childhood. His dad worked for the railroad and his mom was a teacher. They weren't rich, nor impoverished.

Moore, who wants an apology, told me he didn't think that Neil was being racist. "If anything, he's just arrogant and doesn't know what he's talking about," Moore said.

Cox didn't return my phone calls, but the broadcast industry contends that the promotional value still counts.

Broadcasters hate it when people like Moore and Collins put a human face on this issue. Better to battle the evil, foreign-owned record labels than aging bluesmen and folk singers.

There is a kernel of truth in what Neil supposedly said. A lot of performers grew up in grinding poverty, and they had one thing that saved them -- talent.

Moore may disagree with me. I think airplay helped them, but all the airplay in the world doesn't substitute for what nature bestowed on "those people."

"The issue is what's fair," Moore said. "Radio didn't do a damn thing for me. Who owes who?"

This is the point that people like Neil refuse to deal with. No one tunes in to a radio station to hear him, the station's GM or the commercials.

Moore and Collins are lucky. They get gigs. There are countless other performers who aren't so lucky. The real question is: Do you want to be in their shoes?