Soul Legend Sam Moore Takes on Bluegrass With New Song 'Jesus & Jones'

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Sam Moore of Sam & Dave performs during Marty Stuart's 13th Annual Late Night Jam at the Ryman Auditorium on June 4, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee.

During the years between 1965 and 1968, the R&B duo known as Sam & Dave embarked on what turned out to be a magical period. Seven of their Stax singles found a home in the top 10 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart at the time, including the classics “Hold On, I’m Comin',” “Soul Man,” and “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby.” Sam Moore -- the Sam in Sam & Dave -- still takes a lot of pride in those recordings. “I can’t say that it was fluke,” he tells Billboard. “If it had been just one song, I guess it would have been, but we had a pretty good record, don’t you think?”

The soul legend has had success in just about every genre there has been -- jazz, pop, blues, gospel, and country. But, his latest musical move is a career first -- bluegrass. Moore makes an appearance on “Jesus & Jones,” a duet with Carolyn Routh, vocalist of the bluegrass group Nu-Blu. The just-released track -- a tribute to the legendary George Jones -- will appear on the band’s All The Way disc, which will be released on Sept. 26.

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Moore was initially hesitant about the song, but he gradually warmed up to it. “My publicist, Kirt Webster, sent [it] to me, and I told him ‘There ain’t no way I’m singing anything like this,’" Moore admits. "But, I listened to the song in the office [and] it got better. As we recorded it, I got into it a little more and more, and I started to really like it. Now, I love it. I hope I brought something to the table for them. I’m happy for them, and whatever they want me to do promote it, I will.”

Moore enjoyed a close friendship with Jones, and says he was always a fan -- from the first time he heard him in 1962. “It was ‘She Thinks I Still Care,’ and I said, ‘What is that?’ He had the most unusual voice you would ever want to hear. He was in a class of his own. He was a controversial and the most complex man, but when he hit the stage -- he left it all there.”

What set Jones apart -- according to Moore -- was that ability to convey his emotions to the audience regardless of what might be going on in his personal life. “There are so many great singers in blues, country and gospel, but there was something about George. He was a man that in his heyday stayed in so much trouble. But the people loved him," says Moore. "You know why? He was a performer. He was an entertainer. I never heard nobody who sounded like him. There have been a lot of imitators of George, but nobody will ever sing like he did."

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One of Moore’s first forays into country music was on the 1994 MCA Nashville disc Rhythm, Country and Blues, a collection of duets with country stars and R&B performers. Moore contributed to the lead single “Rainy Night in Georgia” with Conway Twitty. It would prove to be one of the final recordings from his duet partner, who died before the album was released. “I think that song came out pretty good. Everything we ad-libbed on that track, they left in,” recalls Moore, referring to some conversational moments between the two during the song. “We bonded right away. I think you would have to put Conway Twitty in the same class with George Jones. What a performer.”

At 78, Moore himself is still busy recording and performing. Earlier this year, he released “They Killed A King,” a song honoring the memory and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I heard the story that I could tell that had never been told about Martin Luther King. I asked about changing a few words, and I did. I went into the Royal Studio in Memphis -- where Al Green used to record with Willie Mitchell," says Moore. "It was such a touching song, and the more I sang it, I was able to use his words and his personality toward the song."