Soul Man

Album: Soul Man (1967)
Charted: 24 2
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  • "Soul Man" was released on Stax Records, a legendary soul label where Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Isaac Hayes recorded. It was written and produced by Hayes and David Porter, and the Stax house band of Booker T. & the MG's played the instruments, except for Booker himself who was away at college, which is why Hayes was brought in to Stax.
  • Isaac Hayes talked about this song in an interview with National Public Radio: "I got the idea from watching on TV the riots in Detroit. It was said that if you put 'soul' on the door of your business establishment, they wouldn't burn it. Then the word 'Soul,' it was a galvanizing kind of thing for African Americans, and it had an effect of unity, it was said with a lot of pride. So I thought, 'Why not write a tune called 'Soul Man.' And all you had to do was write about your personal experiences, because all African Americans in this country at the time had similar experiences. But we realized that in addition to being an African American experience, it was a human experience, and therefore it crossed over and became very commercial."
  • When this song was written, there was no clear definition of a "Soul Man." After Isaac Hayes came up with the title, David Porter wrote the rest of the lyric based on what he thought a Soul Man would be. To Porter, he was:

    Rural: "Comin' to ya on a dusty road."

    Hardscrabble: "Got what I got the hard way."

    A great lover: "I learned how to love before I could eat."

    Monogamous: "Give you hope and be your only boyfriend."

    Describing this guy, Porter said: "He didn't have the fancy big-city slant, but had the emotional thing happening inside of him that made people really love him."

    Interestingly, Porter's co-writer Isaac Hayes would exemplify a new, funky soul when he wrote the theme to the movie Shaft. This Soul Man is a bad mother...
  • Isaac Hayes wanted the record to have rhythmic elements similar to Bo Diddley's song "Bo Diddley," and Porter asked singer Sam Moore to give him "the Bobby Bland squall."
  • The Soul Man was "educated at Woodstock" (sometimes misheard as "educated from good stock"). This was two years before the famous festival; David Porter chose the name "Woodstock" to envision a school out in the sticks. "The word denoted a school that was out in the forest somewhere and they couldn't come up with the name for the school," he said. "Trees were cut down the school was made, and they called it Woodstock."
  • Sam & Dave were Sam Moore and Dave Prater. Moore was in The Melionaires gospel group; Prater was a solo artist before they met in 1961. They were signed by Roulette in 1962 and switched to Atlantic in 1965 before recording for Stax. In 1988 Prater was killed in a car crash. They were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
  • At the 1:15 mark, you can hear guitarist Steve Cropper play four notes that elicit the reply from Sam Moore: "Play it, Steve!" This was spontaneous, and done in one take.

    Cropper recalled to Uncut in 2015: "Sam said ' Play it, Steve!' only one time, on one take, which happened to be the best take, so we used that. I didn't think about it at the time. We didn't know it was going to make history."

    The Stax studio where they recorded the song was a converted theater, and a bastion of creative energy. Cropper's guitar lick came after producer Isaac Hayes asked him for an Elmore James-sounding slide part. Cropper used a Zippo lighter as a slide and got those famous notes.
  • Speaking about coming up with the famous guitar intro, Steve Cropper said: "Isaac Hayes came to me the night before the session. It was in the late afternoon and they had been back in their office, writing all day long. He came out and he said, 'David Porter and I have got this great idea. I really think this song is a hit, but I just can't come up with anything for the intro on this thing.' He asked me if I would go down to the piano with him for a minute and fool around, which I did. He was always coming up with these changes - he was such a good jazz musician, and he could come up with these different sets of changes, and sometimes leave it to me to put some sort of lick or something on top of those changes, and that's how the intro of 'Soul Man' was born."
  • This won the 1967 Grammy for Best Rhythm And Blues Group Performance. It was just the second year the award was given out.
  • The Blues Brothers released this as their first single in 1979. It hit #14 in the US, and helped establish the duo as a legitimate musical act. The Blues Brothers were Saturday Night Live comedians John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, and they turned their skit on the show into a movie and tour. Their backing musicians included Paul Shaffer from Late Night With David Letterman as well as Steve Cropper and Donald "Duck" Dunn, who were members of Booker T. And The MG's.

    Cropper explained: "We were working on material in New York to try to put a show together with Dan Akroyd and John Belushi, and I happened to suggest that they do something probably a little more danceable or a little more commercial because we were doing a lot of blues. They were the Blues Brothers, but I thought that Rhythm & Blues should play a little part in our show so I suggested 'Soul Man.' We jumped into it right away and I said, 'You know, Sam & Dave used to do all these dance steps and stuff.' So they got into it and had a lot of fun with that song."
  • Giving his thoughts on the Blues Brothers version of this song, Sam Moore said: "I'd say they were good comedians. I looked at it the way you look at the Coasters. It was a parody from a comedy team."
  • When Bob Dole ran for president of the United States in 1996, he used this song, repurposed as "Dole Man," as his campaign song until he was sued by the copyright holders of the song.
  • Sam Moore re-recorded this with Lou Reed as the theme to the 1986 film of the same name. The movie is about a white guy who pretends to be black so he can get a scholarship to Harvard; hijinks ensue when he gets picked to play basketball and turns out to be terrible. Reed and Moore performed the song on Saturday Night Live on November 15, 1986.

Comments: 11

  • Gary House from WisconsinGood Memories
  • Rich R. from DetroitThe part of the lyrics that states “educated at Woodstock” should be “educated from good stock.” If you doubt me, go listen again, you’ll hear it.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn May 25th 1969, Sam and Dave performed "Soul Man" on the CBS-TV program 'The Ed Sullivan Show'...
    Two years earlier on October 3rd, 1967 "Soul Man" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #79; eight weeks later on October 29th, 1967 it peaked at #2* {for 3 weeks} and stayed on the chart for 15 weeks...
    And on October 8th, 1967 it reached #1 on Billboard's R&B Singles chart...
    Between 1965 and 1974 the duo had fourteen record make Billboard's R&B Singles chart; seven made the Top 10 with two reaching #1, their other #1 record was "Hold On!, I'm Coming" for one week in 1966...
    They just missed having a third #1 record when "When Something is Wrong with My Baby" peaked at #2 in 1967...
    * The three weeks that "Soul Man" was at #2 on the Top 100 chart, the #1 record for those three weeks was "To Sir With Love" by Lulu.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn November 5th 1967, "Soul Man" by Ramsey Lewis entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #81; and 3 weeks later on November 26th, 1967 it peaked at #49 {for 2 weeks} and spent 6 weeks on the Top 100...
    The week that Mr. Ramsey's covered version entered the Top 100, the original version by Sam and Dave was in its second of three weeks at #2, that was also its peak position of the chart {and on the R&B Singles chart it was in its 3rd of 6 weeks at #1}...
    Mr. Ramsey Emmanuel Lewis, Jr. will celebrate his 80th birthday come next May 27th {2015}.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn April 22nd 1978, the Blues Brothers (John Belushi & Dan Aykroyd) performed "Soul Man" on the NBC-TV program 'Saturday Night Live'...
    It was the debut of the Blue Brothers characters on the show...
    Eight months later on December 3rd, 1978 it entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #86; and on February 11th, 1979 it peaked at #14 (for 2 weeks) and spent 15 weeks on the Top 100...
    As the Blue Brothers the duo had three other records make the Top 100; "Rubber Biscuit" (#37 in 1979) "Gimme Some Lovin'" (#18 in 1980), and "Who's Making Love" (#39 in 1981)...
    In 1967 Ramsey Lewis released an instrumental covered version of the song; it reached #49 on the Top 100...
    R.I.P. Mr. Belushi (1949 - 1982), Mr. Aykroyd will celebrate his 62nd birthday in three months on July 1st, 2014, and Mr. Lewis will turn 79 years old next month on May 27th, 2014.
  • David from Youngstown, OhYes, thanks Edward. One of life's great mysteries has been solved.
  • Tj from Champaign, IlThank you, David and Edward! I have wondered that half my life.
  • Edward Pearce from Ashford, Kent, EnglandDavid, to answer your question the 'Woodstock' Hayes & Porter refer to is not the soon to be famous upstate New York town but Woodstock School just outside of Memphis. Their record label Stax was of course based in Memphis.
  • David from Youngstown, OhThis is probably a moot question because this song has only two comments as of this writing besides mine. However, I wonder what Chef and David Porter were thinking when they wrote "I was educated at Woodstock." This song was released and charted in 1967, two years before the legendary concert. Before 1969, Woodstock was known - by very, very few - as an upstate New York artist town, something it remains to this day. The Band's Music From Big Pink, recorded in Saugerties, where the Woodstock concert was actually held, was released in 1968, a year after this song so throw that theory out the window. I can find no logical explanation for the reference and was hoping someone could give me one.
  • Ydur from Knoxville, TnPaul Schaeffer was originally supposed to play keyboards in the Blues Brothers band and in the film, but he had a spat with Belushi and got kicked out.

    The Blues Brothers had to play this in a different key than the original recording to fit John Belushi's voice.
  • Ken from Louisville, KySteve Cropper played lead guitar on this version, and on the "Blues Brothers" 1979 cover. He was even "shouted-out" by the same line on both - "Play it, Steve!"
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