'Soul Man' sues filmmakers for depicting him

Surviving member of Sam & Dave says Samuel L. Jackson's 'tawdry' portrayal tarnishes his reputation

Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Sam Moore, one half of the Stax Records duo Sam & Dave in the 1960s, has filed suit in Nashville's federal court against movie producers Harvey and Bob Weinstein as well as others involved in the film "Soul Men," released last November.

Moore, his wife Joyce Moore and a Tennessee trust they control allege that the movie, which stars Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac, is closely patterned on the career of Sam & Dave and the lives of Moore and his now-deceased singing partner, Dave Prater. One of their best-known hits was "Soul Man," and they were often billed as the "Soul Men."

"Soul Men" tells the story of two soul singers in a duo called the Real Deal. Like Moore and Prater, the characters broke up their band years earlier amid personal problems and professional differences. After a former colleague dies, they reunite to perform a tribute concert at New York's Apollo Theater, taking a cross-country road trip together from Los Angeles.

The lawsuit says Moore learned of the film project early last year. "The movie’s title, theme, characters, and music (the Memphis sound which became synonymous with Stax Records) immediately raised suspicions that the lead characters of the movie were being passed off as 'Sam and Dave,'" the complaint says.

Lawyer-letters were exchanged. Moore's attorney asked the Weinsteins to see to it that Moore's "persona and reputation were properly respected and compensated as part of the production and its budget." In response, the letter says, an assistant to Weinstein called Moore and offered him a cameo role at "a nominal day rate." Moore took the offer as an insult.

The Weinsteins' attorney denied the film was based on the lives of Moore and Prater. Any commonalities between the plot and their career, he said, were "hardly protectable similarities." And even if "Soul Men" had been based on Sam & Dave, the letter added, "they are public figures, and no one could be prevented from basing a book, film or play on their lives."

When the movie came out, plenty of viewers made the connection between the Real Deal and Sam & Dave. Film review Web site Movie City News, for instance, remarked that "Soul Men" was "clearly written with the great Sam & Dave in mind." A Los Angeles Times reviewer wrote: "The alleged laugh fest 'Soul Men' is clearly inspired by the famously warring '60s Stax act Sam & Dave – except Sam & Dave could sing." An online search reveals that more than 60 reviews of the film include the name "Sam & Dave."

Moore gave an interview to London newspaper The Independent in which he called the film "so amateurish, so stupid" that he was surprised Samuel L. Jackson would sign on to it. "When you read the script, all you see is vulgarity," Moore said. "Every other word is the 'N-word' or 'M-f,' and it's just not right. They have bastardized my whole story."

The story quoted the Weinsteins' lawyer as saying the film was "not, in any part or respect, based on Mr. Moore's life" and that "if Mr. Moore decides to file a lawsuit, he will lose."

The lawsuit states that the movie "constitutes serious insult to Sam Moore’s reputation, his talent, his legacy and his long-held personal views and beliefs" due to its "tawdry content."

It accuses the filmmakers of invasion of privacy, unfair competition and trademark dilution (although the complaint does not cite any evidence that Moore ever registered the "Soul Man" trademark). Moore seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and asks the court to order the "recall and destruction of all infringing versions of the movie."

There may not be a lot of money to fight about in this case. The film reportedly grossed only about $12 million before it went to DVD, three months after its theatrical release.

Stephen Zralek and Paul Kruse of Bone McAllester Norton in Nashville represent the Moores, along with three attorneys from the Washington, D.C. firm Lutzker & Lutzker. The Los Angeles law firm Greenberg Glusker is counsel to the Weinsteins.