Anyone who has ever been to Sam and Dave performance knows that the stage was alive with dancing and movement. From the bouncing, skipping, swinging, stepping gyrations of Dave and Sam to the coordinated moves of the band members, it was exhilarating to witness.
“They were just two dancing fools. Man, they could dance,” former Sam and Dave band member Newton Collier recalls about the hundreds of shows in which he played trumpet or trombone with the Sam and Dave band.
“Our whole strategy started out as ‘If we can’t out play you, we’re gonna out dance you,’ said Collier, now 71, who lives in Macon, Ga.
Collier describes the amount of work involved in carefully choreographing the band’s signature dances. They spent hours learning dance steps for each song, led by fellow trumpet player Pete Carter.
HBCU band members were ideal
Collier says the Sam and Dave band used historically black colleges and universities such as Morris Brown College in Atlanta and Florida A & M University (FAMU) in Tallahassee as training grounds for future band members. Both schools are well known for producing the best marching band talent in the nation. In these bands, it’s not enough to play a musical instrument well. Musicians must be able to play and execute the latest dance moves at the same time. That was the case with anyone who hoped to join the Sam and Dave band, Collier said.
“You need musicians that can memorize the song and dance and play,” Collier said, adding, “We had great musicians come through the band, but they couldn’t dance.”
He added: “They could play the music all right, that’s good. But we were not a sit down band."
Collier recalled their 1968 performance at Madison Square Gardens in New York. They had an 18-piece band doing steps similar to what Collier describes as synchronized swimming. Each band member started a move, which was then followed with the next step performed by the next musician in the line. This was repeated on down the line and eventually went back around to the first player.
“That’s something to see,” Collier said.
Just like Madison Square Gardens, the live shows were electric. Sam and Dave danced and sang and the band played and danced as well. For the audience, their attention shifted back and forth from the singers to the musicians, watching to see what moves came next.
Added Collier: “The crowd was going wild because they couldn’t figure out who to look at first.”
Here’s a treat.
Newton Collier, now 71, was 20 years old in 1965 when he met a young singing duo in Augusta, Ga.
Collier had started playing the trumpet in Macon at the tender age of 14. He learned by listening to other musicians and then recreating their tunes on his aunt’s piano.
Prater family members had a chance to sit down with Collier in Macon March 21, 2016, and talk about meeting the singers the world would soon know as “Soul Men” Sam and Dave.
After that first meeting in 1965, Sam and Dave asked Collier to join the band and he went on the road with them on the “Chitlin” circuit. They played in clubs and dance halls from the Apollo Theater in New York to the Carolinas, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. They drove a series of used station wagons, vans and buses across the Jim Crow South in the turbulent Civil Rights era of the 1960s.
When they played to all-white audiences in Alabama, they had police escorts. Their van passed Freedom Riders who were protesting segregation throughout the South and often preceded them or joined them in towns where they performed. Collier said those were tense days, but they let their music speak for them and put it all on stage. It was common to have five-hour high-energy performances.
Stay tuned to www.PraterMusicFest.com for more memories of life on the road with Sam and Dave.
Dave Prater’s hometown of Ocilla, Ga., is celebrating the man and his music during Prater Music Fest May 12-14, 2016.
In this clip, Collier talks about how he learned to play music in Macon, Ga.