I love soul music. I especially love vintage soul music — the kind that still taps gospel roots without a lot of fanfare and vibrato.

I'm talking about Sam & Dave, Rufus Thomas, Isaac Hayes.

When my colleague Jeff Vice handed me a DVD called "Only the Strong Survive: A Celebration of Soul," I did a Snoopy celebration dance.

This documentary film by co-directors Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker was one of the official selections of both the 2002 Cannes and 2003 Sundance Film Festivals. It was the brainchild of producer Roger Friedman, who conducts the film's interviews.

The idea was to get groundbreaking soul pioneers together in one film. And instead of going straight to Motown, he started in Nashville, Tenn., the home of now-defunct Stax Records.

There, he met with Wilson Picket, Ann Peebles, Carla Thomas — and her father Rufus Thomas, one of the great soul players in music history. Other interviewees include Sam Moore from Sam & Dave, the Supremes' Mary Wilson, Isaac Hayes and Jerry Butler of the Chi-Lites.

This film doesn't dig into the seedy side of the industry (although Moore speaks candidly about his days pushing heroin and cocaine). Instead it's about the celebration of the music. Along with the interviews, footage includes straight-on performances from various appearances in New York and Memphis.

Peebles' "(I Feel Like) Breaking Up Somebody's Home," Jerry Butler & the Chi-Lite's "Have You Seen Her?" Pickett's take on "Land of 1,000 Dances" and Mary Wilson's rendition of the Supremes' "Someday We'll Be Together" still sound as crisp as they did back in the day. And then there's Hayes' smooth delivery on "Shaft," which is always a show-stopper.

The singers may be older, wiser and a little heavier (with the exception of the wafer-thin Peebles), but they can still belt out the tunes.

While I loved every one of the live performances, two hit me between the eyes, and I found myself hitting the replay button on my DVD player: Moore's classic "Soul Man" and the Thomas' "Night Time Is the Right Time."

I couldn't stop watching Moore as he charismatically led his band through his 1967 Top 10 hit. He was full of fire. And you could tell he loves to sing. In fact, I didn't want him to stop.

Thomas' song touched my heart. The father/daughter tune hit No. 94 on the Top 100, but it's a work of keen writing and heartfelt delivery. In fact, this performance is the only documented footage of the two singing together live. (The elder Thomas passed away in 2001, two years after the filming of this segment.)

"Only the Strong Survive: A Celebration of Soul" is a love letter to the power of soul music.

My only complaint is that the movie, at 96 minutes, is too short.


E-mail: scott@desnews.com