Simon David is an independent filmmaker from Geneva, Switzerland, who spent three years in Atlanta working on Time And Place, a documentary film that chronicles the life of R&B and soul singer and guitarist Lee Moses.
Moses is considered by many to be an unsung genius, who blended funk, soul, R&B, and psychedelic rock during the late 1960s and early ’70s. He worked closely with fellow Georgia-based musicians such as Hermon Hitson, the Mighty Hannibal, and the Allman Brothers, and he wrote and recorded such R&B hits as “Got That Will” and “Time and Place.” He even cut an early version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe,” alongside Hendrix himself.
Moses’s gravely voice and his fiery performance made him the star of the Royal Peacock during the club’s late ’60s heyday. Following his death in 1998, his songs such as “Bad Girl,” “Time And Place,” and “How Much Longer (Must I Wait)” have continued to attract a growing fan base around the world. But Moses has become something of a ghost in his hometown.
Time And Place is one of the featured films at this year’s Macon Film Festival (August 13-30). Virtual screenings of Time and Place will take place between 10 a.m. and midnight Aug. 19 and 28. There is also a physical screening on Aug. 23 as part of the Black Cat Picture Show in Augusta.
David took a few minutes to talk about discovering Moses’ music and telling his story with Time And Place.
How did you learn about Lee Moses?
When I was in Belgium studying through a friend who is an African American himself. But it was during a screening of a French movie called House of Tolerance that I heard Lee Moses for the first time and started identifying myself to him. It was Lee’s big hit “Bad Girl.” The song appears at the end of the film.
The film’s subjects are 19th century prostitutes working in a closed brothel, who have quite little knowledge of how things evolve in the world outside the brothel. I had never heard anything quite like “Bad Girl” pt.1 and pt. 2. Such a cry from the heart. Then I started researching, listening, and singing a lot about Lee Moses. I could not understand how little I could find about him on the internet. How he became a ghost. Another thing to know also is that Lee has quite a strong following in countries like France, Belgium, Switzerland, and the UK. Not only by record collectors, but for a generation of kids like me. And that became interesting for me to discover Atlanta (later on), to see how much Lee had kind of disappeared from people’s memories and how unknown he was in his hometown. How the whole soul scene he was part of was unknown. Then I got in contact with some of the closest people to him, like his sister Donia. And the story goes on.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered while tracking down information about Lee?
There weren’t any hurdles with subjects or whatsoever. I always knew it would be impossible to frame Lee as accurately as possible. I knew that there would be a lack of clarity concerning dates for example, talking to subjects, some of whom are quite old and having quite a life behind them. And it was always a wish for me to picture Lee Moses as a mystical and mysterious creature. Giving the audience a feeling almost having more questions than answers after watching the film.
At the beginning of the film, his sister Donia Moses quotes Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you did, people will forget what you said but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I think it summarizes well what I tried to achieve through the doc. And I’ve been lucky to find people trusting me so quickly. Especially since I’m a young white male whose subject is a black musician. I also think I’ve had luck finding people that knew Lee in a matter that wasn’t only musical. And there was so much to say for them, to talk about someone that was such a great brother, friend, and musician for them. I do think, maybe in a very moral way, that it was therapeutic for Doris Moses or Donald High to speak about Lee—to be given an opportunity to honor him.
The one problem I had was finding archives, because no one thought about taking “pictures for posterity,“ as Lee’s sister Donia would say. Very few people around him saw the true genius. It was hard to put a hand on archives (images and footage). Even in public archives it was hard to find anything about Lee and the soul scene from the 1960s and ’70s. I’ve been through most of the public archives of Atlanta (GSU archives, Auburn Avenue Research Library, Atlanta History Center, etc…) but I could barely find anything about the Peacock or the clubs that disappeared. Nothing on clubs like the Palladium (inaugurated by Aretha Franklin!) or Mammie’s Diner where Lee, Hermon, and Jimi would jam with the Allman Brothers in the cellar. It was so frustrating to not find anything. But also so relevant seeing that all these buildings did not exist anymore. For me, Lee has always been a ghost and it was clear for me that I wouldn’t be able to have a well visually documented life.
Why is it important for you to tell Lee’s story?
I completely identified myself to Lee Moses—I still do sometimes. Through his music first of course, through his emotions and cries, through his personality, through his traumas, through his naivety. I have never felt so attached to someone whom I’ve never met. And it’s a weird feeling to feel like you know someone that you never met. It’s irrational even, but I felt so driven, in a very spiritual way.
Of course the other part is that, seeing that Lee had barely any following in Atlanta, it was and is important for me to crystalize Lee’s memory there, because Lee Moses is more than Lee Moses.