Co-author Isaac Hayes found the inspiration for "Soul Man" in the turmoil of the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. In July 1967, the 12th Street Riot in Detroit, Michigan occurred. Watching a television newscast of the aftermath of the riots, Hayes noted that black Detroit residents had marked the buildings that had not been destroyed during the riots - most African-American owned and operated institutions - with the word "soul". Relating this occurrence to the biblical story of the Passover, Hayes and songwriting partner David Porter came up with the idea, in Hayes' words, of "a story about one's struggle to rise above his present conditions. It's almost a tune [where it's] kind of like boasting 'I'm a soul man'. It's a pride thing." 
Issued on the Atlantic-distributed Stax label for which Hayes and Porter worked, Sam and Dave's "Soul Man" was the most successful Stax single to date upon its release. The single peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot Black Singles chart, and at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United Statesduring the autumn of 1967. "Soul Man" was awarded the 1968 Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Group Performance, Vocal or Instrumental.
The exclamation "Play it, Steve" heard in the song refers to guitarist Steve Cropper of Booker T. & the M.G.'s, the house band who provided the instrumentation for this and many other Sam and Dave singles; Cropper provides guitar for both the original Sam and Dave recording, as well as the live and studio covers by the Blues Brothers.
During the same session, two versions of "Soul Man" were subsequently recorded and released. The distinct difference between the two versions can be found within the first thirty seconds of the song. One version opens the tune with a trilling roll[clarification needed], an emphatic drum kick and a more enthusiastic Sam Moore singing the words "Comin' to you...", whereas the other version goes straight in from the intro with no roll, and the drum kick and opening lyrical line are not as enthusiastic. The latter rendition is the more readily available version in all formats, whereas the former rendition tends to be harder to find, but can be found most often on the radio or on original 45 vinyl pressings.
|Single by The Blues Brothers|
|from the album Briefcase Full of Blues|
|B-side||Excusez Moi Mon Cherie|
|Writer(s)||Isaac Hayes & David Porter|
|The Blues Brothers singles chronology|
Los Quando's a Spanish vocal group, released the first version with Spanish lyrics, written by Jose Manuel Vidal and included in a compilation by Marfer record label titled "Marfer Parade", published in 1968.
The Blues Brothers performed the song on an episode of the NBC comedy/variety show Saturday Night Live in late November 1978, and later released the song as a single that reached the top twenty in March 1979. The song was performed by Lou Reed and Sam Moore on the soundtrack to the comedy film, Soul Man (1986), supported by a music video.
In 2004, the song was performed by the comedy duo Drake Bell and Josh Peck on their sitcom, Drake & Josh, in the episode "Blues Brothers". The song appeared on the show's soundtrack, released in 2005.
In 2007, Australian singer Guy Sebastian covered the song for his fourth album, The Memphis Album, which featured Steve Cropper and Donald "Duck" Dunn, both of whom performed on the first ever recording of "Soul Man" 40 years earlier, and were also members of the Blues Brothers' band.
Paul Revere & The Raiders covered "Soul Man" on their album Goin' To Memphis.
Howard Hewett covered "Soul Man" as a placeholder theme song for Season 2 of the ABC series Hangin' With Mr. Cooper starring Mark Curry. The song was a temporary replacement for the original theme song which was performed by fellow cast members Holly Robinson and Dawnn Lewis, who had just left the cast after the end of Season 1 and was ultimately a result of Lewis' departure.
The American alternative band Three Penny Ride recorded it in their song "R&B Triple Play" in 2010
In 2012, Jermaine Paul, winner of the second season of The Voice released it as a single in which he was joined by his mentor and winning coach Blake Shelton. The single reached #108, appearing in theBubbling Under Hot 100 Singles.