Music stars pay tribute to R&B legend
By KIERAN GRANT -- Toronto Sun
"Soul." It's the elusive spice, the chi, the mojo
from which great music springs.
Everyone from Otis Redding to Mick Jagger to
George Jones to Kraftwerk have offered their
own unique expressions of it over the years.
More spend their performing careers tapping in
vain for just a trace of it.
But it's a true soul man who can carry this
essence over to conversation the way Solomon
A prime R&B mover of the '50s and '60s, the
legendary singer and Rock And Roll Hall Of
Fame member was instrumental in shaping the
very sound that the word soul brings to mind.
Burke, now 62, still overflows with fervour for
music-making -- a process that for him is
infinitely tied up with a higher power and which
he considers divine.
While discussing his latest album Don't Give Up
On Me -- which comes out today and features
custom-written songs by Bob Dylan, Elvis
Costello, and Brian Wilson among others --
he's overcome by tears.
"I don't think I ever discovered my voice," Burke
says at one point over the phone from his L.A.
"Sometimes I think it has nothing to do with me
at all. It's the will of God and I'm just the way.
But I think the strongest thing that I've ever
done in my whole career is to constantly
convince people to thank their God, whatever
their God and religion may be. It's about
knowing that there's a God inside you that
activates you and gives you life and strength ...
I've got to get off the pulpit here, but I'm so into
Burke, a preacher since age seven who was
raised in the gospel singing tradition, says he
sees no divide between secular and spiritual
That approach may have spilled into his
recording career as his output embraced
gospel, R&B and country. Though he never
became a household name, his string of hits for
Atlantic Records in the '60s and his lavish
shows resulted in a steady success and
acclaim. The Rolling Stones covered Burke
twice with Cry To Me and Everybody Needs
Somebody To Love.
Burke -- devoted father of 21, grandfather of
63, and great-grandfather of eight -- continues
to perform, works as a mortician and is an elder
in his church. His hometown of Philadelphia
celebrated Solomon Burke Day last Friday.
His work has come full-circle with Don't Give Up
On Me, for which Dylan, Costello, Wilson, Tom
Waits, Van Morrison, Nick Lowe, and producer
Joe Henry specifically crafted songs. Smooth,
dark, deeply soulful and masterfully interpreted,
it also might be the most spare Burke's ever
sounded -- "just one horn on the whole record!"
the singer marvels.
The idea for the customized record started with
Epitaph Records, the U.S. label who'd
previously introduced blues seniors such as
R.L. Burnside and T-Model Ford to punk rock
audiences through their Fat Possum imprint.
Burke laughs as he recalls Epitaph president
Andy Kaulkin's pitch: "When I first met this guy
Andy, I thought he had a football team. A
couple of weeks prior I'd had somebody
approach me about being a part-owner and a
mascot for a team called the Royal Bears and I
thought this was the same thing. The last thing I
needed was to be in a Fat Possum outfit! But
Andy's no three-piece suiter. When I found out
he had a record company I was very happy.
And he said a magic word. He said 'I would like
to try something.' His idea was very simple. He
wanted to see if he could find some great
songwriters -- superstars -- that would write just
for me and not perform with me.
"I'm thinking, 'Have fun.' I didn't think anyone
knew my name."
He adds: "We have a wealth of songs we didn't
even do. We have four or five Carole King
songs that came in at the last minute. It's
enough for another record."