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An Interview with Solomon Burke from Soul Express 1/2000


  Congratulations to the 'King of rock 'n' soul' and one of the true giants in our music, Dr. Solomon Burke, on his 60th birthday on March 21, 2000! To honour the festive occasion Mr. Burke has released new r&b and gospel material (and there's still more to come soon) on the One-GTR Records. “GTR is a brand new label, Gospel Truth Recordings, owned by my children. It's the mother label for The One, which is our secular label. We have a brand new recording called The Commitment, a secular soul album, which I'm finishing right now.” Solomon is equally at ease in both sacred and secular territories of our music, but he's very particular about how he's being presented. ”I'm a soul singer, not a rhythm & blues singer, because of my religious conviction. You can't put a classification 'rhythm & blues singer' on me.”

  The Commitment is a masterpiece, one of the best albums Mr. Burke has released ever. It's a concept album with a topic everyone can relate to. It exposes the happy moments and the hardships of a relationship between two people from many angles and follows the curve of life with its many points - falling in love, getting married, everyday worries. ”It's about life. It's a message that God has given me to pass on to my people, especially to young people, how important marriage and love really is. When we look around us, the young people have no concept or real idea, what love is really about. A lot of folks rush into marriage today and don't really understand what's it about. That's why we have so many broken homes, so many families torn apart, children without a father, so many mothers raising the children by themselves, because the commitment wasn't completed. Once the commitment is completed, then you learn to hang in there. When we're unequally yoked, it's not going to work. You cannot put a bad egg in a cake. No matter how many good eggs you put in there, that bad egg is going to mess up the whole thing. You can add all the sugar you want to in there, but it's just not going to work. You have to start over.”

  The title track is a beautiful, soft slowie, which just keeps on growing. ”It's a love song. It's about learning love and losing love and trying to get it back, understanding that if you get it back, don't lose it again.” One of the nucleus songs is a seven-minute speech called The Wedding Ceremony. ”It actually is the wedding ceremony. People all over the world will be able to take this track and perform the wedding, providing they have their paper-work in order and in their life they are prepared for that. They can utilize this track. For many people, who want to renew their vows, this is a good track.” There's also another spoken slowie with wise words and with a very spiritual feel to it in the arrangement called Instructions. ”I'm sharing instructions. There are many instructions. Everybody has a different version, what they feel they should do, but after being married for thirty-two years, I'm sharing part of my life. After losing love - and this is my third marriage - I know that's not easy. Life is not easy. It wasn't promised to be easy, but the secret is life. As long as there's life, there's hope.”

  Send For Me is an impressive, big-voiced deep ballad with a touch of blues in it. ”I kinda felt Ray Charles there, and a little Joe Tex - that kind of feel.” One of the most beautiful serenades on this 14-tracker is a love ballad called For The Rest Of My Life. ”This is something you can play to your wife every day. If she makes you angry or makes you upset, just play it and say 'I'm gonna tell you something. I'm gonna love you for the rest of my life, so you better get used to it'.”

  I'll Be True To You starts as a romantic, sweet slowie, but builds into a strong love confession with a slightly jazzy arrangement and vocal improvisation. ”As you listen to these tracks and know the concept, this is something every man and woman wants to say and sometimes begins to say. We forget to remind ourselves, how important it is that we're together.”

  Although The Commitment is abundant in thrilling ballads - hypnotic, low-registered For Better Or Worse, beaty and vigorous Sweeter Than Honey, more words of wisdom in Words To The Wise and melodic, blooming The Wedding Song - there are a few uptempo cuts for variety. Sooner Or Later has a steady, hammering beat to it, Harder As A Rock is an intense, big-voiced mid-pacer and finally I'm Looking For A Job rounds things up in a funky way. The Commitment is an excellent record, which simply leaves you with a positive feeling.

  Solomon's preceding CD, The Definition Of Soul, was released on Pointblank, one of Virgin's subsidiaries, more than three years ago. ”We had a very wonderful time over at Pointblank, and we were very happy to be a part of that family. Unfortunately the gentleman who signed me, Jim Fifield, resigned from the company. When CEO signs you and CEO resigns, you have to go kinda with the flow.” Mr. Fifield at the time worked as the President and CEO of EMI Music, the parent of Virgin and Pointblank, and he offered Solomon his choice of labels - Capitol, EMI, Virgin...- to choose from. Still today the Burke and Fifield families are close friends.

  Not By Water, But Fire This Time is a new gospel recording released last year on GTR out of Beverly Hills, California, and distributed by EMI Christian Music Group. The set was produced by Victoria, Elizabeth and Candy Burke, and among the writers you can spot also Osirius and Sunday Burke. ”Sunday is my wife and Osirius is my grandson. The others are my daughters, and also producers and writers. Candy is twenty-three, Elizabeth is twenty-four and Victoria is twenty-five. They are daddy's babies. I have fourteen daughters and seven sons, fifty-five grandchildren and six grandgrandchildren. I have a houseful.”

  Not By Water, But Fire This Time is an impressive record, which shouldn't be overlooked as just one more gospel outing but which, on the contrary, should please also the sturdiest r&b followers among us. For me it's the best of all Solomon's gospel albums. Among the fourteen tracks there are four spirited uptempo cuts - some with more traditional jubilee - but the emphasis is on downtempo, touching songs. I'm Trusting In Him (written by Solomon and KSHS - King Solomon Haile Selassie; Solomon's son Selassie produced the Pointblank album) is a deep slowie, in the same vein as How Will I Know, Silent Prayer and the old spiritual, He Knows How Much We Can Bear. Music Box is a catchy, even poppy mid-pacer, whereas In The Midst Of Us takes us to a more lush, almost MOR musical territory. A mighty slowie called I'm Blessed brings out the old preacher in Mr. Burke, while the set closes with a more poignant ballad, It's Over. This fine 'Water/Fire' record will soon be followed by another gospel CD, which really should be something to look for, as it's a joint effort with Messrs. Wilson Pickett and Fats Domino.

  Later this year, in good time before yuletide, Solomon releases still one more CD, Christmas All Over The World. Solomon has had Christmas songs out already earlier in his career but only as single sides, so this will be his first complete seasonal album. There are some standards (Jingle Bells, White Christmas, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, What Are You Doing New Year's Eve, The Christmas Song ”Chestnuts Roasting”), but - as always is the case with Solomon - he tends to forsake the traditional approach and tries to come up with a new angle to the song.

  Half of the songs are new ones and created within the Burke family. Season's Greetings is a joyful bouncer, whereas You're All I Want And Need For Christmas is a laid-back slowie (it's not the same song as All I Want For Christmas, which was released on Pride in '72). It's Christmas All Over The World is a pretty beat ballad, Christmas Eve's Blues is just what it says, Something Good This Christmas has more groove to it, whereas The Bethlehem Story is closest to gospel . ”That's a rewrite of my own version of The Little Town Of Bethlehem story, or The Night Before Christmas.”

  On Joy To The World, Solomon's daughter Elizabeth joins in. ”I was recording the song in the studio. I have been singing this song for years and never knew the words. My daughter came in, and she's very polite, very calm and she said 'daddy, that sounds so nice, but may I say something'. 'Certainly, what is it?' 'Daddy, you're not singing the right words! I know you love to make up words and make up your own songs, but with this song you have to sing the right words'. 'OK, I don't know it. We're in the middle of session time. Would you sing it for me, and I'll sing along with you'. So she just walked into the studio and got to the album. She was the only one, who knew the words. Even the musicians had been sitting there saying 'sounds right to me'.”

  The final track on the album is a 'thank you' sermon from Solomon called The Christmas Prayer, and a song by the same name was released already on Savoy in '82 as the flip side to Silent Night. ”The Christmas Prayer was stolen by Savoy, and they were actually bootlegging it. From a lot of artists like myself, their records and music has been stolen and taken from these different record companies. Then we charged back for it. They have no rights to The Christmas Prayer. I'm not the person, who's gonna argue over a prayer, because the Lord gave me that prayer for the people, myself and my family. That Christmas Prayer was actually put out by myself and a gentleman out of New Jersey on a label of our own called The Big One. It was done in '80. They took the song and reissued it feeling that they have the right. They have no right to that song at all. We sent it out only to disc jockeys, because Christmas Prayer was so important to reach the people, and it was something that I would send out to my congregation and to my family.”

  ”I did three albums for Savoy back in the early 70s. Those records were reproduced and purchased by Malaco. I have never been under the contract to Malaco. Silent Night was a part of the One package that we released as a big single. Original Silent Night was on Savoy. We recorded that, when we recorded 'live in Macon, Georgia'. We never received any royalties from any of those records that were ever done by Savoy. I'm not the only artist. There are many artists, who here in America have been raped and robbed by these record and publishing companies.”

  Those bitter incidents have led Solomon to trust nobody else but only his family-owned business or the most reputable companies. About that and many other interesting matters you can read in our profound and in-depth Solomon Burke story, which will start running right after we're through with the Dramatics story by the end of this year. I guarantee you'll find it interesting. Do you, for one thing, happen to know, who is Little Vincent? Why is James Brown mad at Solomon over a train? Why did Solomon become jealous of Freddie Scott? etc., etc... The story also works as a lead-way to the Solomon biography, which is set to be released next year (more about the book later on in the story). But for now, in conclusion, once more - congratulations, Mr. Burke!

Heikki Suosalo

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