Front Page

The Best Tracks in 2008

CD Shop

Best Selling CDs

Book Store

New Releases

Forthcoming Releases

The latest printed issue

Back Issues

Serious Soul Chart

Quality Time Cream Cuts

Vintage Soul Top 20

Album of the Month

CD Reviews

Editorial Columns


Readers' Favourites




I attended one of the greatest concerts in ages this year at the Rauma Blues Festival here in Finland at the end of July, when Solomon Burke was headlining.  From the bottom of his soul, with his amazingly powerful voice this 62-year-old master of music mixed new songs from his recent album with his past hits and some spirit-lifting gospel.  (You can read the full Solomon Burke Story in our # 4/2000 and # 1/2001 issues; now let's continue from where we left off then).

On Friday, July 17, this year they celebrated the first official Solomon Burke Day in his native Philadelphia.  ”First we went to the City Hall, where we met the mayor and a lot of city officials.  We had a wonderful time.  It was just an amazing day.  From there we went to one of the top restaurants in town, and everything was on the house.  I think I had about twenty of my kids and grandkids there, and they had a ball just ordering unlimited from the menu.”

Last year in March Solomon was finally inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame.  ”I think the induction was part of the great healing from 1999, when the Lord just started moving me in different directions.” One of the highlights in Solomon's life was meeting the Pope in Vatican on October 14, 2000.  ”We were requested to represent the Catholic Church of the United States of America at the Jubilee for the Family.  There were over half a million people at the St. Peters Square, and maybe millions of people all over the world watching the television.  It was an honour to be the only American family chosen.  There could have been so many great people from America they could have chosen - the Jackson Five, the Osmonds - and then to be requested by the Holy Father to come up and talk with him.  We had a conversation for seven and a half minutes.  His words were so sacred and so special to me that I hold them right here in my heart.  During those seven and a half minutes he anointed me seven times.”

Solomon's preceding CD, the great Commitment, saw a limited release a couple of years ago.  ”It is now, what is called 'the collectors', because Commitment was a special album that I wrote for people, who were going through the new millennium not knowing how to make a commitment.  It's now on sale on our website (, but it will be distributed worldwide soon.”

Also the promised biography is on its way.  ”We're still working on it.  Everytime we think we're finished I say something else and my son says 'there goes another chapter'.  We got to get this book out.  We have to narrow it down to where it's compact, where there won't be so many stories that already have been told a hundred times.”  The latest plans are to publish the book next year.


Solomon's new CD on Fat Possum, produced by one of the 80s and 90s folk-rock luminaries, Mr. Joe Henry, turns out to be not only critically acclaimed, but also a sizable commercial success.  Recorded live in the studio in just four days with a small band, almost acoustic, it certainly offers a different sound to what we've accustomed to hear from Mr. Burke.  Best way I could describe this down-tempo set is ”folk-soul” or intimate ”chamber soul”.  One of the players is Mr. Burke's church organist Rudy Copeland.  He replaced the scheduled Billy Preston, who just before the session had to be rushed to the hospital.

”The history of this album is that I was working in a two-day concert in Portland.  We're the only artists in America, who do the rhythm & blues concert one night and gospel concert the next day.  It's something that we're known for.  Here I am in Portland for the first time and we have this fantastic audience, and I say 'tomorrow's gonna be a gospel day.  I wonder, how much we are able to pull'.  We had over eighteen hundred people at seven o'clock in the morning and broke five thousand by nine.  And that was just a gospel prayer meeting.  It was just a great day.

”During that period a man by the name of Andy Kaulkin was watching that show that Saturday and he stayed over Sunday to see what would happen.  He came over to us and my daughter said 'dad, this guy is trying to talk to you.  He's with Fat Possum or something', and I said 'oh God, I hope it's not one of those football teams'.  They had asked me to be a mascot and a sponsor for a group called the Big Bears earlier.  Can you imagine me in a big bear costume?  I said 'I'll give money, but I'm not gonna put the costume on to be a mascot.  You have to get another guy running out as a fat possum'.  I didn't ignore him, but kinda tried to get away from him.  How lucky for myself that we met at the airport at the same time catching the same plane, and he was sitting right behind me.

”We had a couple of great meetings, talked about them being a record company and not a football team and the next thing I knew he introduced me to a guy by the name of Joe Henry, who is a fascinating young man.  I liked his charisma.  I liked the idea that he wanted to have pork chops for breakfast in a Jewish place.  His idea was 'Solomon, if we could find ten great writers or twelve great writers, who would write us some songs, would you do this?  Would you do this album?'  'Of course', I said.  I had no idea he would find them so quickly and that there would be such a wealth of songs coming from all types of writers all over the world.  The choice was totally made by Andy.  I refused to take the tapes home, because there was no way I could choose between all those great people.  We didn't even cut half of the songs that were taken to us.

”We wanted to do it live.  That was something I wanted to do and make sure it was spontaneous.  It wasn't a prearranged, a prerecorded situation.  We wanted to do it at the moment.  I didn't know any of the songs before.  Now I'm on a fast train and I'm relating to all these songs on this record.”

Dan Penn wrote the poignant and plaintive title ballad.  ”Dan Penn wrote for me thirty years ago a song called Take Me Just As I Am (co-written by Spooner Oldham in '66 and recorded also by Spencer Wiggins and Arthur Conley - ed.), and for him spiritually to project this song, Don't Give Up On Me...come on, it's amazing!  I was just honoured that Dan Penn was one of the writers.


The two Van Morrison songs - the steadily running swayer called Fast Train and a poignant beat ballad titled Only A Dream - also appear on his own Down The Road CD.  ”I'm very happy about that, because it gives people a chance to see exactly what I heard in those songs.  I just did them from my soul and from my heart without the heavy music, without the big horns that I'm so accustomed to, without the heavy string sounds; just as light as possible - one organ solo type of thing, drum, a little bass, guitar and singing.”

Tom Waits and his spouse, Kathleen Brennan, wrote the melodic ballad, Diamond In Your Mind, which easily could be one of those Louis Armstrong's 60s singalong songs.  ”I'm not a good interpreter of Louis (laughing), but I tried to get a little Satchmo in there.  I can just imagine in my mind him singing this song.”

Joe Henry's own contribution, Flesh And Blood, is a dead-slow, dusky, almost agonized lament.  ”A powerful song!  It gives a chill to you.  It says 'after all we go through, it's just flesh and blood.  Don't go grazy.  Don't forget what we are and who we are.  We're real.  Except me for what I am'.”

Brian Wilson and Andy Paley wrote Soul Searchin', a delightful and poppy mid-pacer, almost like from a 60s song book.  ”I wanted to sing Soul Surfin', but that wouldn't work (laughing).  Brian Wilson did a great thing on the song, and I'm happy that he allowed me to do it.  This song was more personal to him than I think anything else because of a lot of soul searching that he did in his life.”

Just as they were getting ready to cut Elvis Costello's and Cait O'Riordan's gloomy song at a funeral pace called The Judgement, Elvis himself walked into the studio.  ”I said to him I hadn't heard his tape yet.  'If that's the case, let me sing the song for you.  Don't play the tape.  I wanna sing it to you just like my wife and I wrote it'.  He also told me that they were inspired by my song The Price.  'Where The Price ends, The Judgement begins'.”

A bluesy and thumpy swayer called Stepchild was penned by Bob Dylan.  ”Stepchild was one of Bob Dylan's great songs that he performed in his shows and has been doing it for years.  He does it just before the closure, and it really is a crowd-pleaser.”  Already in the 60s Solomon had cut two of Bob's songs, Maggie's Farm and The Mighty Quinn.

Nick Lowe wrote a melodic and pretty ballad called The Other Side Of The Coin, which is something Solomon could have recorded for Apollo already in the 50s, whereas None Of Us Are Free is a spiritual chant written by Mann & Weil and Brenda Russell.  The song had earlier been interpreted by Ray Charles and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Solomon is backed by the Blind Boys Of Alabama.  ”We worked many times together on the road and in concerts, gospel concerts and festivals.  Once we were playing in Aspen, Colorado, and it just so happened that this was the day of the world series and everybody was in their hotels.  We were all in the same hotel, but because of a rain storm television didn't work.  The only people, who had it working in the whole complex, were the Five Blind Boys.  Now, is this not the will of God for the Blind Boys' television to work and nobody else's does?”


A melancholy ballad called Sit This One Out could have come from the pen of Mr. Burke himself, but it is credited to Pick Purnell.  ”Pick Purnell was a gentleman that came into the studio and said 'you gotta do this song.  They wouldn't take my song, because I wasn't a famous writer, but I will be famous, if you do my song'.  We listened to him and his song and I said 'let's do it right now', and it became the eleventh song, because it says something.  Pick has kinda disappeared, back into the dust.”

Next thing Solomon is going tour the album, and the plans are to perform not only in the U.S.A., but also in Europe, Japan and Australia.  After having left his mark in many fields of music - gospel, pop, rock 'n' roll, r&b, country, soul, blues - Solomon still has his mind set on new projects.  ”We're gonna do jazz next - I hope next year this time.  And then some classical opera.”

Solomon wishes that during his career there would have been a chance to work with Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, but they are not the only ones. ”Patti LaBelle, and there are so many other great voices out there; so many young great voices out there.  There's a group called the Roots out of Philadelphia that's like a rap group, but they're strong rap group, they're positive rap group.  I'd love to work with them also.

”Some of the other things I'd like to do is to expand our orchestra to where we'll be able to bring the full orchestra on the road - not just for certain occasions - when people can really hear Solomon Burke properly alive, like on the album Live At The House Of Blues (on Black Top in '94 - ed.).”

Besides his music, Solomon not only has his churces but is engaged in other businesses as well, which in the end must be rather time-consuming.  ”Church is everything in my life.  Church is the beginning of everything.  God is the head of my life.  I don't divide my time.  I give a little piece here, a little piece there.  I try to give as much as I can and I'm lucky now that two of my children are morticians.  I don't really have to do that as much as I did before.  My children handle it very well. 

”Most of my time I have eight or nine of my grandchildren around me.  My wife has learned, how to cope with it very cleverly.  She says 'hey, there's a new grandchild in town'.  Then she'll come in and says to them 'here's a gift for you and a gift for you...I love you and I talk to you later.  Your grandpa will take care of you'.”

The two background singers at the Rauma concert were Solomon's own daughters, Candy and Elizabeth.  ”Candy is a young dentist.  She's Doctor Candy Burke as of September this year.  My older daughter, Elizabeth, she's going back to her doctoring.  She wants to be a psychiatrist.  She psychoanalyses me every week.”

With almost fifty years of recording behind him, Solomon has seen many changes in r&b music.  ”I see the r&b music as a very strong source that keeps coming and revolving back.  Some of it has changed.  Some of it is more sexy and more rowdy now, but these are young people crying out to be heard.  Music is coming back stronger than ever.  It's coming back with the meaning, with power, with feeling.  It's coming back with the word that says 'you can make it, if you try'.”

The many racial and social issues Mr. Burke has raised during his career are mostly still there, but in recent times he more and more keeps looking for solutions.  ”I see the situation has changed, but it can get better.  We need to expand our love to one another.  We need to erase the word 'hate'.  We need to give more time to our children, to family values.  We need to listen to one another, and listen to others' problems.  We have to try to work things out without fighting, killing, shooting, bombing.  This is the only world we have.  If we can't live in this world, God's not going to give us another one, so it's up to us to bring peace, love and joy to the world.”

Heikki Suosalo

Back to our home page