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(Solomon Burke photo courtesy of Sidley & Austin)

An Interview with Solomon Burke


  It’s amazing that two giants in soul music, Solomon Burke and Willie Mitchell, had actually never met face-to-face until October 2008.  Solomon: “Crazy, absolutely crazy!  You get so comfortable talking to somebody on the phone, until you just feel like ‘we’ve known each other for so long and it’s going good, so let’s keep it going good’.  I promised him I was going to come and record with him, and then I signed with another label and then I went to Macon and Muscle Shoals and we had that huge success with Proud Mary (in 1969).  From there we went to Los Angeles and signed with MGM, while he did such a tremendous job with Al Green.”

  “One thing about Willie... when he’s working with one artist, he’s working with THAT one artist, and he’s dedicated to that one artist in making that artist happen.  I was so impressed with what he was doing.”

  “We knew each other.  His son grew up with my son.  In ages, his Boo and my Selassie are about a year apart.  His granddaughter is about the same age as my youngest daughter.  They look like sisters.  Her little boy, who is two and a half years old, is called Ethan, and my grandson from Elizabeth is Ethan and he’s two years and two months.  There was just so much coincidence there.”


  Between 2002 and ’08 Solomon has released four quite successful albums (see our Solomon Burke Discography), and you can read the review and the interview on the last one, Like a Fire, at  On those CDs Solomon has occasionally stretched out to country, pop and even rock, but on Nothing’s Impossible (E1E-CD-2086; liners by Bill Carpenter) he’s firmly returned to his soul roots.

  “We came back home with Willie Mitchell, and what an exciting time it was!”  On his way home from Mississippi, Solomon finally dropped by at Willie’s Royal studios in Memphis in late 2008 and ended up recording three songs that first night.  “Willie said ‘you ain’t leaving this studio until you record something in here’.  The first time we recorded was that night that I met him.  I stayed an extra day after that.”  To boost the night, they had Willie’s favourite, an enormous seafood pizza, for supper.

  “Next thing I knew we were going back to California, where I had some commitments I had to keep, and on the way home we listened to the product, the three songs we had done – You Needed Me, Dreams and Everything about you – and I said ‘wow, such a great feeling’!  When I got home, Boo was on the phone ‘man, you got to get back here.  Ever since you left, he ain’t wrote like this in ten years and he wants to talk to you’.  Willie said ‘man, come out here, I’ve got a song for you.  I just wrote it, Nothing’s Impossible.  You got to get back here.  Don’t hesitate.  Stop what you’re doing, get back here and finish this album.  We got to do this now’.”

  “Two days later I was back in Memphis.  We finished this album, and it was just incredible time. After that I got home and listened to Willie over the phone talking about him doing the horn parts.  Then he said ‘I’m doing the strings’.  All of it was just like within a ten-day period.  In the studio he was pushing me around – and pushing me out of the way – and the urgency that he had was so impressive and so special.  Until now, when you look back on it, you realize that the hand of God was directing him to finish this project.”

Lawrence "Boo" Mitchell and Charles Hodges at the Royal Studios on November 28 in 2000.


  To all the rootsy and classic soul music fans, Nothing’s Impossible is a revelation in the midst of today’s sounds.  With great singing, real live musicians, old-school production and arrangements and good melodies, all pieces fit.

  Produced by Willie, he also arranged the horns and strings with Lester Snell and mixed the set with Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, who worked as an engineer as well.  “Boo certainly knows what he’s doing.  He’s studied his dad’s steps every second of the way.”  Steve Potts is on drums, Dave Smith on bass, Bobby Manuel and Teenie Hodges on guitar, Lester Snell on piano and organ and Archie Mitchell on conga.  Sweetening is provided by the 4-piece Royal Horns and 6-piece New Memphis Strings.

  The finished product was placed on E1 Records (  “That was where Willie wanted to go.  I wanted it to be an independent situation, where he and I could put it out independently to really get it to people, who loved our music.  Willie said ‘this guy (Michael Koch) is one of us and he’ll get it out there’, and I said ‘I don’t argue with you Willie.  You’re two minutes older than I am’” (laughing). 

  Many a great artist has recorded at Willie’s studio – “I could still smell Al Green’s cologne” – but during Solomon’s stint there weren’t that many visitors.  “One person that visited us in the studio was Bobby Blue Bland’s wife.  She came over and took a picture of myself and her for Bobby.  Another young man came in, and it was very strange.  He was a worker, like working on some plumbing, but when he came in he shocked us.  He looked so much like Otis Redding that it scared me.  His height, his sound, his look – everything was like it was Otis.”

  Nothing’s Impossible turned out to be Willie’s swan project.  “After this thing was finished, he went into the hospital.  We all thought ‘that’s okay, that’s minor’.  He came back, we talked and laughed ‘hey, this record is going to be a monster.  We got to work on promotion, do a video...’ and he was talking about the songs all the time and how much he loved the songs.  After our conversation he went back into the hospital... and I lost him.  Seven days and he was gone.”  Willie passed away on January 5 in 2010 at the age of 81 years.

Boo and Willie Mitchell, photo from the CD booklet.


  A slow and emotive ballad called Oh What a Feeling opens the set, and the song was written by Willie together with Julius Bradley and Spencer Randolph.  “Many of those guys have worked with Willie for years.  Willie called these people up.  Some of them were almost unable to even get there, but they came – all the musicians he’s used on his hit records were there... and the writers.  Some of the songs we couldn’t do – ‘pass on this song, let me hear the next’!.  He really worked it, and he pulled out just the songs he wanted us to do.”

  Solomon himself wrote a relaxed mid-pacer titled Everything about You – “I wrote it on the way to the studio coming from the hotel” – and it features a perky sax solo by Lannie McMillan.

  Solomon’s and Willie’s Dreams is a smooth and wistful slow song.  “Dreams was written the first day after we finished You Needed Me.  Willie just started playing the piano and I just started singing, and we recorded it not in the studio, but right outside the studio.  ‘Get the mike here’!  It was incredible.  The band and everybody just followed us along.  That’s why Dreams is so long (6:13), it’s uncut.  That is a one-shot recording.  We just grooved it off one another – a ‘you-keep-playing-I-keep-singing’ thing.”

  The slow Nothing’s Impossible was written by Willie with Jason Hohenberg, and especially on this track you can revisit the soft and familiar Hi beat.  “That’s the song that Willie called me about and sang for me over the phone and that’s what got me back into his studio from Los Angeles.”

  It Must Be Love is a very slow and intense torch song, which just grows and grows.  “Willie stopped me in the middle of the song; Sunday, Monday, Tuesday – ‘hold it’!  He’s actually freezing it and having me come back at the right moment.  That was a great effect.”


  The only outside song on the set is a tender cover of Anne Murray’s gold hit in 1978, You Needed Me.  “That was one of Willie’s favourite songs that I did the first day.  He had been trying to do it for ten years, he said, with some of the artists, but either they didn’t want to do it, or it didn’t come out right.  They just couldn’t get the right sound.  Willie was so tickled pink that I would do it, and when I did it the second time he said ‘that’s it’.  We only did two takes on it.”

  Say You Love Me Too is Willie’s sentimental serenade, whereas You’re Not Alone is Solomon’s pounding ditty, one of the two non-slowies on the CD.   “That’s a message to all of the ladies out there that you’re not alone.  That’s for my daughters, my grandchildren, my friends, to so many people out there to know that there’s always somebody beside you and help you, if you want help.”

  New Company by Willie and Julius Bradley is a melodic, peaceful song with rich orchestration by Lester Snell.  “I liked the song and I enjoyed doing it.  This was something Willie wanted me to do, and I didn’t disagree with Willie’s choice of songs.  I wanted to take the direction, where he was going, and I’m glad I did.”

  When You’re Not Here is a melancholy slowie from the pens of Willie and his long-term partner, Earl Randle, whereas The Error of my Ways is a downtempo blues song, sweetened with strings and Lannie’s saxophone.  The song was composed by Willie and Solomon’s daughter, Candy Burke.  “Candy’s just thirty years old, and to hear her write these lyrics – it was amazing!  Willie did the music, so I had nothing to do with it at all but to sing it.  I was in shock to know that this message is coming from my daughter that’s saying ‘I’ve been hurt by love’.  I’m very proud to sing the song.”

  Willie and Spencer Randolph wrote the concluding song, a slowly swaying beat-ballad called I’m Leavin’.  “There are a couple of great lines in there.”

  “The CD gets a lot of response, good airplay.  It’s a very sincere record.  It’s a masterpiece of the mind, heart and spirit... something that you’re not going to just find tomorrow.  No producer can come along and produce something like this.  We’ve captured that moment of time, and I’m thanking God that I’m here to demonstrate that.”


  Solomon is partly involved also in a recent gospel release titled Stepping up and Stepping out by Clarence Fountain and Sam Butler ( on The One Entertainment System label.  President and A&R of the company is one Victoria Burke.  “Victoria is running the gospel label, and Candy runs the label I’m signed with.  Clarence is a very dear friend of mine, and this may be one of the last records he’s going to do.  He’s kind of retired, and he wanted to do one more record, and I kind of took a chance on it financially to put it out.”

  “Sam Butler is a great musician, a sharp guy and a good performer.  Clarence is so dynamic.  He wants to do some things, but he doesn’t want to do a lot.  Se we’re going to help him as much as we can.  I thought it was so important to get this work out by Clarence.”

  You can expect a new gospel CD from Solomon as well later this year, but while waiting for that one all aficionados of genuine soul music all over the world should grab Nothing’s Impossible.  (; interview conducted on May 6, 2010).

Heikki Suosalo

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