SOLOMON BURKE – A Man For the Ages
Interview and Concert Preview
For someone who has been through all the changes of the music business in the last six decades, Solomon Burke offers a unique perspective. Although Solomon never quite achieved the crossover appeal of his contemporaries Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles or Sam Cooke, his shadow looms large across the musical landscape.
His fans range from Tom Waits, Van Morrison, Brian Wilson to Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe…all of whom wrote songs for Solomon in the last decade. The Rolling Stones rose to fame on the back of several of Solomon’s songs, and somewhat repaid the gratitude by having him open for their show at the intimate Wiltern Theatre in LA in 2002.
His vision is global, spiritual and practical. In the middle of an amazing summer tour in Europe, Solomon took time to chat about his upcoming LA concert in November, his family and his view about whether the world is better now or back in the day.
Solomon Burke: So how are you? How’s the family?
Brad Auerbach: Just fine, we also just got back from Europe.
SB: You did? How did everyone like the trip?
BA: A glorious time indeed. How have your shows been going?
SB: Just wonderful. We are adding more dates in Europe, and the crowd is wonderful. The most recent show was WOMAD in England. Everything is so well organized these days. I sit there and wonder…how do they sell all those hot dogs?
BA: You are still in the food business!
He also owns a pharmacy, a fleet of limousines for hire and a mortuary.
SB: Yes indeed, and I discovered that someone in Europe has bootlegged my popcorn!
BA: Most artists are concerned with the bootlegging of their music, but for you…
SB: It just means I have to say to myself DON’T STOP, KEEP MOVING…MAKE BIGGER AND BETTER POPCORN.
Solomon famously sold popcorn between his sets at the Apollo Theatre in his salad days.
BA: How do audiences differ between America and Europe?
SB: Well for one thing, the audiences in Europe know every lyric. I am there, singing to all ages, and they all know the songs. Overwhelming. I have been from one end of Europe to another. It is my incentive to keep going back. You know, next year 2010 is Year of the Dream in America. Lord willing I want to do a big tour in America next year.
BA: Do you travel with the same band, or do you hire pick up musicians when you travel?
SB: Eighteen persons travel, with 12-14 onstage. But we are happy to have friends and family join us onstage.
I then asked Solomon about my desert island artist, Van Morrison. Solomon has recorded several Morrison songs, toured with him and they share a producer from the 1960s in Bert Berns. Both artists have a unique ability to blend the sensuous with the spiritual in their songs. I commented that the only time I have seen Morrison laugh onstage is when Solomon is with Morrison.
SB: I love Van Morrison…one of the great writers, so much talent. He always plays tricks on me, he tells me ‘get here early, you close the show, I need to head home and watch a game.’ So I ended up closing a few of Van’s shows. Other times we’ll be onstage together, and I let him take the lead vocal, and I sing background, and Van laughs. But he is a fun guy. He is very serious about his music, always wants to give the best show possible, he wants to make sure every song counts. He is intense about that.
BA: Who in your band has been with you the longest?
SB: Sam Mayfield has been with me the longest. And Carl Vickers.
BA: How about your new record label, what’s new?
SB: It is called The One Entertainment Systems. I was recently with Willie Mitchell in Memphis.
Mitchell is the producer of Al Green’s early epochal recordings.
SB: So there I am, in the same studio where Al Green did his stuff, with Presley’s bullet hole in the ceiling, all that history in the studio. What a great project. His voice goes to a whisper. Yes, I got to use that same famous microphone Al Green used. It was such a great feeling to be in that spot, with the movement of the soul in that studio. It was intense but wonderful. Sometimes we have to go back to the rock. It reminded me of the good old vibe, those days of Atlantic Records with Jerry Wexler, Ray Charles, it just takes you back.
We then digressed into one of his favorite topics: family. When we first spoke, in 2002, he had about 65 grandchildren. Now he is past 90 grandchildren.
SB: One of my grandchildren wanted to buy racehorses, but now she knows she should think about a racetrack; horses come and go! Children today are very wise, very alert. They take things for real. Times were different, but the message was close. We were all closer to family then, now with all communications, we should be closer, but we are further, because we have the privilege of moving at the speed of the internet. Sometimes we lose the home love connection.
His voice becomes melodic, riffing on one of his famous lyrics. Everybody needs somebody to love, someone, somewhere. Yes, times have changed for the better. I hope we all look toward the future with new eyes. I have been preaching to the nations all over the world, not to give up, we still have to fight for peace and for understanding. Change does not come unless we make the change. We have to make the change. The change is within ourselves. The message has to come across, with communication. We need to listen to someone else’s needs. The human race. One race. One world. We can now talk across the world; God has been doing it since the beginning of time. He always answers His phone, He never had a busy line.
BA: What are your plans for the LA show in the fall?
SB: I want everyone to send me their requests via email, twiddle us, I want to pack the show with request songs, I don’t care how far back!
Solomon Burke appears at the Club Nokia in Los Angeles on November 20, 2009.