Once, during his 50 years on the road, Solomon Burke had enough of an argument between his side men on whether or not he was a real undertaker. He spotted a funeral home along the road, ordered the bus to stop and went inside. A few minutes later the band members were ordered inside to watch Solomon embalm a body. That ended the argument forever!
Burke, who wrote “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” in 1964, died Sunday on an airplane flying to Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam for a performance at Paradiso with the Dutch band, De Dijk, on October 12. He was known as the “King of Rock and Soul” and, to me, was the living performer who best symbolizes the synthesis of the black church with the R&B hits I grew up with in the 1960s.
Both a Grammy winner and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Burke began as a preacher in Philadelphia and was a friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His life was always over the top. He claimed to be born on March 21, 1940 “to the sounds of horns and bass drums” at the United Praying Band The House of God for All People in West Philadelphia.
"From day one, literally God and gospel were the driving forces behind the man and his music," Burke’s website proclaimed.
As an adult, he began a gospel radio show and was soon signed to Atlantic Records. Atlantic’s producer Jerry Wexler soon called Burke “the best soul singer of all time,” and he become one of the label’s enduring artists.
Other major artists like the Rolling Stones and Wilson Pickett covered his songs, while performers including Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Ben Harper and Eric Clapton wrote songs for him to record.
Burke loved to clown around on the road and his band would play without set lists, instead performing whatever the audience wanted to hear. In most concerts, he’d invite fans on stage to sing with him. Here, I took these photos of him performing at B.B. Kings Club in New York City on March 5, 2005.
Burke continued to the end as a preacher and the patriarch of a huge family of 21 children (14 daughters and seven sons), 90 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren. “Loving people,” he said at a recent performance, “is what I do.”
RIP, Solomon Burke