Sunday, October 10, 2010
I first learned about Solomon Burke when I was a kid via the Rolling Stones -- the gateway to many things in my life. But all I knew was that he did the original recording of "Cry to Me." which I felt the Stones did better on their Out of Our Heads LP. It was not until reading the monumental Peter Guralnick book, Sweet Soul Music in the early 1990s that I really turned my attention to the King of Soul himself, Mr. Burke. And as the age of CD reissues came upon us, it became easier to revisit the past and catch up with whole careers via a few retrospective CDs. Listening to Solomon was to hear a master class in early-1960s soul singing -- power when needed, supple cooing when balladry was called for, and just the right amount of church. And his late-career resurgence was also quite fulfilling, the closing of the circle, the re-appreciation fueled by records produced indie roots rock heros like Joe Henry. So, as with many artists from Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Bettye Lavette, Mavis Staples, etc., a giant (literally?) away from whom the spotlight strayed, had his rightful place on the throne reestablished (literally!) with some help from some younger alternacats.
I got to see him on that throne, playing a set before Van Morrison about 10 years ago. He was the powerhouse and showman I hoped he would be, in great voice and with undeniable regal presence. The tie between Burke and Morrison was more than master/protege. It was more than the influence of a slightly older American soul man and a younger Belfast Cowboy; there was also the chain of Bert Berns, who wrote a ton of pseudo-Latin, peppy numbers for a myriad of acts back in the heyday of the Brill Building-era. The relationship between Van and Bert is a tortuous one, and well-documented.
Think of the Berns-penned song "A Little Bit of Soap" as sung by the Jarmels and you have the idea of how Solomon was probably given the demo version of "Cry to Me." In other words, too upbeat for the subject matter. I mean, I got to know the song via a young Mick Jagger spilling out such lines as, "nothing could be sadder than a glass of wine alone," and "when you're all alone in your lonely room/And there's nothing but the smell of her perfume." This was my favorite song on the record that had "Satisfaction" on it. I was 8 years old. There is something primeval about songs like this.
We tip our hat and raise a drink for the recently departed Solomon Burke. He was 70. Hard to believe that's the same age John Lennon would have been today. Have you ever heard Emmylou Harris do "For No One," by the way? It is one of those rare covers that, for me, comes close or even surpasses an original classic. I heard it again this morning for the first time in ages. "Cry to Me" as done by the Stones is in the echelon as well.
Now, there are tons of Solomon songs that kill me. And Jagger learned about 1/4 of what he knows about singing from him, along with Don Covay, Otis, etc. But Jagger and the Stones took Ol' Solomon's song away from him, as far as I am concerned. It is the sound of loneliness, and "loneliness is just a waste of your time."
Here is a cover Phil Aiken (piano), Tom Polce (lead guitar), and I did late night after a recording session at Q Division in about 2002 or so, a bottle of wine or two being drained as the wee small hours of the morning ticked off the clock and the tape rolled:
Cry to Me mp3
Edit: And here is a great old Solomon B-side, from the essential Red Kelly sould site (one of a few great sou blogs he runs):
"What Am I Living For"