Soul music legend Solomon Burke passed away this morning on an LA-Amsterdam flight. He died not because he neglected himself by growing to 400 pounds at the age of 70 years old - but because his life was so large, he needed a body that size to carry it. It's hard to imagine anyone else who can manage a business empire while keeping house with 21 kids, 90 grandkids and 19 great grandkids. Now imagine leading a church in addition to maintaining successful secular and gospel music careers on top of it. Is it any wonder the man needed a little insulation?
If you want to read the party line obituaries that attempt to define my friend Solomon Burke by his songs being played in 80s flicks - have at it. They are all over the internet. Sure, Solomon was perturbed that he didn't get full writing credit for "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love." Sure, he would have liked to have been on top of the heap in the 1960s when Soul music was on top. But he was enthused and excited to have been brought back into the spotlight in 2001 with his comeback album "Don't Give Up On Me." That album, composed entirely by famous fans of his like Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan and tom Waits, brought Burke back from the modern-day chitlin circuit, to the NPR crowd. He was current, hip and still had all the pipes he had in his youth.
He was also the funniest man I've ever met. I've traded jokes with Paul Mooney, King Coleman and Rudy Ray Moore. But Solomon's timing, energy and wit was unsurpassed. After the interview I did with him in 2003, he took King Coleman's phone number from me and brutally crank called the mashed potato man / MC of The Apollo Theater, pretending to be James Brown's hyperactive manager Charles Bobbit - not letting King get a word in edgewise.
"Mistah Brown wants to hireyouforabigbigshownextweek, KING canyoudoitformisterbrown? Misterbrownexpectsyou tobethere,you knowhow heis!"
"Whhaaaa" Huuuuuhh"?? A befuddled King answered, 40 years removed from Bobitt's madness.
"King, it's Solomon!" Solomon giggled
"Oh MAAAAaN! You don't need to pretend to me no BROWN!"
In the short time I knew Solomon, we traded wisecracks and hilariously wild stories (Like how he played a KKK rally with his face bandaged up like the invisible man), but he could get deep too. A few minutes after chiding me for not being married, my circumstances appeared to change and I proposed to my girl and got a "yes". I called to tell him the news, Solomon's voice dropped an octave and told me this was a sign from above and he was personally blessing my wedding. Two days later, an unreleased autographed CD arrived in the mail, inscribed to me and my wife.
At our wedding reception, only "Don't Give Up On Me" was played. It's a gorgeous record that was somehow recorded live in very few takes. It got to the heart of his 40 year career and gave him a Grammy to kick off his last decade. I only spoke to him 10 more times after that. He had a busy life - and there's only so much downtime to share with white boys from Miami when you have all that love to spread around the world. Nonetheless he made an impact on my life - and left a giant footprint on music history.
The World will miss you. Rest In Peace.