Solomon Burke is a man of many faces, or rather myths, he's the King of Rock & Soul, was the boy wonder preacher, turned into a Bishop, a certified undertaker, suave businessman, 300 hundred pounds of heavenly joy, father to 21 children, 75 grandchildren and 13 great-children. If I had to choose just one desert island disc, it is quite possible that the Boss has to kneel before the king. Solomon Burke had a mighty towering voice indeed and anybody who ever had the opportunity to see him life knows he throws a killer show. Burke has that gift of drawing you in with his voice, during his shows he'll preach rather than sing, with the audience hanging on every word. Lies become truth, insanity becomes reason when the words roll of his lips. Solomon Burke might just be the greatest soul man to have ever walked the earth and not just because of his size.
Dive into the history of this man and you'll find it filled with stories so outrageous they simply must be true. Like any good mythological figure, it is uncertain when King Solomon was born. Somewhere around 1936 in Philadelphia legend has it. His grandma recognized his greatness almost immediately and groomed him in church. The Bishop delivered his first sermon at the age of seven and had his own radio show at 12. It was clear he was bound for great things even before he scored his first hit at Atlantic with the country ballad "Just Out Of Reach". At that time he already had eight children to support, Burke allegedly hurried out of the recording studio when the sessions were done to shovel snow in Philly to support them. "Just Out Of Reach" would land him in some funny places. He got so popular in the South that even the Klu Klux Klan paid him $7500 dollars to see him perform. But Burke was always on the look out for a sweet deal. He got banned from performing in the Apollo for selling his own pop corn there, made money on the road by selling sandwiches to the other stars on the bus for $7.50 a pop, realizing they'd had to buy from him because in the South nobody would serve them.
"Down In The Valley" was part of the string of hit singles from Atlantic that would cement his rightful place as the Kin of Rock and Soul, helped by Bert Bernes impeccable production skills. Soon King Solomon would come out on stage dressed in a mink cape and crown, living up to the myth. As Peter Guralnick relates in his excellent book "Sweet Soul Music", this didn't sit comfortable with everybody. James Brown felt he was entitled to the title, but after a show down even he had to settle for Godfather. After his stint at Atlantic Burke slowly slipped into obscurity. He would continue to perform, but his funeral homes became his core business. His fortunes changed in 2001, when Fat Possum produced an album on him with the songs written especially for him by some of the biggest names of R&R. The all had to be humble before the Bishop. "Don't Give Up on Me" featured songs by Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Brian Wilson, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. In 2006 Burke returned to Country for a spell on his "Nashville" album, singing close harmony with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. Gary Tallent played base on these sessions in which the King stole "Ain't Got You" from Springsteen. The Boss performed "Down In The Valley" on stage with South Side Johnny in 1977. Unfortunately I cannot present his take on the song, but like I said, I'm not sure of the Boss could handle the competition.
"Down In The Valley" is available on "Home in Your Heart"
"Ain't Got You"
Read an interview with the Bishop here