Copyright ©2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And now, we remember a man who's been called the best soul singer of all time.

(Soundbite of song, "If You Need Me")

Mr. SOLOMON BURKE (Singer): (Singing) If you need me, I want you to call me. I said, if you need me...

BLOCK: Solomon Burke - he died early yesterday after a flight to Amsterdam for a concert. He was 70 years old.

(Soundbite of song, "If You Need Me")

Mr. BURKE: (Singing) Don't wait too long. If things go wrong, I'll be home, whoa-oh-oh, home. If you want me...

BLOCK: Solomon Burke, known as the King of Rock and Soul, would dress the part, wearing a crown and holding a scepter on stage, seated on a throne. And he brought the Gospel to rhythm and blues. He was only 7 when he started preaching at a storefront church in Philadelphia - known as the Wonder Boy Preacher. It wasn't until 2002 when he was awarded his one and only Grammy, for his album "Don't Give Up on Me." It was produced by Joe Henry, who joins me from Los Angeles with his memories of Solomon Burke.

Joe Henry, welcome to the program.

Mr. JOE HENRY (Musician and Record Producer): Thanks, Melissa. It's nice to be here.

BLOCK: And that album title - "Don't Give Up on Me" - seems really fitting, in a way, because Solomon Burke really never had the fame of Otis Redding or Sam Cooke or Wilson Pickett. Why not?

Mr. HENRY: Well, I'm sure he wondered about that himself. It's hard to say why he didn't connect the way maybe a Sam Cooke did. You know, he didn't have the matinee good looks of a Sam Cooke, possibly. But people responded to Solomon with just as much passion, it seems to me. So I'm not sure. Sometimes, the stars don't line up or sometimes, the stars just have other work for you to do.

BLOCK: And clearly, Solomon Burke was loved by singers. In fact, the album that you produced with him was mostly songs written for Solomon Burke by top-of-the-line artists - Elvis Costello, Tom Waits and Van Morrison. I want to play a little bit of this song; it's called "Only a Dream," and he works in a shout-out to you. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of song, "Only a Dream")

Mr. BURKE: (Singing) And that big band keeps on playing Joe Henry's retreat but only a dream, only in my dream.

BLOCK: How did he get you into that song?

Mr. HENRY: Well, that was one of the first things we recorded. It might have been the second song, and the line was supposed to be: The band keeps playing Bonaparte's retreat. And Solomon didn't think that Bonaparte was a terribly musical word. He's like, what did he say there? And I said, Bonaparte. He said, I don't think so. And then we did another take, and he inserted my name instead.

BLOCK: Well, Solomon Burke's story is one shared by, I think, a lot of R&B, soul, blues singers of his generation. He felt he had been badly taken advantage of by record labels, by producers. And there was comeback after comeback over the years. But he did develop a whole sideline of work. He trained to be a mortician. He has a whole chain of mortuaries.

Mr. HENRY: He did, in fact. Solomon had every - you know, all kind of sidelines going that he maintained. You know, there's the famous story: James Brown was supposedly furious that he was off to the side of the stage at the Apollo Theater, frying chicken and selling it to performers as they came - and left the stage. It was always a part of his M.O., just to continue to be on the hustle. And I say that in the most admiring way possible.

BLOCK: Wait a minute. He was offstage at the Apollo Theater, frying up chicken?

Mr. HENRY: Frying chicken and selling it, yes.

BLOCK: True story?

Mr. HENRY: Well, Melissa...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HENRY: ...if you start asking me what's true, we could be here all day. But I've heard that story from more than one person, and from Solomon himself. That doesn't make it true. But who are we at this moment to cast doubt on Solomon's mythology?

BLOCK: Absolutely. Well, has there been a particular Solomon Burke song that's been playing in your head over the last days, since you heard that he had died?

Mr. HENRY: Well, I'm like anybody else. I went right back to the really early things - like "Cry to Me" - because that was my way in. That was my point of entry with Solomon. And I still hear it, you know, like a revolution that it was.

(Soundbite of song, "Cry to Me")

Mr. BURKE: (Singing) Ah, don't you feel like crying? Don't you feel like crying? Well, here I am, honey. Come on, you cry to me.

BLOCK: Well, Joe Henry, thanks for sharing your memories of Solomon Burke with us.

Mr. HENRY: Oh, it's my pleasure, Melissa.

(Soundbite of song, "Cry to Me")

Mr. BURKE: (Singing) ...in your lonely room, and there's...

BLOCK: That's music producer Joe Henry, remembering Solomon Burke, who died yesterday at age 70.

(Soundbite of song, "Cry to Me")

Mr. BURKE: (Singing) Ah, don't you feel like crying? Don't you feel like crying? Ah, don't you feel like crying? Oh, come on, come on...

BLOCK: This is NPR.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: