Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Eddie Bo - Now Let's Popeye (Part II) (RIC 987)


Now Let's Popeye (Part II)

As I'm sure you know, Edwin Bocage has been increasingly acnowledged as one of the original progenitors of da funk. Excellent work has been done by folks like Larry Grogan, Martin Lawrie, and Dan Phillips that has documented his massive contributions to the music. Bo's work on Al Collins' "I Got The Blues For You" and his own I'm Wise had laid the groundwork for rock & roll as well, when Little Richard and Bumps Blackwell borrowed them for Slippin' And Slidin' in 1956.

After his stints at Ace, Apollo, and Chess, Eddie landed at Joe Ruffino's Ric and Ron labels in 1960. Ruffino utilized Bo's talents to the fullest, not only using him as his new songwriter, arranger, and producer, but putting his considerable carpentry skills to work building a studio for the company. He produced great records on Tommy Ridgley, Irma Thomas, and Johnny Adams for Ruffino, in addition to cranking out his own great sides like Tell It Like It Is and Every Dog Got His Day.

Bo then went on to fulfill every record label owner's dream in the early 60s, he created a national dance craze that rivaled The Twist! Now there are those that say that Eddie didn't make it up, that the dance came from the kids on the streets of his old neighborhood, the Ninth Ward. There are those who credit Chris Kenner with inventing the beat on his Something You Got. There are even those that claim that Huey Smith's version came first (Huey is one of them...). All we really know for sure is that RIC 987 was released in late 1961, and is, as far as I can tell, the first 45 with "Popeye" in the title. (Huey Smith & His Clowns' "Pop-Eye" - with vocals provided by a young Curley Moore - came out as ACE 649 in 1962).

It seemed like every record company in America jumped on the bandwagon after that, not wanting to miss out on the latest fad. Stax put out a whole album of Popeye tunes by the Mar-Keys. Ernie K-Doe jumped in with "Popeye Joe" on Minit. Don Covay was doing "The Popeye Waddle" on Cameo. Chubby Checker had the biggest hit of all when "Popeye (The Hitchhiker)", the B side of his #2 pop hit "Limbo Rock", broke the top ten on its own in October of 1962.

Joe Ruffino had a serious mistrust of national distribution of his records by other companies after Roulette basically stole his biggest hit, Joe Jones' "You Talk Too Much", out from under him in 1960. By the time he consented to lease Bo's original Popeye to Philadelphia's Swan Records, the dance craze had essentially run its course, and the single went nowhere.

One of the cool things about today's selection is that the label credits say; "Music by the AFO Studio Combo". This included, of course, Harold Battiste, Melvin Lastie, Chuck Badie, and probably John Boudreaux. Ironically, this same group recorded Barbara George's massive hit I Know at around the same time, only to see their own national distribution deal with Juggy Murray's Sue label steal their biggest star, and lead to the eventual collapse of AFO.

Bo ended up in a "pistol-waving" shouting match with Ruffino over this lack of support for his records, and the money he owed him, and left RIC in 1962 shortly before the label owner died of a massive coronary.

Eddie then began his odyssey of producing and recording for over 35 different labels over the years, leaving behind absolute funk masterpieces like Check Your Bucket, Pass The Hatchet, Can I Be Your Squeeze, and many more. Sometimes the records were produced on other artists, or sometimes just put out under various bizarre pseudonyms for one reason or another. His biggest hit came in 1969, when Hook And Sling (this time released under his own name) made it to #13 on the R&B charts. You can check out the dizzying array of Bo-related records at Martin Lawrie's superb Eddie Bo Discography over at Soul Generation.

One of the most sought after records in the Eddie Bo pantheon is the first release on a label he formed in 1964 called, aptly enough, FUN. It featured the young Snooks Eaglin (billed as Lil Snook) doing Cheetah b/w Sweetness. According to Martin Lawrie; "It is not clear if this record was ever released fully, several promo copies exist but so far as I know there are no issues." Talk about your basic Holy Grail, huh?

Anyway, I was lucky enough to see Eddie perform with Snooks (who I'm sure you know is one of my all time guitar heroes...) at the Rock N' Bowl in New Orleans while I was down there for Jazz Fest earlier this month. As far as either of them remembered, it was the first time they'd actually worked together since the release of FUN 303. It was simply amazing, man.

Do the Popeye, children!

______________________________________________

On a more somber note, I wanted to show everybody this:


Here's what the Lower Ninth Ward looked like just 3 weeks ago. The absolute devastation of certain areas of New Orleans just blew my mind. Even though they don't report it on the News anymore and stuff, let me just say - "People, it's bad".

The City put on a brave face for Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras and all, but as the summer approaches, and the tourists stop coming, it's going to be a long haul. We already know that FEMA and the rest of our golfing country club government couldn't care less...

I know you've all been looking at those Katrina benefit links I have up on the right side here a long time. I was even thinking of taking some down... but after I saw the wounds with my own eyes, so to speak, I've decided they're staying. If you haven't done so already, please consider giving something back to the town that's given us all so much.

Thank You.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Lynn White - Hooked On Your Love (Waylo 3022)


Hooked On Your Love

Alabama born Lynn White grew up singing in her church choir, and soon developed into a sultry soul singer that performed professionally in the deep South. Her 1981 debut single, "Am I Too Much Woman For You" didn't make much noise, but when Sho Me Records released I Don't Ever Wannna See Your Face Again the following year, people began to take notice.

One of those people was Willie Mitchell up in Memphis, who liked the record so much that he put it out on his own label, Waylo, and signed Lynn to a recording contract. With "Poppa Willie" producing, records like Slow And Easy and Get Your Lie Straight sold well regionally, and she became a well known fixture on the Southern Soul circuit.

Today's B side (the flip of He'll Leave You For Her), was released in 1987 and shows the evolution of Mitchell's trademark sound. Cool guitar, huh? I'm loving the background vocals on the 'hook', too. This girl could sing, y'all!

After four albums (and about ten singles), Lynn left Waylo to form her own record company, Chelsea. Her 1990 effort, The New Me, was followed by Home Girl in '91 and Cheatin' two years later. That is the last reference I can find on her. Does anyone know if she's still performing today?



When Willie Mitchell sold Hi Records and its catalogue to Cream Records in the late 70s, he kept ownership of the "plant" down on South Lauderdale Avenue in Memphis and continued to produce great records at Royal Studio. His output in the eighties is often overlooked, as most of it lacked any kind of real national distribution, and didn't make the R&B charts.

His "Waylo Family" included great artists like Otis Clay, Ann Peebles, Lanier & Company and Billy Always (not to mention Lynn White), and there are some great records out there from this period just waiting to be discovered...

As I'm sure most of you know, I just got back from my journey to New Orleans and Memphis. Although I did a lot of cool things (and heard a lot of great music), the high point of the trip (by far) was when I knocked on the door of 1320 Willie Mitchell Boulevard. The door was answered by Julius Bradley, who's been working with Willie for over 30 years (he's actually a co-writer of today's selection!). What a great guy. He showed me around the place, and we talked about everything from Tuff Green to Al Green, and the Al Jacksons, both Jr & Sr.

I had heard about the legendary sound board at Royal, and how it's been around since the 1950's, but I couldn't believe I was really standing there looking at it. Julius said Willie doesn't believe in any of that digital recording stuff, and that he's had this board repaired so many times that every part in it's probably been replaced or rewired at one time or another. "The board is what gives it that sound", he said.

Looking around the place, you can see the home-made baffles and sound-proofing that have been there since the days of Bill Black and Ace Cannon. The place is literally like a time capsule, man. It was unbelievable.

Julius let me go in the vocal isolation booth and stand there in the spot where O.V.Wright, Ann Peebles, Syl Johnson, Al Green (#9 was HIS microphone...), and so many others laid down all that soul. It was just plain amazing...

Then of course there was the actual Hammond organ that Charles Hodges played on all time favorites like Love And Happiness and Take Me To The River... it just boggled the mind, man. I was in awe.

I had visited the Smithsonian's Rock 'n' Soul Museum, and had just come from the STAX Museum tour with Peter Guralnick and Robert Gordon. While both of those were fantastic, must see experiences, everything was like safe and protected, with no cameras allowed... like soul under glass or something.

This was real.

When I turned a corner and saw all these master tapes just sitting there on these bookshelves, I realized just how real it was. This is the place where so much great music was recorded. It's still owned by Willie Mitchell, who runs it. It's not a re-creation, it's not a museum; it's a functioning old school recording studio, the same as it ever was (Julius is working on a Gospel album there now himself, and promises to set us up with a copy as soon as it's completed...).

When I actually got the chance to talk to "Poppa Willie", and shake his hand, and sit down and tell him how I didn't think he got enough credit... how without him the whole "Memphis Sound" would never have existed, he listened politely while he noodled with a little keyboard that he keeps by the side of his desk. We spoke for a while about Stax and Al Jackson, Jr. and O.V. Wright... about his own mid-sixties tours with his crack Soul Serenade era band, and about Syl Johnson and Percy Wiggins performing with Hi Rhythm at the Ponderosa Stomp the night before. I asked him if he'd ever be interested in performing in public again, and he told me "No, I'm happy just to stay here and make the records." Just like he's been doing for over 40 years.

"No man is a prophet in his own home", I told him, as I stepped back into the sunlight of East Memphis... a city that appears very big on celebrating it's black heritage once it's dead and gone and re-packaged and 'safe'. Although they re-named the section of South Lauderdale Avenue between McLemore and South Parkway "Willie Mitchell Boulevard" in 2004, it hardly seems like enough.

This man is like the Duke Ellington of soul music, man... it was truly an honor to meet him.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Little Buster - Looking For A Home (Jubilee 5491)


Looking For A Home

This is a hard one for me to write.

Edward "Little Buster" Forehand passed away this past Thursday, May 11th, of complications from diabetes and a series of strokes. He was in a nursing home in Nassau County here on Long Island.

For the better part of four decades, Little Buster and his excellent band, The Soul Brothers, worked the bars from one end of "the island" to the other. I first saw them at some joint called the "Mystic Lounge", or something, in like 1973. I loved it, and went to see them every chance I got after that... at places like the gutbucket Right Track Inn in Freeport, or Sundays at the notorious (Save The) Oak Beach Inn, where he held down a standing gig for over 25 years! As luck would have it, The Soul Brothers also played every Wednesday night at The Dakota Rose, a joint in my old hometown. I went every week. Many's the night my friends and I would call "The Buster Hotline" (actually his wife, Mary), to find out where they were playing...

Anyway, the point is, that I've seen Little Buster perform more times than anyone else, ever.

Looking back, I realize that he was the one who taught me the true meaning of "soul"... that all the other music I would ever listen to would have to be judged against the measure of Buster's raw and real emotion...

Edward Forehand was born in Hertford, North Carolina in 1942, and by the age of 3, was diagnosed with glaucoma. His musical ability was also evident by this time, and he played everything from piano and guitar to saxophone with his local Baptist congregation. His vision worsened continually however, and at age 9 he moved to Philadelphia with his father to undergo medical treatment. When this failed, he was sent to the North Carolina School For The Deaf And Blind, where he lived until he was 16.

As legend has it, that's when he took off for Philadelphia on a Greyhound Bus with his friend Melvin Taylor and 25 cents in his pocket. When the record deal they were looking for fell through, the pair hitch-hiked to Buster's sister's home on Long Island, where he settled down.

He began playing local black clubs on the island, and within a year he was working in the back-up band for Alan Freed's rock & roll extravaganzas at the Brooklyn Paramount. In 1964, Buster and his group "The Heartbreakers" won an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater up in Harlem. Bobby Robinson offered to record them, but he wanted them to pay for the studio time.

Steve Blaine offered them a better deal at his dad's record company, Jubilee. The incredible selection we have up here today was written by Buster in 1961, and comes from his first session with Blaine in August of 1964. That's his running partner Melvin Taylor on the brushes, and Val Thomas on bass. It is just SO good, man. Although the record failed to chart, it sold enough in the local New York market to justify keeping Forehand on the label.

Jubilee would release six more singles on him throughout the sixties (most notably the definitive version of Young Boy Blues, the Doc Pomus tune, in 1967), and was ready to release an album that collected all his singles along with some unreleased material in 1969 when the company went out of business. [Sequel Records in the UK put together an excellent package that included the original artwork as well as Buster's complete Jubilee/Josie sessions, Looking For A Home (with liner notes by the great John Ridley), in 1996, that is now out of print.]

One more single would be released on the Minit label, "City Of Blues".

Buster married his wonderful wife Mary in 1968, while he continued to dominate the local soul "circuit" at high end places like The Celebrity Club and the Highway Inn. By the early 70s, he began playing the "white" bars as well, and began his long tenure as our very own 'Frat Band' hero (the scene in Animal House with Otis Day and the Knights kinda sums it up...).

He began being viewed as more of a "blues" man (by the white people anyway), and it was none other than B.B. King who declared that he was "the only musician who can fill my shoes". His years in the clubs taught him how to keep the crowd happy, and he always welcomed people 'sitting in' with him whenever he could. The list of Long Island musicians he's played with is just incredible (who could forget "Roast Beef" Joe?), but through it all, his tenor man Jerry Harshaw has stayed by his side.

By the 1990's The Soul Brothers also included Frank Antiss on drums, Bob Schlesinger on keyboards, and Alan Levy on bass. They began playing the legendary Manny's Car Wash in NYC, and that's where they were noticed by the folks at Bullseye Blues. Their 1995 release, Right On Time, just rocks the house, and showcases Buster's chops, not only as a guitarist, but as one of the most soulful vocalists (and songwriters) of his generation. It's now apparently out of print as well, but there are copies out there. Buy one.

The Soul Brothers appeared on Letterman and Conan O'Brien around this time, and started getting some better booking. My friend Nathan Williams opened for him at this show at good ol' Tramps in 1997, and paid Buster the highest compliment one musician can offer another; he actually stayed around to watch his smokin' set.

We used to have this big New Year's Eve party every year, and it was around this time that we started thinking about the "millenium"... (remember that?). What better way, we thought, to ring in a new one than with Little Buster and the Soul Brothers? So we booked the band, about two years in advance. As the time grew nearer, it became apparent that most of our usual suspects were spooked by the whole "Y2K" scenario, and were planning on staying home... grandiose plans of hiring a hall, and promoting the biggest bash yet kinda fell apart...

A good friend (with a lot more money than yours truly), came through, and we were able to hire the band to play for about 20 of us at his house on New Year's Eve 1999. Alan Levy couldn't make it, and so Buster's original bassist, Val Thomas came instead. Watching them perform "Looking For A Home" is a moment I will never, ever forget.

In 2000, Buster released the excellent Work Your Show, which captured him at his 'human jukebox' best. Many's the night he would sit with his unplugged guitar in his hand, while the band packed up the equipment, and play requests like "Oh Girl" or "Misty Blue" for us drunken white boys...

He was an absolute treasure.

I think the last time I saw him was at a Mardi Gras benefit show at Big Daddy's in 2001. He was his usual gracious self, allowing various knuckleheads from the audience to play harmonica and sing with him. When I heard he had suffered a stroke soon after that, I didn't really believe it.

I heard he was in Arizona, working with Ayanna Hobson, on their label, Little Buster Records. Finally, I saw confirmation just this past year on their site that Buster's playing days were over, and that he had indeed had several strokes... but I never realized he was in a nursing home right here on Long Island.

In the Newsday Obituary, his wife Mary was quoted as saying that despite the strokes he "refused to put down his guitar", and that he was an "extraordinary man who never considered himself handicapped".

His wake will be held this Thursday, May 18th from 6-9 p.m. at the Hempstead Funeral Home on Peninsula Boulevard. The memorial service will be on May 19 at the Massapequa Full Gospel Tabernacle on Jerusalem Avenue, to be followed by burial at Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale.

My heart is broken. I can't even begin to explain to you how important Little Buster was to me. Without him, I would never have understood the power of this music... never have felt it resonate in my own soul. He was my idol, man.

I'm gonna miss him.
______________________________________
5/19/06

Well, folks, Buster had some sendoff!

His open white casket surrounded by flowers with his trademark red guitar leaning against it stood as the centerpiece at the Full Gospel Tabernacle last night. The regular church choir was joined by a veritable "who's who" of Long Island musicians, as Soul Brothers past and present took the stage and paid tribute to this great man.

Sam "Bluzman" Taylor just burned up the place, while Philadelphia's own Junior Mack's slide guitar on "People Get Ready" was simply transcendent. It was a highly emotional and fitting outpouring of love from a community enriched by Buster's inspirational life within it.

I consider myself blessed to have been a part of it.


A benefit concert honoring Little Buster will be held at Mirelle's Blues Club in Westbury, NY on June 21st. Proceeds will benefit the American Diabetes Association. For more information, please visit their site.

Long Live Little Buster!
_______________________________________
6/29/06

Sorry it took me a while to post this, but...

The "Get Busterized" tribute and benefit held last week at The High Note was a huge success! Just about every band that matters on the Long Island Blues scene made an appearance, honoring the man that gave most of them their first chance to perform on stage.

After midnight, the Soul Brothers cranked it up behind surprise guests Gary U.S. Bonds and soul legend J.D. Bryant, accompanied by the Funk Philharmonik Horns with 'Crispy Chicken' on tenor sax. Totally amazing. The highlight of the evening was still to come, however, as Long Island Soul legend Henry Henderson took the stage and just rocked da house! Henry was the MC and leader of the house band at the fabled Highway Inn in Roosevelt back in the day. Living History, man.

An experience I'll never forget.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Return to Jazz Fest POST

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, I was a regular at Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Although it didn't seem like it at the time, it was kind of like the tail end of a golden age or something.

You took it for granted that you were going to see Ernie K. Doe, and Jessie Hill, and Johnny Adams. You thought nothing of the fact that Tommy Ridgley was giving Popeye lessons at Tipitina's in between weekends, or that Rockin' Dopsie and Boozoo Chavis were in town... or that Pops Staples was in the Gospel Tent.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not pulling a 'back in my day' kinda thing, I'm just saying that it all seems to go so fast, you know?

Anyway, after I got married, and had kids and everything, my Jazz Fest attendance dropped off dramatically... but, I'm going back. After Katrina and all of that, I just feel like I owe it to my most favorite of American cities... the town that's given all of us so much...

Here's a few examples of that latter day golden age I'm talking about to hold you over while I'm away. There's just one thing, these are (gasp!) ALBUM TRACKS! ("oh my god", you say, "don't tell me this lunatic is gonna start yet ANOTHER of these blog things just for album cuts!") Not to worry. I'm not. These are just songs that were heavy in the rotation at the time, and were never released as singles:


I'm Gonna Hold You To Your Promise
Here's Irma Thomas from 1988's The Way I Feel. Her legendary band, The Professionals, included Herman Ernest III at this point and is just crankin' away on this great Paul Kelly tune. There were those (I was one of them) who groused about Scott Billington's too white production of Rounder's "Modern New Orleans Masters" series, but in hindsight, I'm just grateful he was there.


Stand By
Johnny Adams' Rounder stuff is phenomenal as well, as witnessed by this cookin' take on 'poet of the blues' Percy Mayfield's payback tune from 1989's Walkin' On A Tightrope. That's Duke Robillard on the guitar, and a young Jon Cleary on piano.


Lovely Day
Walter "Wolfman" Washington was also signed by Rounder at around this time, but his Hep' Me material was still readily available in one form or another. This is my all time favorite song by him, and is pulled from a 1987 Maison de Soul package called "Rainin' In My Life". It was produced by Senator Jones, with horn charts by Sam Henry, Jr.. As far as I can tell, it was never released as a single. It should have been, man!


Either
British labels like Ace and Kent and Charly had also acquired the rights to so much great New Orleans music by this time, and were re-releasing some classic stuff. This way cool instrumental (lovin' the acoustic guitar...) was originally released on a long out of print Scepter LP from 1970, but became widely available again on Kent's From A Whisper To A Scream in 1985.


Drive It Home
Then, of course, there's my all-time guitar hero Snooks Eaglin. When I saw him perform for the first time at Jazz Fest I couldn't believe how great he was. He's still like the undiscovered gem of New Orleans music... the Professor Longhair of the guitar! This incredible tune comes from a GNP Crescendo album I actually bought AT the Fest. It's called The Legacy Of The Blues, Vol. 2, and is now apparently out of print.

So, take what you need here, folks, because (just like last time I went away on ya) I'm gonna take this post down when I get back, sometime after Mother's Day.

Long live New Orleans!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Solomon Burke - What Am I Living For (Bell 783)


What Am I Living For

Today is my 13th wedding anniversary (well, it's my wife's too), and I figured it was a good day to post this one...

In the mid 1920s in the Black Bottom section of Philadelphia, a woman named Eleanora Moore had a vision. 'A child is coming to lead the people', she was told, 'prepare his Church'. For the next 12 years, she and her husband worked tirelessly to create 'The House Of God For All People', and when her grandchild was born unto them, they named him Solomon, as he was to become a wise and just King of the Congregation...

Whether that was in 1936 or 1940 is still a matter of speculation. By age seven, the child was preaching from the pulpit. By the time he was twelve years old, he was the host of his own radio show from 'Solomon's Temple' in Philadelphia. Known as the 'wonder boy preacher', he built up quite a following.

Bess Berman heard him and signed him to her Apollo Records label in 1954. Roy Hamilton had just broken the sound barrier, so to speak, when his gospel tinged You'll Never Walk Alone hit number one on the R&B charts and stayed there for two months. Apollo envisioned Solomon in the same vein, releasing answer songs like "I'm All Alone" and "No Man Walks Alone" that didn't make much noise in the charts. He continued to record both Gospel and R&B for the Bermans, while going to school to become a Doctor of Mortuary Science. After a couple of singles on the local Singular label, Solomon found himself in a 'handshake' deal with Jerry Wexler to record for Atlantic Records.

After Ray Charles left Atlantic for his mega-deal with ABC, the company was kind of floundering around, looking for the next big thing. As the story goes, they recorded Just Out Of Reach (of My Two Open Arms) (which was a minor country hit for Faron Young in 1952), in New York while a blizzard raged outside. Wexler wasn't happy with the way Solomon "preached" the last verse of the song, telling him "This is R&B, son, not Gospel!" When it came time to listen to the take they had recorded, Burke was already leaving... he had a gig driving a snow removal truck back in Philly! This episode would set the tone for his relationship with Atlantic throughout his tenure with them, one they were never too happy about; they needed him more than he needed them.

The record hit big in 1961, spending 19 weeks on the R&B charts while climbing to #7, as well as crossing over into the pop top 40. Ironically, it was to set the stage for Ray Charles' smash hit the following year with a similarly schmaltzy production of Don Gibson's I Can't Stop Loving You. (This must have driven Wexler crazy!) Anyway, when Burke's follow-up record, Cry To Me, went to #5, Atlantic knew they had a star on their hands.

Solomon hit the road, traveling with the legendary 'package shows' of the day. He didn't drink or gamble, and came to be known as "The Doctor", or simply "Bishop" to the gang on the bus. The stories from this period (and there are indeed stories!) are simply fantastic. Ever the entrepeneur, Solomon sold everything from bologna sandwiches (that increased in price as the miles wore on), to chicken and 'magic popcorn'. While he developed some deep and lasting friendships among his fellow performers on these tours, he grew to simply idolize Sam Cooke, the only one who could beat him at his own game.

The hits kept on coming for Solomon, and his cover of Wilson Pickett's If You Need Me would spend 5 weeks at #2 in the summer of 1963 (only kept from the number one position by Jackie Wilson's Baby Workout and Sam Cooke's Another Saturday Night!). According to Burke, Wilson gave the song to him on a tour bus, but that's not the way Pickett remembers it at all... he claims Wexler lifted it from demo tapes he had sent Atlantic, which is a much more likely scenario.

After charting consistently for over three years, Solomon was crowned the "King Of Rock And Soul" by Baltimore DJ Rockin' Robin. He would take this title to heart, and appear complete with crown, scepter and cape from that day forward. This, of course, drove self-proclaimed 'hardest working man in show business' James Brown up the wall, and the stories of his attempts to 'de-crown' him are hilarious.

Solomon Burke was with his hero Sam Cooke on the night he was shot. He couldn't believe it. In his own words, it really "messed him up", for quite a while. His wife served him with divorce papers the following day, and on the train back to Chicago for Sam's funeral he would write his biggest hit (#1 R&B, #22 pop), Got To Get You Off My Mind, about the whole situation. He would collaborate with his friend Don Covay to write the follow-up, Tonight's The Night, which was just about as big a hit in the summer of 1965.

Atlantic, by this time, was cranking out hit records by Wilson Pickett and Aretha, and reaping the rewards of their distribution deal with Stax on people like Otis Redding and Eddie Floyd. King Solomon, with his string of funeral homes, churches spread nationwide, a limousine service, and several drug stores to his credit, was not high on their list. The feeling was mutual. After failing to crack the top ten for a couple of years, Atlantic sent him down to Memphis in early 1968 to record at Chips Moman's American Studio. Although these records didn't chart, I think they're among his best.

An idea that Solomon and Don Covay had been working on for some time, The Soul Clan, had finally begun to take shape in 1967. The idea was for all of these great performers to pool their talents and resources, and become a positive force within the black community. They envisioned things like buying ghetto real estate and refurbishing it, providing jobs, building schools, and creating black-owned restaurant franchises that would knock the McDonald's and KFCs out of the box... the possibillities were endless.

Originally, it was to include Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex, Solomon, and Don Covay. When Otis died in late 1967, Pickett backed out as well saying, "I got my own hit records, I don't need that shit!". They were replaced with Redding's sidekick, Arthur Conley, and former Drifter Ben E. King. Covay put together the backing tracks out in L.A., and each of the artists overdubbed their vocals in turn. The resulting single hit the charts in July of 1968, and climbed to #34. At this point, Solomon Burke claims, "The record was stopped and banned...we were going against the grain of what black entertainers are supposed to do. We were all just supposed to go out and buy red Cadillacs. We weren't supposed to go out and start talking about spending millions of dollars on building and developing... We were supposed to talk about having parties and good times and eatin' barbecue ribs. You know, pork chops."

In any event, he was done with Atlantic after that.

In 1969, Solomon signed with Bell Records and showed up in Muscle Shoals with his 'partner' Tamiko Jones. Together they would produce some of the greatest records he'd ever recorded. Today's B side is one of those. Released as the flip of Proud Mary (#15 R&B, #45 pop), it was his second single for the label. A cover of Chuck Willis' huge posthumous 1958 hit, it's like the pure distillation of southern soul. The interplay between the acoustic and electric guitars, the understated organ, everything just building to that big emotional finish... great stuff! Sundazed Records has put together a package of Burke's Bell sessions at Muscle Shoals (which had been out of print for 30 years!), and it's just incredible, eye-opening music.

Bell apparently didn't appreciate what they had, and Solomon moved on, signing with Mike Curb's MGM label out in Hollywood in 1971. He jumped in with both feet, becoming involved with television (a failed sitcom about a black family living next door to an Archie Bunker type...), promoting a band called "Solomon's Children" (made up of the most musically inclined of his 21 children, ala the Jackson 5), and even writing the soundtrack to the cult "blaxploitation" film Cool Breeze in 1972.

Short stints at ABC/Dunhill and Chess in the mid-seventies were followed by an album he did with Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams called Please Don't Say Goodbye To Me for the small Amherst label in 1978, followed by Let Your Love Flow on Infinity the following year.


The eighties saw Solomon concentrating on his ever-increasing ministry, releasing several superb gospel albums on the Savoy label. He also toured Europe regularly where he remains immensely popular to this day. When Peter Guralnick's Sweet Soul Music came out in 1986, it introduced him and his world to a whole new group of fans... people like me.

The very first 45 I ever bought by him was the incredible Meet Me In Church, one of those Memphis records from 1968. I put it in my jukebox (which had been a recent, cheap pick-up as all the bars and pizza places and everything were making the switch to CD ones at the time), and it has been there ever since (it's now up on the A side as well). When I first started dating my wife, she played that song over and over again... I should have known something was up!

In the 80s and early 90s, there was a bar on 21st St. in New York named Tramps. It was an absolutely wonderful place, an island of real music in a sea of new wave junk. Solomon, buoyed by the Rounder release of Soul Alive!, started playing there a couple of times a year. We never missed him. (I remember one particular extravaganza boasted Solomon, Charles Brown, and Ruth Brown... when he spotted Maxine Brown in the audience, Solomon couldn't resist bringing her up to sing, roaring about how "We got THREE Browns here tonight, folks... where's the other one? Where's James? I'll tell you, he's afraid to show his face, 'cause the REAL KING is in the house!" ...what a great bar this was!)

Anyway, I proposed to my girlfriend on Valentine's Day in 1993. No date was set as yet. On May 1st of that year, the King Of Rock And Soul was coming back to Tramps. We, of course, were going. My fiance, as she was now known , came up with this crazy idea. She was going to get herself backstage, and ask The Bishop if we could hire him and his band to play at our wedding, at which he would, of course, perform the ceremony as well. I told her she was nuts! There was no way I was going back there with her and making a fool of myself, blah, blah, blah.

Solomon surveyed the situation, and, ever the showman, told her "I'm going to marry you, but I'm going to do it tonight!" He cautioned her not to mention a word of it to me when she got back to our table, and the two of them hatched their diabolical plan... Anyway, before I knew it, I was somehow getting married in the middle of his show, our vows being his usual promise to give each other "what we want, when we want it, how we want it, where we want it and every time we think we want it!". It was a total trip. Our first dance as husband and wife? Why Proud Mary, of course!


Here's our only wedding picture... (yes, that is Guralnick). It was taken by photographer Sharon Felder, Doc Pomus' daughter. What a night.

We, of course, wondered if all of this was legal and everything, but Solomon called us the next time he was in town and invited us back to Tramps, where he delivered our Marriage Certificate from the House Of God For All People...

(My wife and I have gone on to have two great kids, and feel we have been truly blessed by the presence of The Reverend Bishop Solomon Burke in our lives...)

In addition to making great records (like Soul Of The Blues) right through the nineties, Solomon, of course, has gone on to gain the recognition he so richly deserves. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2001, and received a long overdue Grammy for the phenomenal Don't Give Up On Me in 2002.

He just recorded an album of country music in Nashville with people like Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch that is due out in September and will bring him back full circle to his first hit.

"God always knows best", he says "...sometimes we project what we can't see, but only God knows what's going to happen, and He knows the best. For all of us."

Amen.