Solomon Burke Biography

21 March 1940, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. The former ‘Wonder Boy Preacher’, Burke’s first recordings appeared on the New York-based Apollo label. From 1955-59 he attempted various styles until a brisk rocker, ‘Be Bop Grandma’, attracted the attention of Atlantic Records. An eclectic performer, his reading of a sentimental country song, ‘Just Out Of Reach’ (1961), was a US Top 30 hit, but the following year, the ‘King of Soul’ began asserting a defined soul direction with ‘Cry To Me’. Burke’s sonorous voice was then heard on a succession of inspired singles, including ‘If You Need Me’ (1963), ‘Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye)’ and the declamatory ‘Everybody Needs Somebody To Love’ (both 1964). This exceptional period culminated with ‘The Price’, an impassioned release that marked the end of Burke’s relationship with producer Bert Berns. Although further strong records appeared (indeed, in 1965, ‘Got To Get You Off My Mind’ became his biggest hit), they lacked the drama of the earlier era. Still based in New York, Burke was now overshadowed by Otis Redding, Sam And Dave and other acts who recorded at Stax Records and Fame. A belated Memphis session did provide a US Top 50 entry in ‘Take Me (Just As I Am)’, but Burke left Atlantic for Bell Records in 1968. The ensuing album, Proud Mary, was a southern soul classic, while the title track, written by John Fogerty, charted as a single in the USA.

The 70s saw a move to MGM Records, but Burke’s work there was marred by inconsistency. The same was true of his spells at Dunhill Records and Chess Records, although his collaborations with Swamp Dogg collected on From The Heart recalled his old power. Following several strong gospel albums for Savoy, Burke’s rebirth continued on Soul Alive, where, recorded in concert, he sounded inspired, infusing his ‘greatest hits’ with a new-found passion. A strong studio collection, A Change Is Gonna Come, followed 1987’s European tour and displayed Burke’s enduring talent. Two albums, The Best Of Solomon Burke (1965) and Cry To Me (1984), compile his Atlantic singles, while The Bishop Rides South (1988) adds four extra tracks to the original Proud Mary album.

Burke carried on recording during the following decades, releasing several worthy studio albums. He was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2001. His first recording of the new millennium, 2002’s Don’t Give Up On Me, was his most high-profile release since the 60s. Released on Fat Possum Records, the album featured specially written material from artists such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello, and Nick Lowe. Morrison and Dr. John repeated the favour on the major label follow-up, Make Do With What You Got. In 2006, Burke decamped to Nashville, Tennessee, to record a sparkling album named after the country music capital. He was joined by guests including Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Gillian Welch, with production duties handled by Buddy Miller.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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