We are entering an era where some of the greatest pioneering soul artists are getting well into their 60s and 70s and departing this life, and yesterday we just lost another one. "The King of Rock 'n' Soul" Solomon Burke passed away of natural causes, aged 70, aboard a flight to the Netherlands where he was scheduled to perform with Dutch blues/rock band De Dijk.
Burke was a legendary figure who didn't do things by halves. He famously fathered fathered 21 children, had 90 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. Born in Philadelphia, he began as a preacher and hosted a gospel radio show before moving into secular music. Early in life he was trained as a mortician and ran a chain of funeral parlours alongside his musical career. And what a career it was; at least 36 albums over a career that spanned 50 years, and moved from gospel to soul, blues, rock and country. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
While he remains one of the most influential artists to emerge from the early days of rock 'n' roll, he never had much in the way of major hits. Probably his signature tune is Cry to Me, which was later covered by the Rolling Stones and was a hit for Betty Harris, as well as much later appearing on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.
If there's one song penned by Burke that most people know however, it's Everybody Needs Somebody to Love, which he co-wrote in 1964 with Jerry Wexler and Bert Berns. Even if Wilson Pickett was to later record what many consider the definitive version, it endures as a magnificent example of the church's influence on the development of soul music.
Burke was no respecter of the artificial lines that divide "black music" from "white music", and some of his best work came in the last decade in collaboration with white blues/rock and country artists. His 2002 album Don't Give Up On Me, which won a Grammy for Best Blues Album, featured songs written by Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Elvis Costello. His 2006 album Nashville was a collaboration with a number of country artists; the below track Valley of Tears remains one of my all-time favourite tracks, and a fitting way to end this tribute to him.