When asked how he was feeling on the day of this interview, Solomon Burke genially replied, “Blessed with no stress.”
The King of Rock and Soul has had quite a career rejuvenation, starting with his 2001 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A year later, he won a Grammy for his album “Don’t Give Up on Me,” and he has also re-emerged as a concert performer.
Burke is best known for his songs “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” and “Cry to Me,” and has had his music performed by the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen. Now 68, he’s anticipating the June 10 release of his new album, “Like A Fire,” which consists almost entirely of songs written for him by Eric Clapton, Ben Harper, Keb’ Mo’ and others.
He spoke about the new disc, his love for Detroit and how he missed the chance to record with a certain queen back in the day.
Take us into the studio for the recording of “Like a Fire.” What was the experience like?
I knew (producer and drummer) Steve (Jordan) from the road, playing together at different ventures and festivals, and wanted to do something with him but didn’t have the right timing until now. The whole session is just drums, bass (Larry Taylor) and guitar (Dean Parks, Danny Kortchmar), and we threw Rudy (Copeland) in on organ. It was just incredible, just real and raw.
Your collaboration with Ben Harper, “A Minute to Rest and a Second to Pray,” is easily one of the best moments on the new album. What was it like working with him?
The first time I met him was right in the studio, and I was intrigued and excited. Ben said, “I’ve only got the first verse done. I ain’t finished with it yet.” So I told him to finish the song right now and then we immediately recorded it. As we speak right now, some folks don’t even have a home. In the last 48 hours, how many people have (only) a minute to rest and a second to pray?
The song that Keb’ Mo’ cowrote for you (“We Don’t Need It”), about a man who’s just lost his job and has the task of telling the bad news to his family, is incredibly poignant. Do you realize how relevant that one is to so many people in Michigan right now?
Detroit is like a second home (to me). I want to make a boulevard of stars, all the great celebrities and talents, so many generations of music and geniuses and scientists have come from the city of Detroit. It’s a special hub.
So have you, the King of Rock and Soul, worked much with our Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin?
I’ve only made one recording with her, and that was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (as part of the 2005 American Music Masters tribute concert to Sam Cooke, staged by the Hall of Fame). That was a moment in time, and when she started singing with me, I was in awe.
I was angry at Atlantic (Records) for not allowing us to record together (when we were both on the label). It was this dream, but Mr. (Jerry) Wexler (Atlantic Records producer and partner) said: “Not now. Wait till you get older.”
The final track on “Like a Fire” is the only one not specifically written for the album, and it’s the standard “If I Give My Heart to You.” Why did you choose that one to close with?
It’s been part of my life since I was a child. I grew up hearing Doris Day’s version. My grandma always told me to appreciate all types of music. It was an adventure to listen to Perry Como, Gene Autry - who was my favorite artist - Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Dinah Washington, Mahalia Jackson, Dean Martin, Kate Smith.