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Solomon Burke goes Nashville

By Jeffrey B. Remz, October 2006

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"That was the end of country for awhile," says Burke.

So with the country phase of his career seemingly over, Burke spent his time on his trademark R&B/soul material becoming of music's greats.

"I realized that...they gave me the country songs because they felt I was little rebellious by not wanting to be classified as a rhythm and blues artist because of my religious beliefs," says Burke, who grew up being known as the Wonderboy Preacher.

Burke's signature song, "Got to Get You Off of My Mind," was considered one of the key soul hits of the Sixties. Burke was considered a real showman and the "King of Rock 'n' Soul" onstage where he wore a velvet robe.

He eventually left Atlantic for Bell and later MGM.

"We went on to LA and MGM," Burke says. "I thought it'd be a great opportunity to do country because they had Hank Williams (Jr.). I wound up becoming a VP over there of music and marketing for them...I wound up doing movies and television, which was a great experience for me...I kind of lost track of me going country there, but always in my heart wanted to do that, but then I had to build a catalogue and went over there to make music to make love by, soundtracks."

"Later on, we did something with Chess, but once again these were labels that wanted to hear Solomon Burke sing soul, gospel and R&B. No one wanted to hear country. It's a hard sell. It's a big sell."

Still, the fire burned within him to do a country album.

"Believe me I've tried," says Burke. "I've sung some Hank Williams on my albums. Van Morrison's written me some of the greatest country songs in the world, although no one believes they're country except me."

On Burke's previous album, "Make Do With What You've Got," he sang Hank Williams' "Wealth Won't Save Your Soul." Burke referred to it as "one of Hank's great gospel songs, which people weren't familiar with."

"I got to do the real deal. I can't fake this thing. I got to (go to) Nashville and find somebody and do this right," Burke says he recalled thinking.

He had listened to country music thanks to his daughter, 1 of his 21 children (they are between 28 and 50 years old. He also has 84 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren), Candy, who works with him. "When I travel on the road, my daughter, Candy, is a country music fan...I'm listening to country as I travel along the country...That's what we listen to all the time."

Burke's specific plans for recording "Nashville" stemmed from an appearance a year ago at the Americana Music Association conference in Nashville. He played on a Thursday night with his huge band, preceding Buddy Miller, who Burke had never of before. The very lage Burke performed mainly sitting down on a throne-type chair attended to by his son.

The evening actually did not sit well with Miller.

"I was, in fact, really upset backstage," says Miller in a phone interview from his Nashville home. "I tried to get out of the gig. We'd been rehearsing 12 hours that day at the Ryman for the next night's awards show. It was a lot of pressure and a lot of work. But Solomon Burke is up there with a 16-piece band with tuxedo. It seems like church is over. What's the point of going on after this?"

"Everybody's supposed to play 40 minutes," he says, recalling Burke played about an hour. "I had to get home and go to sleep."

"I just went in his dressing room and basically met him. You know, I'm a huge fan. That was before the set. They sounded so great. How can (you) be upset?"

Miller recalls his gig that night as being "actually pretty good because I was pretty mad."

The next night, Burke made it to the Ryman, the Mother Church of Country Music playing at the Americana awards show.

"I got the opportunity to be a guest to stand on the Ryman and stand on the spot of the Grand Ole Opry," says Burke.

But while he had his band with him the night before, that was out of the question at the Ryman. "The choice is you can do it with our band, or you don't do it at all," Burke says he was told. "I told my band 'you guys have a nice day. I'm going down there to sing me a little country...What an honor and thrill it was. I kept thinking of all the songs I can sing. They walked in my dressing room and said, 'this is our band leader for the awards. His name is Buddy Miller.'"

Burke says he thought about singing "Don't Give Up On Me." "They listened to it," says Burke. "He said, 'We got it. We can do that'. The guy walked out. I said 'Oh God, pray with me Jesus."

Burke apparently was concerned the live performance may not go so well.

"I went up there, and they played 'Don't Give Up' like it was incredible. They gave us a nice round of applause."

He followed with "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." "They had to pull me off of that. I didn't want to leave that spot, that country spot, because I thought I may never get a chance to do this again."

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