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Solomon Burke goes Nashville

By Jeffrey B. Remz, October 2006

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Burke's daughter was with him, and he told her about Miller, "We got to get this guy to do an album. Don't let him get away from this place before we get his number...The rest is part of a beautiful dream."

Miller says he enjoyed his time with Burke in Nashville. "As he talked, I found out about his deep love and respect for country music. He said he always wanted to make a country record and folks from his label were there. They started asking me would I be interested in possibly working together because we got along. We hit it off a little bit."

"I loved his voice, and I love what he does," says Miller. "I loved his respect for music."

"I knew his early Atlantic stuff and loved it back then," says Miller.

Miller later visited Burke in California. "This is just a once in a lifetime opportunity," says Miller of producing Burke. "A few months later, I was out in Los Angeles doing a gig with Emmylou (Harris). I went to his home and we talked about music some. He said as I was leaving, 'let's do it.' That was December. We weren't going to get working until April."

Burke says he remembers visiting with Miller over two days. "We listened to 100 songs. Buddy said, 'I'm going to try to get singers, some surprise guests to sing with you. I'm not going to tell you who it is because I don't know if I can get them...If we can get them, we can get them. If we can't, it won't be no problem because we still have the songs."

Recording took about 10 days at Miller's home studio. Miller says, "90 percent of what's there was recorded live with the vocal. It's the way they used to make records. Pretty much what went down was what was there."

Every song had a country or roots base, but a listener would not label the songs straight ahead country. Some maintain a soulful, R&B vibe. Others are more country.

How to decide which way to go? "I think basically it's the feel," says Burke. "You have a Buddy Miller there who knows what he's doing."

"It was a great challenge and a great experience."

Miller says Burke wanted some duets on the disc. "He's a big fan of Dolly Parton songwriting."

Burke recorded Parton's "Tomorrow is Forever" with Parton showing up on vocals. "She wants you to put you in it and not her influence," Burke says Miller told him, adding, "I tried my best to get my phrasing right."

"I had no idea...how she was going to wrap around the words, would she pleased with it," says Burke of Parton, "You're not singing with a country artist. You're singing with a superstar."

Parton called Burke, who hadn't heard the recording. "She played the track for me, and I literally cried," says Burke, adding, "You listen to it, and we're together."

The leadoff song of "That's How I Got to Memphis," written by Tom T. Hall, is only Burke with Miller on guitar and Byron House on upright bass. "This is one mike sitting in the hallway," says Burke.

Miller apparently used a lot of his house to record the album.

"Buddy knows where to move each song. We started on the front porch recording. To the living room. From the living room to the dining room. From the dining room to the kitchen. We ended up on the back porch, and the album was over. There was no more to do."

Harris, who Burke knew, came in to lend her gorgeous vocals on the George Jones-Earl Montgomery song, "We're Gonna Hold On." Burke recalls Harris asking, "Can I sing this one with you?' I can sing the newspaper with you. That's how we wound up doing 'Hold On.'"

Other songs include Gillian Welch's "Valley of Tears" with Welch and her partner David Rawlings on the recording.

And he also did "Does My Ring Burn Your Finger" by Julie and Buddy Miller. "I could hear his voice taking that song somewhere else which he certainly did," says Buddy Miller.

"I feel in my heart I've had the experience of going to Country Music University in Nashville and learning the reality and truth of how it's done," says Burke of the recording sessions. "It's a lot of hard work, but you got to love what you're doing...These musicians are dedicated. They're not just for hire. They live it. They eat it. They breathe it."

Burke comes off as being genuinely honored and inspired at having been given the chance to sing and deliver.

"There are so many great country songs and so many great writers out there. I'm holding in my heart right now eight songs for a future album depending on how well this goes and whether I'm accepted by the country market and whether people will buy my records."

"It's a great chance. It's an opportunity for me. It's part of a dream. No matter what. I feel I've received a miracle in my life of this dream. I think I've reached the point where I'm leaning on God, on Him, letting the people make the decision. I'm going to keep on until I got it right."

"'Til I Get It Right" happens to be the last of the 14 songs.

"This has got to be the last song on the album because this is how I feel, and this is what I believe. As long as God gives me breath, I'm going to try to touch on every phase of this music business that I can. It's so important to try to not conquer it, but to be part of the message."

As for his expectations of the CD's reception, "I have no idea, and I'm leaving it into the hands of God and the public. I'll continue to keep on keeping on until we get it right. My faith is stronger than ever."

"You (have got) to keep a goal. You have to keep positive. If you're not positive, you're a failure, and I've learned the hard way."

Burke readily acknowledges his career has had its ups and downs. "It's not something that you keep (having) hit records every day. That doesn't happen. Today's world is the younger person, the younger artist. They're the ones who get the deals."

"For a record company to sign someone 66 years old, they've got to really like them. They could be here today, gone tomorrow. Life is a gift from God on a second basis, not a daily basis, and so here we are. We're taking those steps, and I continue to keep stepping by the grace of God one way or the other."

Miller would not be surprised by the comments. "He's quite charming isn't he? He is really that genuinely that way."

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