Sunday, October 10, 2010

The very thing that makes you weak, can make you strong!

I remember vividly the first time I heard Solomon Burke sing. It was in the fall or winter of 2000. I was renting a room from an old woman named Dorothy in the Santa Cruz hills. The reason this is of note is because I was in her house when I heard him, and if I hadn't lived there, I might not have ever heard him. It happened like this. I was up one night watching TV in the living room (I never had a TV before, thus the importance), and one of those dumb commercials for a "Classic Soul" album came on. It was the kind which would show a picture of an artist, with the name highlighted while scrolling down through a list of names. Well some of the music was so great that I started writing down the names of the best ones. Well Solomon Burke just happened to be one of those names. I think it might have been the next day, but it was not long before I went down to Streetlight Records in Santa Cruz and picked up a re released double album, the titles of which escape me. As soon as I put it in the played in my truck I was transported. His music took you to a place that is very hard to describe. His singing is delivered with such passion and soul that I have rarely heard anything that can evoke more feeling, be it sadness or joy. Trust me when Solomon Burke had his heart broken, it wouldn't matter if you had gotten engaged that very day, if you heard him sing, you would be crying. He also had a playful personality that was conveyed through his song choices and production. On the album I had he was even experimenting with an almost Spanish sounding guitar, but yet it was totally unique. The particular song I am thinking of in this vein, was about the beautiful girls, how many there are, how can't love 'em all, and then Solomon rips into the punchline "But Looord I'm suuuuuure gonna tryyyy! For me hearing Solomon was a freeing moment. It was the best, most unique soul music I had ever heard, and noone I knew had ever heard of him. So it was something I enjoyed by myself. I was writing a script treatment at the time, and it was awesome trying to figure out how some of his songs would fit into scenes I was conceiving. It really is that kind of music. It brings pictures into your mind, and feelings into your soul.

When I was in college I was privileged to get a job as program director of our college radio station. My friend Casey was the production manager, and when I brought up Solomon, he said that he had a new album out and that he had played it on his show. Since noone else at the station would ever play it, I occasionally "borrowed" the album, which was in direct violation of the station policy I was paid to enforce. I remember Casey confronting me about it once, he was looking for it to play on his show, and he knew I took it! Well it is good to know who your friends are, and what they like. I sheepishly brought it back.

I always listened to Solomon, but sometimes it would disappear, then reappear like an old friend. In 2009 I was working with my band the Holy Hoboes, and I was also starting to play lead guitar at Tabernacle Baptist church in Seattles Central district. I was at a turning point in life I guess. I was really practicing a lot on electric guitar, because it is a totally different thing, and especially if you are playing in front of 500 people with a band of funky brothas who have played together 10 years. So I spent a lot of hours with my guitar and amp up in what we called The Hoboe Denn. It was an old radio room at Seattle First Presbyterian church. It is a big building but since the attendance has dropped from its heyday in the 1950's the old sanctuary is not in regular use. So the staff kindly let my band use the room. It was old and dusty and filled with odd electronics and strange notes. Some of them dating back long before I was born. It was in that room that I learned how to lead a band, and it was in that room that I used to sit for hours playing guitar and organ along with soul music by Solomon and Percy Sledge. I also used to eat peanut M&M's and drink Talking Rain mineral water, because they had a stash at the church! One hot Friday evening we were trying to record, but we all decided we were wasting our time. So as we were packing up I started playing some Solomon (I was always using tricks to get my band members listening to some of the same music I was so we would be on the same page). Then I remember asking the only person there if he had heard Solomon's Nashville album, which was kind of newer and featured guest artists from Nashville and country songs. He said no, and when everyone was gone I went on a mission to Broadway to find the album. It was like a magnet drawing me, up the hill, into the store, and right to a used copy of Nashville. I took it back and played along with it three or four times. I still love it, and to this day I still go right back to that hot dusty room, and I can almost taste the peanut M&Ms, and I wonder where that water is?


  1. Jesus IS the eternal Talking Rain. John 4:13
    You may yet get to see ol' Solomon in person & jam with him, amongst others.

  2. Nashville is a kick ass album! I always thought he was the black Johnny Cash. He played with some great people on that album. I heard he did a concert at the Belcourt in Nashville (where I'm from) when it came out but I wasn't living there at the time.

    "You're the kinda trouble I can get into to" How can you not love that?