Classics: Solomon Burke – Midnight And You (ABC-Dunhill Records)
Although not as successful in the charts as many of his contemporaries like Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding or James Brown, Solomon Burke has nevertheless left an indelible imprint. This while shaping the sound of Rhythm And Blues as one of the fathers of Soul Music. Atlantic Records exec Jerry Wexler who had him on his label between 1960 and 1968 referred to him as “the greatest male Soul singer of all time.”
We catch him back in 1974 soon after he left MGM for ABC-Dunhill Records. There, he made a brief appearance with his ‘I Have A Dream’ album. An effort that saw him comin’ up with a cover version of the Gene and Billy Page penned ‘Midnight And You’. But this time with production courtesy of Thom Bell. And also so to say additional lyrics written by Linda Creed. Sort of comin’ up as an answer to The Love Unlimited Orchestra‘s version. A cut that had seen the light a few weeks ealier. This as a part of their ‘Rhapsody In White’ album, in the early days of 1974.
A Philadelphia, PA native, Solomon Burke got consecrated a bishop at birth by his grandmother in the Solomon’s Temple. A congregation of the United House of Prayer for All People, which she founded at her home in Black Bottom, West Philadelphia. And at the age of 9, his name changed to Solomon Vincent McDonald Burke after his mother married rabbi and butcher Vincent Burke.
Burke credited his grandmother as his main spiritual and musical influence. With the latter teaching him to sing all forms of music while givin’ a listen to the radio.
During high school, Burke formed and fronted his own group by the likes of the Gospel Cavaliers. He received his first guitar from his grandmother. Then he soon after wrote his first song, ‘Christmas Presents’. It was around this time that Burke met Kae Williams, a famous local DJ. This after his wife, Viola, had seen Burke and the Cavaliers performing at church. Alas, the group split up before entering a Gospel talent with its first prize being a record deal. Burke entered it as a solo artist at the end and eventually won it. But before signing the deal (with Apollo Records) he took the time to sign Williams as his manager. The latter adding 4 years to a then 15-year old Burke‘s age which more or less led to a certain confusion from the press about this matter.
Solomon Burke finally signed with Apollo Records in late 1955. By that, following the departure of Gospel singer and the label’s primary star Mahalia Jackson to Columbia. With soon after, the label head, Bess Berman, trying to make of him “the next Harry Belafonte”.
During his 55 years of activity, Burke released 38 studio albums on at least 17 record labels and had 35 singles that charted in America. Most likely reachin’ his peak by the first half of the 60’s. Meanwhile briding the gap between mainstream and grittier R&B. He’s been described though as the genre’s “most unfairly overlooked singer” of its golden age. This because of his minimal chart success in comparison to other Soul music greats. Beginning with James Brown. But also Wilson Pickett or Otis Redding. Eventually scoring his only #1 R&B hit single by the likes of ‘Got To Get You Off My Mind’ back in 1964.
Burke managed to come up with a bunch of cover versions that generated various reactions. From Bob Dylan‘s ‘Maggie’s’ Farm’ to Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s ‘Proud Mary’ with co-production work by the likes of Tamiko Jones who’d become his new manager in the meantime. He also took ‘Lookin’ Out Back Door’ from the same group in 1970 but had a poor following. Then 4 years later, he took where The Love Unlimited Orchestra left. This with a cover version of the Gene and Billy Page written ‘Midnight And You’. Eventually peakin’ at #14 in the U.S. R&B charts before progressively dispappearing from the radar.
Solomon Burke struggled with his health for many years. With his weight estimated somewhere between 300 and 400 pounds in 2006. The latter added to arthritis confining him to a wheelchair in the later years of his life. He sadly died at Amsterdam Schipol Airport on Oct. 10, 2010, while on a aircraft from Washington Dulles Airport that had just landed. He was due to perform in the city two days later. And although there hasn’t been autopsy after his passing, it is believed that he died of a pulmonary embolism as suggested by doctors at Reston Hospital who’d urged him not to travel. He was 70…
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