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'King of Rock & Soul' Still Recording, Touring


Singer Solomon Burke was an important rhythm and blues artist in the 1960s, and one of the first to blend R&B and gospel to create soul music. At age 65, the veteran singer is still recording, touring and inspiring younger artists.

Solomon Burke was proclaimed the "King of Rock and Soul" in 1964, when he released a string of singles from Atlantic Records in New York. His song "Got to Get You Off My Mind" went to the top of the rhythm and blues chart in 1965, as "soul" music was taking shape, blending elements from gospel, blues and jazz.

Solomon Burke was raised in a church-going household in Philadelphia, and started preaching at age seven. By his early teenaged years, he was hosting a gospel radio show and releasing songs on New York's Apollo label. He would later move to Atlantic, home to such 1960s stars as Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin.

He looks back fondly on those days when recording techniques were simple, and the focus was music.

"Having a band, an orchestra, a bass player, an upright bass, piano, with one mike," he said. "And the other mike was for the singer. And actually see the record being made as you record. That was fascinating. And actually see the vinyl being cut. You know, the 78. People out there don't know what we're talking about."

Today, CDs and mp3 have replaced 78 rpm records, but Solomon Burke's music is much the same as it was 50 years ago. He counts Rolling Stones Mick Jagger and Keith Richards among his fans. Their band recorded his songs "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" and "Cry to Me" in the 1960s.

The soul singer underwent a career slump in the 1970s, but has had a revival in recent years, winning a music industry Grammy Award in 2002 for his album Don't Give Up on Me. It features songs written for the singer by Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Tom Waits, Van Morrison and Elvis Costello.

Solomon Burke says he is a man of broad musical tastes. Some of his songs have a country sound, others the velvet tones of a classic crooner. Yet others are gritty, reminiscent of fellow soul singer James Brown. Solomon Burke says he is also impressed with many newer musicians.

"The younger artists today like 50 Cent and Eminem, and you could go on and on," he said. "The list is incredibly long. But when you look at what's happening in the music industry today, it's coming back to the circle. It's coming back. People want to hear the songs. They want to hear the singer again. They want to hear the music again."

Solomon Burke is a big man in every sense. Onstage, he wears a trademark royal cape. Onstage and off, he is physically imposing, weighing more than 150 kilograms. He is full of energy, dividing his time between touring dates in the United States and Europe, and his second career as a Protestant minister. A great-grandfather, he has 21 sons and daughters, and 82 grandchildren.

He remains popular with aficionados of 1960s soul music, and also has younger fans. He was recently honored by the 1,200-member American Society of Young Musicians with a "trailblazer" award for his efforts in helping shape modern music.

Solomon Burke's latest album is called Make Do With What You Got.

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