Solomon Burke -- "The
King of Rock & Soul", armed with a voice that's a world treasure, played
first show in Toronto for 15 years on July 8. I had never seen him
perform, but appreciating not only his great 60's soul classics, but
also his great recent CD's Don't Give Up on Me and Make
Do With What You Got, I
knew I had to see this show -- even at the cost of missing the
closing acts of Saturday's Afrofest.
As it turned out, it
was a wise decision...
I had expected a
great musical week: three "highlight of the year concerts" occurring
within a few days of each other (Salif Keita, Afrofest & Solomon
Burke) is pretty remarkable. But, it turned out much better than I
could have expected.
The crisis, and the show
I spent all of
Saturday at Afrofest -- a two-day free African music festival
that's always one of the best weekends of the year in Toronto --
but left early that evening, because I had a front-row ticket to
see Solomon Burke at Massey Hall.
At the Wellesley subway station I encountered huge
confusion, and a massive lineup at the ticket booth.
People at the end of the line (a LONG way back) began yelling. I was
getting a bit anxious because of the time, and had my $20 out, ready to
Finally I got
through, jumped on the subway, got out at Queen, walked along Shuter,
when I discovered that I no longer had my wallet with its money,
credit cards, ID -- and front row Solomon Burke ticket! What to
do? Quickly prioritizing, I headed for the box office.
I'd bought my ticket online, so they had a record of my purchase, and
even ID-less, I was able to confirm personal information, so
they wrote me a receipt for my seat, and I got to
enjoy an absolutely superb show by a superb performer and a pretty
remarkable person. (Before going in, I had called my wife; let her
know what had happened, and asked her to call and cancel my
credit cards. Second priority taken care of).
My replacement "ticket"
After a rousing
opening by his band (several of whom had been with him for many
years (or decades), he came out in the dark. The lights came up,
and there he was, seated in his throne and resplendent (is there
any other word?) in his sparkling purple suit. The throne
is not just because of his musical stature, it's also a concession to
his size (he must be at least 450 lbs). He sat there for pretty
much the whole show, but could still generate more heart and
soul while sitting than hundreds of others could jumping and dancing).
However he did launch the concert on his feet, belting the
powerful "I Need Your Love in My Life" (the first song you hear
when you visit
This is a
singer who began his career as one of the greats in his field,
but has just become better with the
But it was not
just a musical performance, it was his personality, character
and heart that entertained, and drew in and won over the (easy
to win over) audience with his
radiance and warmth. Just after he was seated, two large
vases of red roses were brought out to sit on each side of him.
They weren't there for him, they were for him to kiss and toss
to the audience -- or at least to "the ladies", because his daughter
and god-daughter gave them to the men. Soon, people came walking
or dancing down the aisles to get a rose. (Mine's on the right).
your concert, not mine" he told us. He made sure people sang
along, got out of their seats to dance, getting the house lights
raised to bring us all together. He couldn't think of a better
place to start his tour than Toronto. "I'd love to live in
Canada, but you couldn't afford to feed me."). He spoke
earnestly of other performers, his band, and love and peace. ("If
I was a bird, I'd fly over the White House, and tell President
Bush to bring those soldiers home")... and especially his
family. (21 children and 84 grandchildren... "You should come to
my house sometime!")
He did his
old hits, many in a medley, and performed many of his newer
songs, often written for him by some of the great songwriters
The King & I
Well into the night,
he asked people to join him on stage. About 40 of us got up,
dancing along with the greatest soul singer in the world.. (I
couldn't believe this: I'd been on stage with Salif Keita and Solomon Burke in the same week!)
After a couple
of songs, he brought the level down. Time to go back to our
seats? No, "Sit down, sit down" he motioned, and we all settled
around his feet, while he sang "What a Wonderful World"
friends shaking hands, saying "How do you do?"
They're really saying......"I love you".
And he would
reach out to those closest to him, to hold and shake or clasp their hands.
There was no
doubt how deeply he believed this truly is a Wonderful World.
During a song
break, someone came over to take a picture of himself with
Solomon using his cell phone camera. Solomon posed eagerly,
asked "Is there anyone else with a camera?"
Damn! I seem to
spend a quarter of my life taking music photos, and here I am,
armed with nothing but a poor cell phone camera. May as well use
that, so I got up. But things didn't
work out as planned...
Somehow, as I
tried setting it up, he asked me, "Is
there anyone at home?"
actually, she's trying to find my wallet that I lost on my way
her" he suggests.
So, there I am,
centre stage on Massey Hall, calling my unsuspecting wife...
I didn't have a chance to explain to her what was going on.
Solomon takes the phone, and
says to her "This is James Brown!", and then bursts into
PLEASE! PLEASE!"... the band soon follows his lead.
"I bet he told
you he was going to a Solomon Burke show" he said. "So what's he
doing with James Brown?" he asked my by-now completely confused wife.
the conversation, asking her what she plans to do with the money
from my wallet, says how nice I am -- that I said I'd buy her
any car she wants, etc. I know however why he finally said "I
can't hear you" -- I figured she had no idea what was going on,
and hung up. (She hung up on Solomon Burke??)
The call ended, he
went back to singing, and we all continued to hang out on stage
for another half hour until the concert finished.
After the show,
people kept coming up to me saying "I hope you find your
wallet". "Look... there's the dude", said one woman in the
But the night and
its magic was not quite done.
I took the
subway back to the last place I'd seen my wallet, went to the
ticket collector... who indeed had my wallet, with all its contents
(including a front-row Solomon Burke ticket) intact, turned in by
an unknown Good Samaritan
Wonderful World, indeed.
Long Live the
without comparison, and a pretty amazing person as well.
http://www.thekingsolomonburke.com... the site will play
several complete songs from his newest CD, provide all the usual
background, bio info etc. But I was also impressed with the
words on his "Message
from the King" page.
message is to his fans, encouraging us all to get involved with
some charity, helping out with whatever (time, money, goods) you
can "It will enrich your life to give". Also, to become involved
in "your community, your government and your world."
message is to his children. "You are all kings and queens, my
grandchildren are all princes and princesses, my
great-grandchildren carry a royal line of blood that I know will
never die. I love you more than I could ever express in words or
meaning. You are the reason of my living. You are the heart and
soul of my spirit."
I highly recommend
Solomon Burke, live or on CD. His 2002 CD, Don't Give Up on Me most
deservedly won him his first Grammy. A great place to enjoy him
at his full powers.
His next CD will be country.
Odd? I don't think so...
A great singer is a great
singer, and Solomon is famous for taking any song -- unseen and
unheard -- and just "soul" it.
But he has more claim to
country than that. Ray Charles is acclaimed for his
boundary-crossing 1962 album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music album
containing country songs like "I Can't Stop
Loving You". But Solomon had beaten him to the punch two years
earlier with "Just Out of Reach" recorded for Charles' former
producer, Jerry Wexler.
The new recording will be
produced by the great guitarist/singer/songwriter Buddy Miller,
and will feature duets with many of country's top women singers
including Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch.
Sometimes, royalty is earned.
anyone has any photo from the show, especially with us on stage, I'd
love to get a copy!
Here's a review of the show from the Toronto Sun.