In the midst of our railing against religion, it can be easy to forget the human heart that lies within its crumbling machinery. I have long been a lover of traditional gospel music, particularly the kind that developed among African-American Protestantism. While I get nothing from the propaganda undercutting it, I am easily swept up in the emotion of the performance and those lyrics which speak of humanity's common longing for solace in this world of woe. Naturally, I am even more drawn to gospel music's secular offspring: blues and soul. In them, I can glory in both the message and the method by which it is expressed.

So it was that I was deeply saddened to learn about the passing yesterday of Solomon Burke, a man who started out as a preacher and became one of the most influential, if lesser known, performers of the last 50 years. His voice, like the body from which it sprang, was heavy and carried an emotional weight that few singers ever attempt, much less approach. But it cut across generations and cultures, bringing Burke a renewed popularity later in life. Indeed, he was en route to a show in the Netherlands when he left us. Fortunately, he also left us some of the finest soul music ever recorded. Let it serve as a reminder that, however far apart we may be in our heads, in our deepest hearts we are after the same thing. With that, I give you:

For Solomon Burke

Lay down the swelling brass.
Leave it in silence.
Let it tarnish
while the varnish
and steady guidance
of the piano pass
into still dust upon an empty stage.

Pack up the thumping bass.
Pull off all the strings.
Pluck it no more.
The walking roar
of deft fingerings
have given up the chase
of unheard charts filling an unread page.

Turn off the popping snare.
Toss the sticks aside.
Tune slack each skin.
Forget the din
of hat, crash, and ride.
What tapping foot is there
to follow where the front-man has now led?

Darken the tube-amp’s glow.
Dull the Tele’s strike.
Dim the spotlight
focusing tight
on a breathless mic.
Close the curtains and go.
Alas, the King of Rock and Soul is dead!

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Comment by Sydni Moser on October 11, 2010 at 9:15am
Lovely tribute Buck. Sadly, I was not familiar with Solomon Burke, but I looked him up on youtube and found this early piece. Do you have a favorite song of his?

NoRosesForMe | January 17, 2009

His best known song. (1962)
Comment by Buck O'Roon on October 11, 2010 at 1:50pm
Thank you, Sydni. There have been many fine songs by Mr. "Big Soul" over the years, covered well and often by many artists, including the Rolling Stones and even the Blues Brothers. Lately, I have been particularly fond of the album "Nashville", a Buddy Miller produced collection of country songs Burke recorded a few years back. Of those on the latter, his covers of Tom T. Hall's "Memphis" and Buddy Miller's "Does My Ring Burn Your Finger" are stand-outs.



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