Solomon Burke died yesterday at the age of 70. Or 72. Or 74. He was not always forthcoming about his age. But for perhaps fifty years he was a gospel, soul, and R&B singer.
I first heard his voice in 1966 in Vietnam. It was habit in my outfit to leave (vinyl) albums in the Day Room for anyone to listen to, and one black soldier had left a Solomon Burke LP there. The only song I now remember from that album was a kick ass version of "Down in the Valley," sung much differently than it was sung in grammar school in the 1950's.
It has been mentioned elsewhere on this blog that my friend Jeff and I would head over to the local watering hole on Friday afternoons to warm it up for our friends who would appear after work. During one of these happy occasions, "Down in the Valley" popped into my mind, but I could not for the life of me remember Solomon Burke's name.
I asked Jeff if he'd heard a rock version of "Down in the Valley," but he had not. I set about describing the artist to him - black, tall, heavy set - and solicited his help in identifying him.
Well, we worked on that off and on for a couple of hours with no luck. At one point I said "I think his name begins with an "F." Jeff made several guesses, but . . . .
The crowd descended and we gave up for the time being. Late that night, as we were set to depart for our homes, Jeff pulled me aside and said, "I gotta know Monday. You gotta come up with this name."
"No problem, Jeff. I'll think of it."
Bright and early on Monday morning, Jeff popped into my office.
Jeff: "Well, did you think of it? I worried about it all weekend."
Donnie: "Jeff, if I tell you, I don't want to hear anything about it."
A brief pause.
Jeff: "OK, Donnie, I won't say nuthin'."
Donnie: "Solomon Burke."
After a long, hard look at me, Jeff departed. But an hour so later he stuck his head in the door and said "Donnie, Solomon Burke called. He said to tell you there's no fucking "F" in his name."