- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Solomon Burke answers the phone at his Los Angeles home, and he sounds downright annoyed.

“Yes,” says the voice on the other end of the line with a curtness that staved-off sales callers must hear all the time.

“Can I help you?”

“Mr. Burke, we have an interview scheduled for this morning.”

He begins laughing uproariously. It’s the third call he has gotten from a newspaper in the span of 10 minutes, and, no, he’s not interested in subscribing.

“I get enough newspapers here,” he says, still laughing. The legend of rock ‘n’ soul brightens up.

“I’m blessed. Every day above ground is a blessing,” says the 64-year-old singer, who plays the Birchmere tomorrow night.

Mr. Burke is feeling grateful these days — to God, first and foremost; to Epitaph Records President Andy Kaulkin, who masterminded Mr. Burke’s “Don’t Give Up on Me” album; to Van Morrison, who contributed a song to said album (“He’s become one of my dearest friends,” Mr. Burke says); and to the Rolling Stones.

In 2002, the same year “Don’t Give Up on Me” came out, Mr. Burke was invited to open for the Stones, a band he strongly influenced in its early days, covering his “Cry to Me” and the classic “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.”

At Los Angeles’ Wiltern Theater, he traded “I need you-you-yous” onstage with Mick Jagger. “My adventure with the Stones was incredible. It was my lifelong dream just to meet them,” Mr. Burke says. “Then to have them be like, ‘Hey, we’ll see ya tomorrow.’”

Is he still receiving royalties from their albums, by the way?

“Thank ya, Jesus,” Mr. Burke blurts, followed by another streak of laughter. He tells any songwriter who asks, “If someone wants to cover your music, say ‘yes.’”

Solomon Burke — part-time preacher, owner of funeral parlors, father of 21 children and 69 grandchildren — says his recent good luck is a series of “magic appointments from God.” The thing about such appointments, however, is they don’t last forever.

Mr. Kaulkin declined to release another Burke album on Epitaph’s Fat Possum imprint, despite wide critical acclaim.

Mr. Burke looks on the bright side.

“That was a once-in-a-million ingenious idea; God gave him that gift,” he says of Mr. Kaulkin’s brainchild of having Mr. Burke sing unreleased material from such redoubtable singer-songwriters as Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits and Nick Lowe.

What God giveth, God taketh away: “[Mr. Kaulkin] said to me, ‘Solomon, how do we match that?’” He’s working on a follow-up album with R&B; producer Donald Watts, to be released on Shout! Factory Records.

Mr. Burke’s magic-appointment cancellations don’t stop at the recording studio.

Mysteriously, he and Al Green were passed over by filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus and their collaborator, critic Roger Friedman, for 2002’s “Only the Strong Survive,” a documentary on the still-living greats of soul music.

Mr. Burke doesn’t count the omission as a slight, though he would be more than justified in doing so. Again, he chalks up fate to God’s master plan. “They were going where the spirit led them,” he says of the filmmakers.

Optimistically, he says, “Maybe I’ll be in the next movie.”

Through all these ups and downs, what has remained is his voice — the greatest of the Philly Soul stable, a rival to long-dead contemporaries such as Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and Otis Redding.

Mr. Burke allows for a little practicality here. Abstaining from drink and smoke has helped keep it in shape. So has his diet. For vocal exercises he avoids scale exercises. Instead, “I do pasta, I do roast beef,” he says, gleefully.

Then, yet again, he sends the credit upstairs.

“It’s a gift from God; it’s not something I own,” Mr. Burke says.

“I do a lot of praying. That’s the main thing. Keep your focus on faith. He doesn’t take it back; you destroy it. It’s yours to keep.”

WHAT: Solomon Burke

WHERE: Birchmere Music Hall, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria

WHEN: Tomorrow night at 7:30


PHONE: 703/549-7500

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