13 December 2010

Your Weekly Dylan Cover [#27]

"Maggie's Farm"
Solomon Burke
Original Dylan version found on Bringing It All Back Home (1965)

One of the bigger losses to the music world in 2010 came on 10 October when the "King of Rock and Soul" Solomon Burke died at the age of 70.

A man seemingly bigger than life literally (he was over 300 pounds) and figuratively, Solomon Burke had essentially been on stage since he was seven years old when he delivered his first sermon at his church in Philadelphia. Like many to-be soul artists, Burke's roots were in gospel. "The Wonder Boy Preacher" stepped into the secular world with a recording of Patsy Cline's "Just Out of Reach (Of y Two Open Arms)." The country standard became a surprise R&B hit, and Burke's career on Atlantic records was born.

Classic titles followed. "Cry To Me" (1962) a gospelish pot-boiler, was a top five hit in 1962 which found another life on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack in the 1980s. The swinging "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love" (1964) would be covered by the Rolling Stones and again earn popularity in The Blues Brothers; ironically, Burke saw the film - incorrectly crediting the song to Wilson Pickett - and called his old Atlantic boss Jerry Wexler to complain. The story goes that Wexler was simply happy to hear that Solomon was still alive, and sent him a sizable royalty check the next day. And then there was the fantastic "Got To Get You Off My Mind" (1965), a tune Burke wrote in the throes of a divorce and mourning the tragic death of Sam Cooke.

Burke's on stage presence was memorable. Back in the day, his contemporaries were in awe of his raw power. "Solomon could command a stage better than anybody," said Sam Moore. "We (Sam & Dave) used to finish our set and go sit in the audience and watch him." L.C. Cooke, Sam's brother, was quoted as saying: "On one tour with James Brown, Solomon started with 20 minutes, but he was kicking James Brown's butt so bad that he cut Solomon's time down to one song!"

Solomon Burke got a second encore on the popular music stage. He was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. And rock's royalty lined up to play and write with him. The remarkable Don't Give Up On Me (2002), produced expertly by Joe Henry, saw Burke perform original contributions from Bob Dylan ("Stepchild," apparently culled from the Street Legal sessions circa 1978), Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Brian Wilson and others. The record won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album. He followed with three other solid efforts: Make Due With What You Got (2005); the duets LP Nashville (2006); and Like A Fire (2008).

Burke's take on "Maggie's Farm" is notable as it is probably the first significant recording of a Dylan song by a soul singer, recorded shortly after the original was released in 1965. The majesty of the melody and lyric are perfect for the King of Rock and Soul's muscular style and hearing the song on 45 rpm just drives home how truly memorable Solomon Burke is to the history of popular music.

Still Another Cover: Ben Sidran, "Maggie's Farm" (Dylan Different, 2010)

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