Farewell to a heavyweight from the golden age of soul

Solomon Burke was the consummate performer, writes David Hepworth

Solomon Burke, the self-styled King of Rock and Soul, was pronounced dead in the early hours of yesterday morning at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam where he had flown from Los Angeles to perform with the Dutch group De Dijk tomorrow night.

The singer, who was at least 70 years old, was so bulky that when he last played with them he was wheeled on stage on the throne that he considered his sobriquet entitled him to. When he last appeared on stage with the Rolling Stones, in Los Angeles three years ago, Keith Richards estimated his weight as 35st and feared for the stage. Ron Wood reckoned it was more like 40. In any case they were thrilled, all the more so since Burke insisted Jagger wore the king's ermine-trimmed robe. This was so heavy that Jagger nearly crumpled to his knees.

Burke's songs became well known in the UK during the original rhythm'n'blues boom. The Rolling Stones used to open their show with his signature tune "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love". Merseybeat groups would play "Stupidity". The Pretty Things had a hit with "Cry To Me". One of the standouts on Otis Redding's cult album Otis Blue was his version of Burke's "Down In The Valley". All these and more poured forth from the bulky, eccentric figure of the Philadelphian in an early 1960s hot streak on the Atlantic label.

Most of these records were made in New York but had strong appeal in the South. Burke's trademark gruff preaching delivery slipped seamlessly from speech to song and back again. If you were only allowed one soul singer from the golden age, Solomon is the one you would take. He ticked every box from low comedy through country pleading to the kind of magisterial rock'n'roll that brought the house down. His shows were tours de force of riveting soul and unashamed hokum. He once employed a midget who was secreted under his cape. When it was thrown off the cape would disappear stage left as of its own volition.

When the hits ceased he was glad of his entrepreneurial drive. He never listened to the playback of his first Atlantic session because he had to be back in Philly driving a snow truck. Banned by the Apollo Theatre in New York from selling his "Solomon Burke's Magic Popcorn" in the theatre, he set up a hot plate and knocked out pork chops on the pavement.

Throughout his life he preached, ran a chain of mortuaries and appeared when asked with his wealthy young admirers. His career was given boosts by the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers and by 2002's Don't Give Up On Me, an award-winning album he made with the producer Joe Henry, featuring songs gifted by admirers including Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. He died, as most musicians of his generation are apt to do, on his way to a gig. Unlike BB King he never made the mistake of believing he was capable of retirement. For lifers like Burke there's no going home.

His latest record, Nothing Is Impossible, came out last month. It was produced by the great Al Green producer Willie Mitchell, who supervised the session from behind a Zimmer frame. "He was the genius. I was just the whipped cream on top of the great pie," said Burke.

Burke's spirit lives on thanks to his records and his famous fans. Every time Bruce Springsteen slips into his familiar on-stage testifying about the power and the majesty of rock and soul and adopts the manner that could be the most righteous preacher or could be a used-car dealer, that's Brother Solomon Burke right there.

David Hepworth is a music writer and broadcaster

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada