Flesh And Blood, This World And The Next: Solomon Burke’s Funeral

Joe Henry wrote these words for a few friends, following Solomon Burke's funeral on Friday.  He was kind enough to share them with us:

I got up early this morning, put on a black suit and drove through a pissy rain, past the airport, to Gardena in south Los Angeles for Solomon Burke's funeral.

It was held at the City of Refuge, a large and predominantly African-American church in a blocky, stucco structure built in the '80s. I arrived early, and people drifted about, solemnly greeting friends and family while the king of rock and soul's touring band, Soul's Alive, murmured quietly over hymns in a contemporary gospel style, as if playing under a sermon already in progress. Blind organist Rudy Copeland, who had been Solomon’s one handpicked member of the "Don't Give Up On Me" recording band, riffed and bounced, looking so much like a skinny Ray Charles it was impossible not to stare at him. (Note: Rudy had been a close friend to Marvin Gaye, and told me years ago that he'd left Marvin’s house only thirty minutes before Marvin’s father returned, disturbed and armed, on that fateful day in 1984, having left his pal with the warning, "Don't fuck with the old man, now. He’s in a bad way.")

I had arrived early and was sitting alone off to the side in meditation, but got up to greet Andy Kaulkin, who'd signed Solomon to Anti- Records and given me the job as Solomon’s producer. As the service was about to begin, we were both ushered to special seats held in front and just to the side of the area reserved for family. 

As the front pews got more crowded, I gave up my seat to another employee of Anti- Records and joined Tom Jones and his son/manager Mark, who had arrived late and with whom I’d planned to sit, having spent the evening before in the studio together. We were taken to the front row, and seated just to the left of the rose-covered casket.

The service was 2 and a half hours long, included many eulogies, some spontaneous gospel singing; some shouting, some wailing, a fainting, and a daughter who hopped on the balls of her feet and spoke in tongues as punctuation to her scripted remarks. The highlight for me was Rudy’s bluesy Hammond B-3 instrumental of Thomas Dorsey’s “Precious Lord (Lead Me On)." He played it like Ray would have, kicking it heavy on the bass foot pedals, and shouting his own encouragement: "Tell the story, son!"

The whole service climaxed with a rousing version of "When The Saints Go Marching In," which included the choir, a 2nd-line-style brass band marching through the isles, and everyone in the pews clapping and singing along. One enthused member of the parish rushed over and plucked Tom Jones from in front of his seat, pulled him near the casket where the family had crowded around, and handed him the wireless mic, commanding him to "take this brother home, Tom!!!" Tom reluctantly but graciously sang a few lines and then handed back the microphone, but remained standing with the family. 

Once the singing throng had wheeled the casket out the side door to the waiting hearse, I greeted a few people and worked my way out toward the parking lot, stopping to talk to Tom and Mark (the former giving in to perhaps a dozen requests for cell phone photographs), who also seemed to be trying to slip away. 

"You going on to the cemetery?" Mark asked me. I said I wasn't, and I could tell he was envious. They hadn't planned to either, I don’t imagine, but too many family members had latched on to Tom and said they were grateful he'd be going the last mile with them.

The precession of cars, limos and the hearse had the whole exit out onto Rosecrans Avenue blocked, but I slipped my car out a back service driveway and bolted. I drove the 2 or 3 miles back to the 110 Freeway and headed north towards downtown.

The rain had stopped, and the sky was a brilliant autumn blue, with thick grey clouds fracturing the golden light; the freeway wide open. I sailed ahead and as I did, I cued up "Don't Give Up On Me" at the beginning and turned it loud.

Towards the end of song 4, my own "Flesh And Blood," about twelve miles into my drive home and as Solomon started to twist on the words "more real than this, mo-mo-mo-mo-more reeeeeal that thiiiissss,” I saw from just behind on my left, a dark car –a hearse— surge forward. It passed me, changed lanes and then settled down to the speed limit, just in front of me.

I recognized the vehicle, as I had just been talking next to it for almost 30 minutes: it was Solomon. But there were no other limos in sight, and no other cars appearing to follow. No headlights or flagged hoods; no cops. Just the big black wagon, with red roses on a massive casket visible through the rear window.

I assume that the distance to a cemetery near Solomon’s home in Westlake Village (if indeed that's where they were headed) was just too far a distance to drive it in formation; but that still didn't explain the absence of any other cars, after I had seen so many lining up to roll out.

There was just me and King Solomon, flying along the freeway, while inside my car Solomon himself continued to rant and rave in song: "More real than this!!"

After a few moments the hearse veered off onto the 101 north, and I continued on toward Pasadena. I watched as Solomon merged right, and then doubled back on the ramp stretching west. He arced right over my head and quickly disappeared out towards the far valley. 

Joe Henry, 10/22/2010


UPDATE:  The contest is now closed, and I'll be notifying the winners shortly.  Thanks for entering!

Well, I'm on vacation all this week, but while I'm out I thought maybe it was time to give away a couple of Joe Henry-related CD's.
Simply drop me an email with your name and email address. First prize will be two of the three following albums:

  • Joe Henry – Blood From Stars 
  • Allen Toussaint – The Bright Mississippi 
  • Various Artists – I Believe To My Soul 

The winner will choose two of those CD's, and the runner-up will receive the third.
Deadline for entry is Sunday, November 1. I'll draw the winners at random shortly thereafter. Good luck!

Update from JH

A quick update from JH at his official site mentions his latest projects with Mose Allison (completed) and Harry Belefonte (in progress and sounding very exciting).

Best news of all: a tour is in the works for March of 2010!

And yes, there's a link to this blog on Joe's homepage.  So if you've found your way here from there, welcome and thanks for dropping by.

JH’s Spare Ribs Tuscan-Style

Well, this recipe mysteriously disappeared from Joe Henry's website a little while back.  But never fear, fellow obsessives – I have a copy of it, and hopefully no one will mind if I share it with my readers.  I can bear witness that this recipe is both tasty and easy to prepare.  Though I usually substitute Earl Hines for a Joe Henry record.


* Slab of pork spare ribs
* Dry white wine
* 5 cloves of garlic
* Fresh sage
* White flour
* Olive oil
* Kosher salt
* Cracked black pepper
* Parsley
* Aged Peccorino Romano cheese
* Arugula

Take a large slab of spare ribs, and cut into individual pieces by slicing between each rib. Dredge lightly in flour and shake off any excess. Sprinkle liberally with salt and cracked pepper.

In a large, deep, heavy pan, heat 2 table spoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Put in ribs and brown well on all sides. When nearly browned, scatter crushed garlic in and around the ribs so it too becomes sauteed.

When ribs are browned, add 2 table spoons chopped fresh sage leaf and toss. Then add a cup and a half of white wine to the pot, tossing ribs with a wooden spatula, scrapping loose the goodness at the bottom of the pan. When wine has bubbled up for 30 seconds or so, turn heat to low and cover. Let simmer for 40-50 mins, turning occasionally to coat ribs. If more liquid is required, add a bit of water.

While ribs are nearing completion, boil water and cook a pound of spaghetti, al dente. Strain in a collander that has been lined with fresh arugula, thus wilting the greens.
Remove ribs and place attractively on a warm platter. Sprinkle with kosher salt and dust generously with finely chopped fresh parsley.

Toss the cooked spaghetti and arugula into what remains in the rib pan. Transfer to a pasta bowl and dust with chopped parsley and grated peccorino cheese, and cracked pepper.

Serve at once with steamed green beans (with a drissle of olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon), a pane rustica and a hearty red wine.

Call your loved ones to the table. Put on a record by Earl Hines. Be grateful for all of the above.