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Soulís alive
Solomon Burke comes to town

BY TED DROZDOWSKI

"Whoa, watch out! Sweet Jesus, donít hit that lady! Heh-heh-heh."

Soul singer Solomon Burke is on a cell phone in the back of a limo crossing Manhattan during Friday-evening rush hour. In 60 minutes heíll be on stage at the Beacon Theatre, opening for Boz Scaggs. Meanwhile, heís calling on the Lord to give his driver a little assistance in crossing town.

"God, look at those people! Watch out, watch out! Lord!"

Now on a roll, he continues, "Brother Ted, Iíve been trying to find you to sell you a hamburger or something," delivering a joke inspired by his practice of selling sodas and sandwiches to his own bands on bus tours during the í60s. Suddenly a "whoa" from several voices in the limo carries over the line. "Lady, we missed you; thatíll be $10," he says, continuing the riff.

But when it comes to the show heís playing at the Roxy this Monday, Burke is entirely serious. That night he and a local, 10-piece version of his Souls Alive Orchestra will stage a benefit for the Burn Center of Massachusetts General Hospital.

The well-rehearsed line-up was organized by veteran Souls Alive trumpeter Dan Rabinovitz, who played with Burke earlier this year at the vocalistís induction into the Rock íní Roll Hall of Fame ó an honor Solomon well deserved. What with his beginnings as a child preacher, the 65-year-old has been on stages for 47 years. Along the way heís doubled as a snow shoveler, funeral-home operator, and limo-service owner, and he still heads a ministry with 150 churches and 40,000 members worldwide. But the heart of his mission has always been musical. His songs, right from his 1955 debut, "Iím All Alone," often straddle the sacred and the secular. And when Ray Charles left Atlantic Records for ABC, it was Burkeís hits that provided the ailing labelís salvation. For seven years, starting with 1960ís "Just Out of Reach (Of My Two Open Arms)" he rode the charts with R&B and pop smashes like "Cry to Me," "If You Need Me," "The Price," and "Got To Get You Off of My Mind."

Time has diminished none of his abilities. He possesses a voice smooth as slow-heated honey, one capable of shaking ceilings and caressing tired spirits. And driven by his big-hearted persona, his concerts brim with vitality, humor, and pinpoint dynamics.

Itís that big heart thatís bringing him to Boston for his first date in seven years. He was moved to initiate the Burn Center benefit after reading a profile of Newton firefighter Ray McNamara and his wife, Denise, in the Boston Globe. McNamara was terribly injured in a chemical fire in 1993, suffering burns over most of his body; he lay in a coma for eight months and survived 30 operations before leaving the Burn Centerís care. Although the 58-year-old firefighter is a positive, high-energy guy, there are times when the demons of his experience get him down. And the story recounted how he turns to Burkeís 1967 number "Take Me (Just As I Am)" for solace and inspiration. "I got beat up pretty bad, but my wife is still here with me, and that song means a lot to us," he explains.

Rabinovitz, a Boston attorney when heís not performing, sent the story to Burke, who was "moved to tears. Police and firefighters like Ray are our angels. Theyíre here to keep us safe. After reading the story and learning he loved that song as much as I did, because it was written at a point in my life where I needed to be understood and accepted, I wanted to do something. I wanted to come to Boston to bring him on stage with me to sing that song."

And so Burke and his music-director guitarist, Sam Mayfield, are flying in from California for the Burn Center benefit. Whether McNamara will make his first trip up on stage is another matter: "Iím not so sure Iím gonna get up there and sing. But I am looking forward to meeting him. Iíve been a fan of Solomon Burke since the í60s, and this whole thing has blown me away."

The feelingís mutual. Burke, whoíll be playing a mix of his classics and songs heís been recording since his last album, 1994ís The Definition of Soul (Pointblank/Virgin), says, "Iím so excited to meet Ray. I want him to know that we support him and every firefighter and the burn-hospital people, and that I appreciate Rayís support."

Solomon Burke and the Souls Alive Orchestra play the Roxy, 279 Tremont Street, this Monday, November 19. Tickets, which cost $50 or $100, can be purchased by calling Dan Rabinovitz at (617) 371-1000, or at the door.

Issue Date: November 15 - 22, 2001

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