SOLOMON BURKE: Nashville Calling

How did you go about selecting the songs for this project?

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We had a wealth of songs. Buddy brought in some, and Shawn [Amos, executive producer] brought in some, and we had over 100 or so to choose from. The idea was to do something that we’d never done before and make it as incredible as we could. Every record you do, you want to try to make it better and different, but I wanted this one to be special, something that I’d never done before and that people couldn’t say, “Well, this is just another ol’ Solomon Burke record.” This was a special type of record. I just wanted to find myself an avenue of pure joy, and that’s what we found. We went to Buddy’s home in Nashville, just thinking that we were going to listen to the music, and here it was that this is where we were recording-in Buddy’s house! On the porch, and from the porch to the living room, from the living room to the dining room, from the dining room to the hallway. Matter of fact, “That’s How I Got to Memphis” was recorded in the hallway, just with Buddy playing guitar, one microphone and a bass. It was just incredible. His technique is just so real and natural. A couple of times I was worried. “Do we have a mic” [laughs]? “Do we have to do that again?” And he’d say, “No. That’s it.” I looked up and this guy has mics nailed up in the ceiling! I’d say, “The trash man was just out there, man. Shouldn’t we do it again?” And he’d say, “No. He was alright.” Julie-his wife-her little dog came running down, and it was barking in key. I said, “Now this is ridiculous.” [Laughs] It’s what you call a hootenanny, I guess. I mean, c’mon, I’ve been doing this for 51 years. I started in 1954. Believe me, I’ve seen some studios! I’ve been in studios that were in trucks. I’ve been in studios where people come to your house and say, ‘This is it. I’ve got it going on!’ and they put out a Wilcox tape recorder and say, ‘Can we do this in your basement?’ Man, I don’t even have a basement. Buddy, he’s got it so set up. If you go there, you’d ask, “Okay, where’s the studio?” and he’d say, “This is it.” There are no shutters on the windows, and you can hear the birds singing. It’s just so natural and real. And I think that’s the feeling of magic that he creates with a record.

So how did you go about getting Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris on this record?

That was the great surprise of Buddy Miller. Buddy has known these people for years, and we wondered who we could get, and he said, “Let me work on it.” Let me tell you, I was surprised. When they showed up; that was it. We waited and waited, and then Gillian [Welch] would walk in and just start playing the guitar. And someone would go, “Hi, Solomon!” and I’d say, “Who’s that?” And Buddy would say, “That’s Gillian Welch.” And I’d say, “Gillian Welch? Where?” And he’d say, “Sitting next to you.” And we’d just start singing. When Emmylou Harris came in, of course, I knew immediately that she was a giant superstar-the real deal. And she came in with donuts and muffins, and it was just like folks coming over to say hello. It was just beautiful, man. She had a couple of songs for me to sing that she had written. She was looking at one song that we were going to do with George Jones, and she said, “Would it be okay if I sang that one with you?” And I said, “Lady, you can sing the newspaper if you want to!” I mean, I’m here with you. I’ll sing whatever you want to sing…I didn’t know how the magic was going to work, because it was my first time ever doing a duet with anybody, especially on a recording. I mean, I can go on stage and sing with Van Morrison or B.B. King and act the clown. But to sing with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris…it was just a special magic.

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