To many, Solomon Burke's signature tune, the title track of this documentary DVD, boils down to a couple of comedians larking about in the Blues Brothers movie, and a subsequent slew on ill-equipped shouters doing their own anaemic take on the song. Like many soul artists of his vintage, acknowledgement by the Beatles, Rolling Stones and British Invasion crowd were tapered somewhat when said Brits took over the show.
Filmmaker Paul Spencer, whose own marriage vows were overseen by Solomon Burke wearing his day clothes, attempts to redress the balance, telling the singer's story, from Philadelphia to New York and Hollywood, through his '60s heyday, and the wilderness years, to his new millennium rebirth with the Grammy-winning album Don't Give Up On Me. To do so, he calls on interviews with former Stone Bill Wyman, Burke contemporary Tom Jones, New Orleans soulstress Irma Thomas, music writer Peter Guralnick, the ubiquitous Jools Holland, and Joe Henry and Don Was, both of whom have produced Solomon's recent albums. Not a bad roll-call, but most of the perspective on his glory days comes from the man himself, who is frank and honest, but a few more voices from that era would have been welcome.
The other main gripe surrounds the performance footage in the film. This legendary singer, with his melodic but thick and growling gospel tones, is represented in the main by latterday TV film, when you really crave something to show you what made him great in the 1960s. Of course, there are the recordings, and the film demonstrates with audio clips, how the young Solomon's love of country singers like Gene Autry taught him clear diction. His transformation can be heard, as a smooth, early soul croon gave way to the raw edge he's better known for.
Grumbles aside though, as it says on the cover, this is the fully-authorised version of the man's story, and only in such a film would you get to see him at home for a Christmas gospel singalong with a selection of his 21 children, 79 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. Stirring stuff. Like many fellow black American artists, he came from a church background, was preaching at the age of nine, and despite his triumphant crossing over to secular music, and the trappings of showbiz - his crown and cape and throne, for starters – he remains a man of God.
The movie touches on his entrepreneurial instincts, like making sandwiches for the tour bus, knowing that when his entourage reached the deep South, with nowhere for them to eat, they would have to buy his sarnies or starve. On a musical level, his idea for The Soul Clan, developed with Don Covay, and featuring Joe Tex, Ben E King and Arthur Conley, was to have been a soul supergroup of sorts, but a lack of record company backing, coupled with the untimely death of Otis Redding, saw to it that the venture was short-lived.
Things come full circle in the end though, as the critically acclaimed Don't Give Up On Me saw him recording songs by Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Elvis Costello, and winning a whole new audience. We see Solomon, always a big man, but now barely mobile, atop his throne, delivering a spirited performance while Jools Holland (who else?) tinkles the ivories on BBC2's Later. For DVD extras, Jools, Joe Henry and Don Was talk further about working with the great man, but there's no more of that elusive vintage performance footage the film is crying out for. Overall, it's far more than perfunctory, but just lacking a little of the excitement that's inherent in the music.