So how does Solomon King, a nice white Jewish guy formerly from hard rock city Detroit, get to be honored by the City of Los Angeles as well as the California Legislature Assembly for his contributions to Blues music and culture at the Black Tie Affair in Inglewood in South LA?
Indeed, when asked about the evening, a scant two weeks after the Academy Awards, Solomon says, “I got a statue that says ‘Blues Man,’ some certificates from the City of Los Angeles, and the California Legislature and I didn’t get slapped. I was grateful and humbled.”
So, where did this white ‘Blues Man’ get the street cred for contributing to the black music and culture in South Los Angeles?
Firstly, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Solomon King had lost his taste for the Hollywood music scene and found his way down to Babe’s and Ricky’s Inn — a place for soul food, and, “Keeping the Light on for the Blues.” The bar had been founded by Laura Mae Gross in the 60s, and they had a Monday Night Blues Jam. It was only a couple of miles south of Hollywood but it was a world apart.
So, with his gold Les Paul guitar in hand, Solomon went down and was greeted by “Mama” Laura May Gross at the door. She told him he was welcome to come in but he would have to leave his guitar in the kitchen. Solomon recalls that Mama Laura saw the look of terror on his face at the prospect of leaving his prized ’57 Gold Top in the kitchen of some South Central club never to be seen again. But she kindly reassured the white boy newcomer, “If it was good enough for BB King, it’ll be good enough for you.” Yes, BB King had played there, and he like many others would leave their instruments in the kitchen until it was their time to play.
Before long, Mama Laura took a liking to this blue-eyed fellow with the Blues in his heart. Solomon confesses, “A lot of good things in my life have come out of there. But initially on those Monday nights, Mama would serve a chicken buffet with fried chicken and collard greens, real soul food, and guests would crowd to get to the food. Mama Laura had a good sense of humor and she thought it was good fun to call me up to the stage just as she served the buffet. and I had to fight my way through the chicken line to do my set.”
Additionally, he chuckles, “I wasn’t very good back then. That place would attract some really great musicians to come in and jam. There was more than one occasion when I would walk off the stage and the other musicians would walk off rather than play with me when I appeared.” Now he adds, “But I loved the Blues, and I worked hard at them. Eventually I got better, and the older Blues guys would stick around. And, even when she took ill, Mama would turn up on Mondays for the jam session. I remember asking her why she still came, and she sweetly said, ‘This music, this is my medicine.’ I played there till Mama passed away. And, I even named one of my subsequent records, Medicine.”
Meanwhile, that experience got him introduced to the community, playing all over South Central. He recalls, “You had to earn your props. And, that whole involvement taught me everything. I thought I knew the songs, but I didn’t know how to play them properly. I had been a singer/songwriter in rock and roll bands, but this was a whole different thing.”
So, Solomon King was jamming regularly at The Living Room on Crenshaw — LA’s oldest standing Black-owned bar in the heart of West Adams Historical District — where he met fellow “Blues Man” winner Lester Lands and blues promoter Meme Bruton. She invited him to come to the Desert Room — a venerable establishment that had settled into dive bar status.
Now Solomon was growing a fan base with Desert Room audiences calling for his older hits like, Jack Me Up. He continues, “Then I got a generic invitation to the first annual Kings and Queens of the Blues awards show. I told them I’d be happy to come. Then two days before the event I got a phone call to play at it. So, I got decked out in a gold lame suit, crisp white shirt, gold boots and showed up. I played my 57’ Gold Top just like when I started at Babe’s and Ricky’s.”
Then, he chuckles, “You know, there’s a lot people who sing better. A lot of people play guitar better than me, but no one’s got my wardrobe! I really didn’t know what to expect as I’d just come to sit in with Lester Lands and his band. The place was packed and when I made my way inside, I see all these awards on a table. A well-dressed host asked who I was. When I told him, ‘Solomon King,’ he says, ‘We’re going to have something for you.’ Really, I wondered what? Then I was called up to the stage. We played a couple tunes and everybody seemed to like it fine.”
Later, after his set, Solomon went into the back bar, while they were handing out those awards in the main room. Then people come up to him, congratulating him, and telling him that they were calling out his name in the main room.
Finally, he thought, Calling me up for what? And, the people said, To go up there to get your awards!
“Truth is, what a great honor it was, to be acknowledged in this community. These guys are really good, they’re the real thing. Sure enough, I got the Blues Man statue and two other certificates from the State of California and from the City of Los Angeles. Who knew?! I wished my own Mama (Marilyn) had been there to see this but she is gone. When I got home, I looked at my calendar it was April 09, which was my own Mama’s exact birthday.”
Solomon King has several upcoming solo acoustic shows, including two FREE shows for his fans in NorCal (4/24 and 4/26), including: Friday, April 15 — Sol Grill — 6:30–8:30pm in Newport Beach; Sunday, April 24 -Thee Parkside — 4–7pm in San Francisco; Tuesday, April 26 — The Bistro — 7–9:30pm in Hayward; Saturday, April 30 — Bogart’s Coffee House — 6–8pm in Seal Beach.
Check out Solomon King’s Music website for new music and upcoming gigs. Drop in on his pages at Instagram, YouTube, Facebook. And, sample his music on streaming sites, Spotify, Apple Music, and Soundcloud. King’s new video for Sunset & Mars will drop soon. Above performance photos by Malcolm Owen.