Charles Bradley, soul’s new king.

3 Comments 03 August 2011

“Speak from your heart and know what you’re saying. What you’re giving, you’re giving to the world.”

Fans have dubbed him “The Screaming Eagle of Soul” and it’s fitting. He released his acclaimed debut album No Time or Dreaming early this year.  He’s one of Daptone Records’ brightest stars and has played a significant part in the modern revival of funk and soul. So who is he? He’s the one and only Charles Bradley, the man with the voice of an agonised angel.

Via a long-distance phone call that connected this writer from a high school meeting room to the modest maestro on the pavement outside a restaurant somewhere in the US, Bradley spoke to me about his first album, international tour and life as a musician at 62.

Only a decade ago, Bradley’s life was a saga of ‘heartaches and pain’ (not coincidentally a track name on his new album). Bradley says that No Time for Dreaming is about “the life that I had to live, the things I’ve been through, the heartaches and pain, and all I have to tell about it.”

C.B.’s got a back story that rivals the likes of Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin, two artists he “always listened to [growing up]”. It was seeing James Brown perform at the age of fourteen that made Bradley realise that he wanted more than anything to be a musician. His goals shifted only briefly when, as a young adult living in Brooklyn and scared by the drugs his friends were getting into, he considered joining the war effort in Vietnam. As his older brother had already been shipped out, Charles chose to remain in the States and began training as a chef, eventually getting a job in a mental asylum where he fed up to 3500 people a day. He still retains this culinary talent, claiming jovially, “I can cook anything you can make!” but while he continued to work at the asylum for years, he never gave up on his initial dream of being a performer.

After spending time travelling across the States, Bradley returned home to Brooklyn. His newfound career as a James Brown impersonator with the stage name ‘Black Velvet’ provided some of the musical adrenaline Bradley had been searching for and things were looking up when suddenly, his brother was murdered. It is this experience of genuine struggle and sorrow, as well as Bradley’s resounding optimism and sheer determination that brought us the gift that is No Time for Dreaming.

When I inform Bradley that he is receiving a call all the way from Australia, he simply says “Wow!” He is, on the whole, modest about his achievements and seems to be humbled by his recent success and newfound fame. Bradley swiftly launches into praise of Brooklyn-formed Menahan Street Band, the instrumental outfit that accompanies most of his releases.

“We’re like family… I’ve known these guys for at least ten years you know?” He describes performing with the funky ensemble as “just like jammin’”.

While he has only recently tasted commercial success, Bradley is certainly no stranger to working his way up.  Discovered by Gabriel Roth of Daptone Records in his 50s, Bradley recorded his first album at the seasoned age of 62. “It is crazy!” says Bradley of his demanding new lifestyle as a revered soul icon, but he says he never gave up hope that he would find this life one day. “I’ve been lookin’ for it ever since I was about sixteen” Bradley says of a musical career , “I was lookin’, lookin’, lookin’ and just at this age and this moment I was about to give up.” Bradley had no idea that this was indeed his time: “I thought life had just passed me by”.

‘The Screaming Eagle’ has poured over half a century of ‘heartaches and pain’ into his debut album, which he claims was no easy feat: “It hurts, this first album, it took a lot out of me to do it, emotionally and now doing it, it makes it more easy to say.” When asked what this album has given him personally Bradley replies thoughtfully: “it gave me a better look at life, that’s what it gave me”. And, optimistically, “it gave me hope again”.

Widely renowned for his deep connection with audiences and heartfelt performances, C.B. speaks of what he sees from the stage: “They show me love. I see the expressions in their faces… I just want to tell them, it’s alright, what you’re going through, it’s alright.”

Inevitably, the questions progress to the soul star’s future plans. Where to now for Mr. Bradley? Well, he’s about to begin an extensive, international tour. “I’m very excited about going [overseas]. The people have shown me nothing but much love over there.” Bradley wants to share his own brand of love with other nations: “All the love that god gave me, I want to give it back to them”.  We can only hope that this tour will eventually include Australia.

Will we be hearing more from Charles Bradley? Bradley hints of a new album in the mix, continuing his work with the band from Menahan Street. “We’ve started on one, started on two songs already”, he says, but dodges naming a release date: “Music, it takes time, it’s like a flower that needs time to grow.” Bradley promises that “me and Sharon Jones will be doing some collaboration together.”

Lucky for us all, Bradley has more to say and more to give to audiences everywhere. We needn’t fear that he has exhausted his supply of soulful material. Charles gushes that “Oh my god, the gates are open, I just finally found a way that I can express myself, with my music.” We can expect that his next album will be rich with soulful lyrics and funky grooves and we can hope that it will surpass even this debut release, which would be a grand achievement!

As our twenty minutes together come to a close, I’m sad to say goodbye to this astonishing man but Bradley’s last words are filled with wisdom and he delivers them as direct advice to up-and-coming artists and especially the younger generation: “All I can say is speak from your heart and know what you’re saying. What you’re giving, you’re giving to the world… just give the love. Let everybody know who you are.”

No Time for Dreaming’ is available on Daptone Records, Dunham Records division from the best record stores.

Your Comments

3 Comments so far

  1. Bridie says:

    What a guy, what a voice. Thanks for the interview!

  2. lauren says:

    an inspirational man and a powerful and inspired interview! thanks you both very much

  3. Vicky says:

    Great article! Very well-written and on a very interesting topic

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