Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1084

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Feature

Charles Bradley: The Eagle Has Landed

Charles Bradley @bluesandsoul.com
Charles Bradley @bluesandsoul.com

Soul man Charles Bradley is no fool. He has recorded what I can honestly say without fear or favour, is a career-defining masterpiece called âVictim Of Love.â It is released on 1st April, âAll Fools Dayâ for some. Not for Mr Bradley. No sir.

Labelled âThe screaming Eagle of soul,â he has well and truly landed with this morsel. It sounds like something an artist would be lucky to deliver after a multi-decade career for maybe their 10th, 20th or 30th album. But for Brooklyn-based New Yorker Charles, it is in fact only his second album of a two year recording career.

Overnight sensation? Well it was a damn long night considering the man is 64 years old and made his first record in 2011, after he was discovered by a record label exec in a New York club doing his James Brown impersonation act. But those days are gone. He is very much Charles Bradley now.

A sensational soulful vocalist, and a pretty accomplished songwriter. You may think you have heard this stuff before and maybe it is a long lost and forgotten treasure from the vaults of Stax, Muscle Shoals or Atlantic. The ghosts of Otis, Pickett, O.V. Wright, James Carr and afore-mentioned Mr Brown channelled in a soul frenzy. It really is what soul was invented for, and destined for so many âBest of 2013â end of year lists, mark my words. I can even see a Grammy nod if the stars are aligned.

But you can hear the pain and suffering that Charles has endured during his life, in every note and every nuance on this record. His debut ââNo Time For Dreamingâ,â wowed critics and made him instant lifelong fans around the globe. In places he will not have even heard of. But this one is several steps up the ladder from the first. It is the soundtrack to a life less ordinary.

Charles is still mourning the loss of his brother Joe, who was shot dead. He also lived on the mean streets for several years, eating at soup kitchens and sleeping on subway trains. He got in with the wrong crowd too, but tried hard to reject going down the wrong path. He has faced death himself, and been in the depths of despair. He has worked hard too, as a chef and a handyman while juggling small club gigs as James Brown, in his tribute act âBlack Velvet.â

You hear every cold, fearful, painful life or death minute in every second of his vocals. You just cannot fake such gut wrenching honesty in a vocal. You do not learn that, you live it.

But if this guy sang the New York phone book, I would imagine he could move someone to tears. He sure has paid his dues and itâs now time for a big fat rebate. âYeah I am slowly coming out of the dark to the light, and it is my turn to shine,â he tells me. âThe difference to the debut is this one took some of the rawness out of me. This is better, because there is another part of me actually coming out. I began to really open up. Before I was more closed to myself with all the trauma and aggravation that has happened to me.â

âNow Iâm sharing and a lot of people come up to me at shows and they share their lifeâs pain with me, and say my music helps them and they relate to it. It is a kind of therapy for me and for them. My music has a healing quality. It is me showing love, and I have opened up my heart and they can see who I really am.â

His nickname was given to him by one of Otis Reddingâs musicians, who saw him âdance like an eagleâ on stage and christened him âthe screaming Eagle of soul,â and it stuck.

He was here last year for a sold out London show, and even though he was dripping in sweat and gave his absolute all on stage, afterwards he shook almost every last personâs hand in the place to thank them for coming out to see him. He meant it too.

Since his debut album in 2011, he has performed shows in 17 countries across three continents. His debut was one of the yearâs best selling independent records, making Rolling Stoneâs Top 50 Albums of 2011 and he gave blistering performances on BBCâs Later... with Jools Holland, Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and his amazing life story is the subject of the film âSoul of America.â

With such massive global success, after waiting six decades to get a proper music career, did he feel he made a rod for his own back in having to follow up with an equally brilliant âdifficult second album?â

âThis one was much easier and far less less stress on me, because it hurt me so much to sing those songs about my life on the first one. I was licking my wounds, specially the one âHeartaches and Pain,â which opened up a raw wound about my brother. This one is more about loving, and how I controlled my hurt and know how to look at my hurt and not let it bother me all the time like it used to.â

Charles was ultra-revealing and brutally honest in his chat with me from his NY home. I can tell you; he broke down in tears during our interview, and it was not easy to listen to, knowing the man is clearly an emotional and very humble guy trying to get on with his life after so many years of struggle, and still grieving.

He revealed he has lived in fear since he was signed, and had such an amazing reaction to his first record. The fear that his happiness and success will disappear, and he will be back in the dark from the light, where he is now. He tells me with genuine emotion in his voice, that there were days when the pain got too much when he was recording, and he had to âgo some place by myself and just let it pass.â But he realised he could harness that upset, and inject it into his music and would then sit back, hear what he had recorded and even he had to respond with just the one word: âWow.â A common reaction on hearing Charles Bradley methinks?

âYes Iâm scared sometimes. Iâm scared to be happy, because the light is on and I do not want it to go off again. But on that stage and when I am in the studio, I open up my heart and hide nothing. It took a long time coming, believe me.

Sometimes I used to say, âWhat is happening to me?â A voice said; âIâm getting ready to die.â But then all this beauty was coming toward me. At first; I was shouting out, âwhat is this?â In my life, every time I am happy, always something or someone comes to take that away from me.â

âIt is still a little bitter-sweet, and I wait for the light to flicker and go back to darkness, but I am holding on. Usually something this good has never lasted this long, so I am starting to believe it is here to stay.â

Well, me old Charlie, you better get used to being in the spotlight and not in the darkness, when the world gets to hear these 11 tracks of world class sublime soul vocals.

He says he wants his music to help others and his message to those in crisis is simple: âNever give up.â He is a pretty good example of that philosophy, eh?

There are high spots for me, such as the killer up-tempo groover; âYou Put The Flame On It,â which sounds like it would have been at home on stage at the Harlem Apollo in the early 60s. The nods are massive to The Temptations on âConfusion,â which starts with a very loud musical nervous breakdown, and perhaps sums up Charlesâ life up to the point he was snapped up by Daptone Records.

Charles Bradley âVictim of Loveâ is out now on Dunham/Daptone.

@Charles_Bradley

You can read more from this fascinating interview with Charles Bradley in our print issue, available from all good newsagents and from the B&S shop by clicking below.
Words SIMON REDLEY

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