Friday, October 4, 2013

Charles Bradley's Struggle To Sing

Charles Bradley's journey and ascent through and from a hard life to success in the music industry has been nothing but a long and tenuous climb, fraught with disappointments, one after another for decades on end. The one constant throughout his life is how those struggles shape his music.

Charles Bradley (born 1948, Gainesville, Florida, United States) is an American funk/soul/R&B singer, signed to the Daptone Records label under the Dunham Records division. His performances and recording style are consistent with Daptone's revivalist approach, celebrating the feel of funk and soul music from the 1960s and 1970s. One review stated that Bradley "echoes the evocative delivery of Otis Redding". Another astutue writer, not surprisingly, noted that his channeling of the late James Brown was "eerily uncanny".

He is the subject of an amazing documentary, Soul of America, that premiered at South by Southwest in 2012.

Early life

Bradley was raised by his maternal grandmother in Gainesville, Florida until the age of eight when his mother, who had abandoned him at 8 months of age, took him to live with her in Brooklyn, New York.

In 1962, his sister took him to the Apollo Theater to see James Brown perform. Bradley was so inspired by the performance that he began to practice mimicking Brown's style of singing and stage mannerisms at home.

When he was fourteen, Bradley ran away from home due to his poor living conditions -- his bedroom was in a basement with a sand floor -- and lived on the streets during the day and slept nights in subway cars for two years. Later, he enlisted in Job Corps which eventually led him to Bar Harbor, Maine to train as a chef. One time while working, a co-worker told him he looked like James Brown. When asked if he could sing, he was at first shy but eventually admitted that he could. He overcame his stage fright (when a crew member pushed him through the curtains onto the stage) and performed five or six times with a band. After his band mates were drafted into the Vietnam War, the act never re-formed.

Bradley worked in Maine as a cook for ten years until deciding to head west, hitchhiking across the country. He lived in upstate New York, Seattle, Canada and Alaska before settling in California in 1977. There, Bradley worked odd jobs and played small shows for 20 years.

Career in music

In 1996, Bradley's mother called him and asked him to move back in with her in Brooklyn so she could get to know him. It was there he began making a living moonlighting as a James Brown impersonator in local clubs under the name "Black Velvet." During this time, Bradley experienced more hard times, including almost dying in a hospital after being given penicillin (to which he has an allergy) and waking to the police arriving to the scene of his brother's murder just down the road from his mother's house.

While performing as "Black Velvet," he was eventually discovered by Gabriel Roth, co-founder of Daptone Records. Roth introduced Bradley to Daptone artist and his future producer Tom Brenneck, then the songwriter and guitarist for The Bullets, and later for Menahan Street Band, who invited Bradley to his band's rehearsal. Bradley asked that the band simply perform while he made up lyrics on the spot. After writing several songs, with Daptone releasing some of them on vinyl starting in 2002, ten were chosen and released as Bradley's debut album No Time For Dreaming in 2011.

In the spring of 2012, Soul of America, a documentary directed by Poull Brien, debuted at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. Poull Brien first met Bradley when he directed the music video for "The World (Is Going Up In Flames)." This feature film told Bradley's story from his childhood in Florida, to the humble days of homelessness and heartache, then later his gigs as Black Velvet, and finally ended with him touring and recording at Daptone Records. The film went on to play prominent festivals around the world, and the story and legacy of Bradley continued.

Bradley's second album, Victim of Love came out on April 2, 2013.

Bradley's songs have frequently been sampled by hip hop artists, such as Jay-Z and Asher Roth.

Watching Charles perform, the pathos of life in a pressurecooker wears palpably on his personage, and, truly, it seems to pervade every aspect of his being, onstage and off. This is not an act, the facts bear that out, and as a result, Charles continues through this thing called life with one purpose: to succeed at a dream he's kept alive since being a young man in the turbulent 60's.

Now it's 2013, and the release of his critically-acclaimed second LP has brought him closer than ever to reaching this goal.

His aforementioned documentary is a MUST-SEE.

To be (thankfully and lovingly) continued...

Get on up, and stay on the scene, like a... you know.


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