The tide is high for Sea Sessions. Charles Bradley and Ziggy Marley interviews,
For more than 40 years, Charles Bradley played small shows across the US, his tough, ragged holler of a voice appreciated only by the crowd in front of him. There were more downs than ups during that time, he tells but he feels his time has come at last
It could have been so different. Somewhere along the line, somewhere among those hundreds of gigs which Charles Bradley did up and down the US through the years, the soul man could have struck lucky. All he was after was a record label to hear that powerful voice of his and give him a break. He wasn’t going to be fussy about where he hung his hat. Any label would have done. Any label who would show some faith in him.
But it didn’t happen. No one was prepared to go out on a limb for Bradley.
Instead, he kept on trucking. Nearly 40 years of banging out soul music in bars from New York to Alaska. Four decades of screamers, shakers and heartbreakers. When he wasn’t singing, he was working as a cook or as a carpenter. The dream never died.
Bitter? Bradley sighs when he starts to talk about those old days. He’s not bitter about the fact that it took so long because it all came good in the end. But it does obviously jar with him that he had to wait so long for his turn.
“No labels approached me,” he remembers. “All I could do was go around to different clubs and sing. I was trying to find a label who believed in me, but that was hard to come by.
“I sang and worked all over the United States. No one gave me a chance easily, I always had to work hard and fight for my chance. Recognition for what I did was very hard to come by. Other artists would get it for doing the same as I was doing, but it never happened for me then.”
It all changed for Bradley when a record label man walked into a bar, saw him in action and dug what he was doing. That record label man was Gabriel Roth from Daptone Records, the label which put Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings in the frame.
Roth walked into the Tarheel Lounge in Brooklyn and there was Bradley on the stage, doing his Black Velvet tribute to James Brown. There are not, let’s be honest here, many record label execs who can spot gold in
a then-fiftysomething singer doing James Brown covers, but Roth’s a rarity in the business and he knew Bradley had something. He introduced the singer to a musician and producer on his label called Tom Brenneck and Bradley’s luck began to turn.
It’s been a long old trip. Singing is what Bradley always wanted to do and he started out singing church music. “I was raised up in a church-going home, that’s where a lot of my music comes from, and I used to sing Sam Cooke songs when I was a kid.”
His epiphany as a performer came when his sister took him to see James Brown in action at the Apollo in Harlem in 1962. The 14-year-old Bradley was smitten by what he saw and heard. “That was it for me,” he says. “I’d never seen anyone perform like that before or since. I got a chance to meet him twice and I talked to him and he was inspirational. I just wanted to sing like him.”
He wanted to dance like him too. “Oh, I had the moves,” Bradley chuckles. “I used to be a great dancer when I was a kid. My grandmother used to take me to the recreational centre and I just wouldn’t stop. I still can move. When the music sounds good to me, you never know what I’m going to do.”
Bradley took a different road to Brown.