Music

Charles Bradley

Of music and movies

Thursday, August 22, 2013

For many of us, a love of music is not limited simply to going to shows and listening to albums. Instead, it’s an all-encompassing area of interest. We scour the internet for info about bands we both love and hate. We read books about musicians in particular and music in general. We watch biopics and, for the cable-friendly, episodes of shows like Behind the Music and True Hollywood Story. We don’t just want to listen to music, we want to experience it, understand it, immerse ourselves in it. We don’t just want to learn the lyrics to our favorite songs, we also want to know the stories that inspired them.

What I’m trying to say is, when it comes to music, we love the lore.

There’s no doubt that soul singer Charles Bradley has a story more farfetched and amazing than most. Indeed, it’s the kind of tale that should probably be committed to film—and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Along with all of the other things that have happened to him of late, Bradley’s life is the subject of a documentary, Charles Bradley: Soul of America that will be shown at 6:30pm Thurs., Aug. 22 at the Pickford Film Center. Of course, this is just the warm-up for Bradley’s upcoming Bellingham show, which will happen Sun., Sept. 1 at the Wild Buffalo.

Soul of America chronicles the singer’s unlikely rise from the streets of New York City to his work as James Brown impersonator “Black Velvet” to the soul powerhouse he is today. Filmed in the days before the release of the singer’s first full-length album, No Time for Dreaming (called one of the best albums of 2011 by Rolling Stone), the documentary details the highs and considerable lows of the man now called the “Screaming Eagle of Soul.”

What makes Bradley’s story the stuff of great cinema is the fact that, when his big break came, it didn’t happen until he was 61 years old. And before it happened, life wasn’t exactly kind to the soft-spoken, big-voiced soul singer. Abandoned by his mother, Bradley grew up running wild in the streets instead of studying in the classroom. Functionally illiterate, occasionally homeless, Bradley bounced around the country, working a series of menial jobs and dealing with the murder of his brother and the reentry into his life of his mother.

Whatever the trials and heartache he endured, the one thread that wove itself throughout Bradley’s life was music, and for 40 years, he honed his act as a James Brown impersonator and waited for his big break to come. When it did, it would happen via Daptone Records, the label that’s also home to Sharon Jones, and whose Dap-Kings performed on Amy Winehouse’s many-Grammy-winning Back to Black.

If you’re an aspiring soul singer, Daptone is not exactly a bad place to hang your hat—or, in Bradley’s case, your jumpsuit.

There was just one catch: Daptone didn’t want to Bradley to sing James Brown’s songs. They wanted him to make an album of his own original songs.

Despite the fact that Bradley had been performing for four-plus decades, it wasn’t until he was at the age that most people consider retiring that he truly found his voice. Figuring his life was an ample source of material, Bradley began mining it for inspiration, and the result was the kind of absolutely authentic soul music that could only come from someone intimately familiar with hard living.

Determined to take his chance, hold onto it tight with both hands and make the most of it, Bradley’s debut album, No Time for Dreaming hit listeners like a ton of bricks. It was a calling card that announced a major talent, and had nearly everyone asking the question, “Is this guy for real?”

Performance footage in Soul of America provides an unequivocal answer to that question, but to truly understand the raw passion and power of this late-blooming soul singer, one must to experience him live and in person.

That opportunity, as I mentioned, will come Sept. 1, when Bradley will make his way back to Bellingham and the Wild Buffalo. This is not the Screaming Eagle’s first visit here, and thanks to a forgotten pair of pants and a willingness to on the part of the Buffalo’s booking team to drive hundreds of miles at the drop of a hat to return them to him, it (hopefully) won’t be his last. Sure, Bradley’s playing larger venues in bigger towns these days, but given the kind of life he’s led, he’s not one to forget someone who’s done him a good turn—and we get to be the lucky beneficiaries of his good nature.

Having witnessed the magic that is a Charles Bradley concert, I can honestly say that my vocabulary does not contain words that can properly do the experience justice. When all is said and done, and I’m tallying the musical accounts of my life, I’m sure his will be on the short list of the best performances I’ve ever seen. Simply put, Bradley sings like a guy who spent the first six decades of his life waiting to be discovered, and now that he has been, he’s going to make the most of every single second of it. Frankly, the whole thing is a little awe-inspiring, and it’s not uncommon to see audience members with tears in their eyes while he performs.

Given Bradley’s reputation for singularly powerful performances, it goes without saying that a sellout show is inevitable. At the present moment, tickets are still available (for both the documentary and the show itself), but may not be for long. Bradley has spent decades waiting for his chance to perform for us. The least we can do is show up and make it worth his considerable effort.

SVCR Live Music
More Music...
The Wild Buffalo
Choose your own adventure

Having spent most of the past few months making our way from one outdoor venue, music series and homegrown festival to the next and then back again, we’ve been treated to a steady diet of mostly soul, funk, bluegrass and folk music, all bathed in the golden glow of a seemingly endless…

more »
Aaron Neville
From the farm to the stage

If someone asked me to guess what Aaron Neville was doing at any given moment—hey, it could happen—I’d feel like it would be a pretty safe bet to place him somewhere in New Orleans (obviously), possibly with one or more of his famous singing brothers, giving a concert or just hanging out…

more »
Hovander Homestead Bluegrass Festival
Party in the park

By now, I’ve spent half my lifetime in Bellingham. Much like everyone else who moved to the area to attend college and then stayed, I love it here.

But every so often, I have, for one reason or another, felt the need to hightail it out of town. Unlike most people who are struck with…

more »
Events
Today
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Dog Day Afternoon

3:30pm|South Whatcom Library

All-Paces Run

6:00pm|Fairhaven Runners

Back to School Night

6:30pm|Lynden Library

Try Something New

6:30pm|Mount Vernon City Library

Books on Tap

7:00pm|North Fork Brewery

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Comedy Open Mic

7:30pm|Shakedown

Salsa Night

9:30pm|Cafe Rumba

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Tomorrow
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Peaceful Poetry Workshop and Contest

4:30pm|Village Books

Women's Rock Climbing Basics

6:00pm|REI

Creekside Open Mic

6:30pm|South Whatcom Library

Exploring Vegan Flavors

6:30pm|Whatcom Humane Society

Autumn Soups for the Body and Soul

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Seattle Quartet

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 BOB_2017
Thursday
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Lynden Farmers Market

12:00pm|Front Street

Together for Peace

6:00pm|Majestic

Stream Tour

6:00pm|Whatcom Creek

Day of Peace observes those displaced by war

6:00pm

Trash Talk

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Travel Talk

7:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Balkan Folk Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Chuckanut Radio Hour with Nancy Pearl

7:00pm|Village Books

Authentic Illusionist Jay Ownehouse

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

The Addams Family Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

see our complete calendar »

2020 Solutions Sept 2017 Trove MBT Janis Joplin Village Books Bellingham Farmer’s Market Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 BOB_2017