Throughout a significant portion of this site’s 8-plus year history, I’ve written quite bit about longtime JOVM mainstay Charles Bradley. Bradley led a remarkable life, overcoming unimaginable adversity and heartache throughout his life to achieve success and international acclaim late in his life that included an emotional and in-depth documentary Charles Bradley: Soul of America, three full-length albums 2011’s No Time For Dreaming, 2013’s Victim of Love and 2016’s Changes, and a powerful, heartfelt live show centered around a vocalist, who understood and felt very deeply that the great pain and tribulations of his life were a cry for universal love, brotherhood, sisterhood and empty. He preached it passionately and constantly — and as many would say, it seemed that he believed that if he loved harder, more passionately, and just more — if we all just loved each other a bit more — we could all make the world a much better place.
Certainly, in a Trumpian world of darkly cynical racial and ethnic animus and distrust, in which we all are marching lockstep towards fascism and the loss of the things we claim we love about America, and towards our mutual annihilation, we could use much move love — and goddamn it, we could use a few more Charles Bradleys, and Sharon Joneses, too.
November 5, 2018 would have been Charles Bradley’s 70th birthday and in celebration of the man, his life and his music, Dunham Records will posthumously release his fourth and final album Black Velvet on November 9, 2018. Featuring 10 tracks lovingly curated by his friends, bandmates and family, the album chronologically spans Bradley’s recording career — but instead of a greatest hits-like anthology or a rehashing of say, several different versions of known and beloved songs, the album focuses on deeper, mostly unreleased cuts recorded during the sessions from each of Bradley’s three albums, as well as highly sought-after beloved covers including his takes on Nirvana‘s “Stay Away,” Neil Young‘s “Heart of Gold,” Rodriguez‘s “I’ll Slip Away,” and an alternate full-band electric version of “Victim of Love,” among others.
Now, I was extremely lucky. I managed to catch Charles Bradley 6 times — and while my timeline may be a bit off, the details are fairly correct:
- A free Williamsburg Park Daptone Records revue show, were he spent a significant portion of an opening set, sitting in photo pit, attentively listening and showing support to his labelmates. At one point, I passed him in the photo pit or I asked him for a picture but while taking the picture, he hugged me and playfully air-punched me in the stomach with a goofy grin. He also happily signed some records for a few fans, continued to take some photos before his set.
- He headlined a bizarre House of Vans, Northside Festival showcase on an April-like June night with Benjamin Booker and Mac DeMarco. Most of the crowd, was there for MacDemarco (which I couldn’t quite understand after catching him live), and they left after Mac’s set, missing Charles and his Extraordinaires absolutely kill.
- There was an intimate Vice Noisey showcase in the West 50s on an eclectic and bizarre bill that featured two other openers — and although I can’t remember the names of those two acts, what I do remember is that one was a hip-hop act, and the other was a punk act. And by intimate, I mean I was there with maybe 200 other people at most. There was also a shit ton of free beer, and as a result the crowd was rowdy and exuberant. A guy standing just over my shoulder started yelling lustily at Charles. “Sing it, brother! Sing!” I turned around to see, who was yelling that, and it was one of the whitest hipsters I’ve ever seen. It was hilarious; but goddamn we loved on Charles Bradley and the Extraordinaires that night.
- A few weeks later, I saw him again. This time opening for the Afghan Whigs at the Beacon Theatre. What a weird crowd for that show! I don’t think the crowd understood that Greg Dulli is a huge soul music head, and he was trying to put ignorant motherfuckers on to the truth. It was shameful — especially since Charles and the band were performing their asses off.
- At Flushing Meadows Park. I took my mom for the second time to see Charles on a glorious yet chilly June afternoon. Since we don’t live far from the park, we hung out for a bit after the show and Charles came out to greet, hug and take photos with his fans. During that set, I stood next to this lovely young woman, who was singing along and shouting playfully at Bradley. I wound up taking a picture of her with Charles. He then got to me, and at some point, he was joking about being exhausted and leaned his head on my shoulder — and I started to laugh. It was insane. And it wound up leading to one of the best profile pictures I’ve ever had. Not only was it a career and personal highlight, it’s a picture that has had friends and others immediately smile and say “Oh, you two!” Before he was about to go on, I said to Bradley, “Hey Charles, I came here with my mom.” His face lights up and he says “you brought your momma! Lemme give her a hug!” So he did, and my mom was thrilled.
- I saw him make a guest appearance with Soulive during their Bowlive residency at Brooklyn Bowl. And of course, he was fucking amazing with them. Get this: a night or two later, I somehow managed to get a photo pass and saw Soulive with Chris Robinson the night later. Two seriously legendary nights at the unofficial home office.
- The last time I saw him was perfuming at the Daptone Soul Revue at the Apollo Theater. It was my first time at the Apollo — and it was everything like I dreamt it to be and then some. The day before, I had gotten laid off from a day job. Now, as many of you know, I’m an atheist. I’ve been an atheist most of my life. But that night was some much-needed spiritual uplift. The Como Mamas from Como, MS made their first time outside of Como and into New York, singing that old-timey acapella gospel. Charles preached and urgently implored us to do better, to love more, to know that we were all flowers in God’s creation. Sharon Jones turning a song about kicking a bad man out of her life, into a song about surviving cancer and kicking death’s ass.
Today, I feel happy. I managed to see the Screaming Eagle of soul so many times — and in a number of cases with my mom, who shared a mutual love of his music. How blessed to be able to see him perform, to be near him, to exist at the same time as someone who urgently preached for us all to love each other more! Happy 70th Charles! In a dark, cynical word of racist and ethnic animus, of fear and distrust, of an America sliding into fascism, of a mad, mad, mad, mad world of lunatics marching lockstep to our annihilation, we certainly need to love each other a bit more; if not, we’re done for.