The soul singer and funk music dynamo Charles Bradley, 63, toiled for years as a James Brown impersonator and a chef. His raw, epic journey – from Florida to Brooklyn to Alaska and back to Brooklyn – eventually delivered him to Dunham Records, a division of the famed Daptone label in New York. The scorching, harrowing single The World (Is Going Up In Flames) from 2007 gained him attention, and the 2010 album No Time For Dreaming solidified his reputation as a believable soul shouter of the highest order. Bradley, dubbed The Screaming Eagle of Soul, spoke from Brooklyn.
Charles Bradley, you’re finally being heard. What have you doing all these years?
I’ve been singing. I’ve been singing since I was 16 years old. This is an opportunity I’ve been looking for so long, and it’s finally came to me. It might be a little bittersweet, it being so long. But people like what I’m doing, and I love that I’m having this chance.
You played Sappyfest in Sackville, N.B., this past summer. The writer Sean Michaels wrote, very poetically and vividly, on your performance. He said that you were showing the audience your soul and singing them your soul and all the things you wanted, lost and won. Is that a fair assessment?
I would agree with that 110 per cent. The people that I sing to feel my soul. When I go up on that stage, I open up totally. I look deeper and deeper, and open up so people can look into my heart and my soul.
On your , there’s a contest that fans can enter for a chance for a personal Valentine’s Day serenade from you. It seems to me that singing personally to your fans is something that you already do, with every breath, with every song and with every concert.
That is so true. You guys up there in Canada know already. That’s the way I am. It’s from the heart. If you talk to me, I’m going to talk from the heart.
Your title song, No Time for Dreaming . Is this a call for action?
Partly. I live in a rough neighbourhood. I see teenagers, standing around the corner, drinking and getting high. I used to do the things they’re doing, but I don’t any more. They say they’re going to do this next year and something else next month. So I say, “listen, brother, it’s alright to dream, but put it into reality.” I tell them to keep pushing at it.
The things that you’ve been through. Have they made you a better singer? A better performer?
Yes. When I go up on stage, and give the people a good show, maybe some of the things that I’ve been through, and that I came through with a humble heart, will help people who are going through some of the same things I’m going through. And maybe it’ll let them know that if you keep your honesty and your faith and your dignity, somebody, somehow, somewhere will find you.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Charles Bradley plays Montreal’s Corona Theatre, Feb. 10; Toronto’s Lee’s Palace, Feb. 11; and Detroit’s Magic Bag, Feb. 12.