Stories of artistic struggle rarely pack more potency than those of Charles Bradley. Witnessing James Brown in concert at the age of 14 may have inspired Bradley to become a soul singer himself, but it was a dream that wouldnâ€™t be fulfilled for another five decades.
In a sense, itâ€™s hard to believe. Watch a Bradley music video or live performance and heâ€™s absolutely magnetic, his charisma and conviction never in question. And as it happens heâ€™s the same on the phone, the Brooklyn-based Bradley speaking about his hardships with the air of one who is finally content with life.
â€œIâ€™ve been looking for this opportunity for a long time,â€ he says. â€œSearching for my dreams. Iâ€™ve been on my own since I was about 14. And God knows, man, that itâ€™s been a long, long fight trying to find some people who really believed in me. But I thank God and I thank the ones who have found me and opened the doors for me so I can show the world what I really know and what kind of person I really am.â€
A critically acclaimed soul musician is what Bradley is these days. His album â€˜No Time For Dreamingâ€™ has made itself comfortable at the top of many a 2011 best-of list â€“ no mean feat given it was released at the very start of the year. Bradley is clear in what he believes has driven the albumâ€™s success.
â€œNowadays, I really feel that people out there are looking for something thatâ€™s real, something thatâ€™s concrete, someone thatâ€™s going to speak out and say whatâ€™s in their heart. Itâ€™s easy to get up onstage and look nice and sing a great song, but when youâ€™re singing it from your heart people really connect to it â€¦ and they see that youâ€™re strong in your love and respect for music, theyâ€™re going to want to hear more of you. Thatâ€™s what Iâ€™ve found anyway.â€
Bradleyâ€™s fans have wanted to hear more of him, and over the last year a hectic touring schedule has ensued. But unlike a lot of other artists his age, who would have to balance touring with maintaining a family life, Bradley is unmarried and without children, meaning he can dedicate himself almost completely to his music. â€œI never had a good childhood myself,â€ he says, â€œso I didnâ€™t want to bring another into this world to suffer in the same way. I donâ€™t think Iâ€™d have kids now, but I just keep tryinâ€™ for my dreams.â€
Maybe music helps Bradley, then, to leave a legacy in another way. â€œThatâ€™s what Iâ€™m going to do! If I can help you and show you the love to help you grow greater within yourself, and give direction to your soul, Iâ€™m gonna do that. If I can give somebody something thatâ€™s going to help them go forward, theyâ€™re going to say one thing: â€˜Charles Bradley shows you his heartâ€™. Everything has always come from the heart, and now Iâ€™m at the age I am, I ainâ€™t gonna change.â€
One thing that has changed, however, is the musicians heâ€™s travelling the globe with. Having made his break with Tom Brenneckâ€™s Menahan Street Band, Bradley is currently touring with the Extraordinaires. Theyâ€™re younger, but what they lack in terms of the Menahansâ€™ experience, they make up for with the fire of youth.
â€œThey are nice, warm young men that really want to play with me and they show me that theyâ€™ve got love,â€ Bradley explains. â€œAnd make no mistake: they are very, very good. I think the more Iâ€™m around them, the more they start to grow into what they already know. And they have to try and stay up behind me and give me that dynamic that I need. Because once Iâ€™ve got my spirit open, Iâ€™m expecting the band to be 110 percent behind me. My spiritual moments, my joy moments, my hurt moments: I put everything out on the table, and I want the band to be able to say, â€˜Wow! Charles is in his moment. Weâ€™ve gotta be there with him.â€™â€
And a few of them will be getting their first taste of Australia when Bradley lands on local shores early next month for a string of dates around the country. Bradley last visited over two years ago, when he was a little known artist. Heâ€™s looking forward to getting back and once again blowing audiences away.
â€œOh, yeah! Every time I get up on any stage I always get a little tickle in the heart â€“ something that, when the band starts playing, I know itâ€™s time to go out there and open my heart and let it go. Youâ€™ve got to let the love in you flow out, and thatâ€™s what I do.â€
CHARLES BRADLEY PLAYS THE BRISBANE POWERHOUSE MONDAY MARCH 12.