Charles Bradley, Soul Music Revivalist, Dead at 68

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Photo from Charles Bradley’s website

He didn’t become a professional singer until he was nearly 50 years old, but Charles Bradley proved to be a master revivalist of the classic ’60s soul sound and built a devoted following. Bradley died today, Sept. 23, of stomach cancer. He was 68.

Born in Gainesville, Fla., on Nov. 5, 1948, Bradley moved to Brooklyn as a child and became a fan of the top R&B performers of the ’60s. He spent his adulthood working various day jobs and after returning to Brooklyn in 1996 started supplementing his income by performing as a James Brown impersonator. “James Brown is my biggest influence,” Bradley said in a 2013 interview with this writer in which he also cited Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, Otis Redding and Sam Cooke as influences.

Bradley looked to the Godfather of Soul for inspiration in his own performances. He said, “I asked myself, ‘What am I qualified for?’ I had to find what I like and what makes me feel good like James Brown feels good when he’s on the stage. He did his best and his all and now it was time for me to find my all.”

Charles Bradley at the 2017 Monterey Pop Festival (Photo by Alexis Moore)

Bradley was signed to the Brooklyn-based Daptone Records label and released his first recording, a single titled “Take it As It Comes,” in 2002. Several other singles followed until, in 2011, Bradley released his full-length debut, No Time for Dreaming. The album, which featured Bradley backed by the Menahan Street Band, found an audience among aficionados of the classic soul sound. In addition to Bradley’s original compositions, the album included covers of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” and Kurt Cobain’s “Stay Away.”

In 2012 a documentary about Bradley, Soul of America, premiered at the SXSW Film Festival.

In the same 2013 interview, he described his love for singing in the classic soul style: “I think soul music can take any form, whether it’s raw gospel or any kind of music you sing deeply from the heart and soul, from the spirit. It’s not a label that you put onto music; it’s what you feel from your heart. That’s what I think soul music is. It’s not about the music, it’s about the artist and the depth of his soul.”

Related: Sharon Jones, Bradley’s Daptone Records label mate, died in 2016

A second album, Victim of Love, was released in 2013, this one featuring only Bradley originals, and his final set, Changes, arrived in 2016—the title track is a cover of a Black Sabbath tune and the album opened with the standard “God Bless America.”

Watch Charles Bradley and the Menahan Band perform “The World (Is Going Up in Flames)” live

In the above-referenced interview, Bradley was asked what his aspirations were. He said, “Oh, I’ve got so much music that’s balled up and waiting to come up. So much that I want to give. I want to leave this planet and have them say, ‘That Charles, man, that guy got the love in him. All he wanted to do was show people the love. We should’ve found him a long time ago.’”

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Watch the video for Charles Bradley’s cover of Black Sabbath’s Changes”

Jeff Tamarkin

Jeff Tamarkin

Best Classic Bands Editor Jeff Tamarkin has been a prolific music journalist for more than four decades. He is formerly the editor of Goldmine, CMJ andRelix magazines, has written for dozens of other publications and has authored liner notes for more than 80 CDs. Jeff has also served on the Nominating Committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and as a consultant to the Grammys. His first book was 'Got a Revolution! The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane.' He is also the co-author of 'Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc.,' with Howard Kaylan.
Jeff Tamarkin
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