SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Much like label mate and fellow soul-singing survivor Sharon Jones, R&B vocalist Charles Bradley took a long and circuitous route to his current status a powerhouse stage performer and music festival favorite.
Born and raised in Florida city of Gainsville by his grandmother, it wasn’t until after he had relocated to live with his mother in Brooklyn that Bradley found his calling. Brought by his sister to the Apollo Theater to see James Brown in 1962, the impressionable youth was so struck by the Soul Brother Number One’s show that he started to develop an impression of Brown, copying his vocal style and stage mannerisms.
Squalid living conditions led Bradley to run away from home as a teen. He would live on the street for several years before getting an education with Job Corp (one of the central programs of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society plan founded in the mid 1960s) and became a cook. While he would gain some stage experience with his Brown impersonation, Bradley mostly worked in construction and in kitchens at a variety of places through the ’70s and ’80s, including an extended stint in Bay Area at restaurants in Menlo Park, Sausalito and San Francisco’s North Beach.
The singer would later credit an encounter with his hero James Brown at a club where he worked in San Francisco for spurring him to pursue singing more seriously. Though Brown denied Bradley’s bold request that he and the Godfather of Soul sing onstage together, he told his soul disciple he should audition at the Apollo Theater. After Bradley relocated to Brooklyn and reunited with his estranged mother in 1996, he would get a steady work impersonating Brown for the Apollo’s amateur hour and elsewhere under the stage name “Black Velvet.’
Daptone Records co-founder and Dap-Kings bassist Gabriel Roth caught one of Bradley’s performances and introduced the singer to guitarist Thomas Brenneck (who also played with the Dap-Kings as well as other NYC bands like Antibalas and the Budos Band). The vocalist would be signed to Daptone with Brenneck serving as one of Bradley’s main songwriting collaborators with backing provided by the guitarist’s latest group the Menahan Street Band.
Bradley would record a string of 7-inch singles for the label during the 2000s. He eventually collected those songs for his proper debut album No Time for Dreaming in 2011. The following year he was the subject of the documentary Soul of America that debuted at the South By Southwest Film Festival.
In April, Bradley released his third album Changes to wide acclaim. Taking it’s title from his heart-wrenching, soulful take on the Black Sabbath ballad, the collection of songs showcases Bradley’s gift for communicating from the heart with ably funky instrumental support from both the Menahan Street Band and Budos Band.
Still leaving audiences breathless with his powerful stage performances at age 68, Bradley and his touring group the Extraordinaires return to the Bay Area for two sold-out shows at the Chapel in San Francisco. He will be joined by jazzy funk sibling duo the Mattson 2 featuring guitarist Jared Mattson and his drumming brother Jonathan as well as soul selections from DJ Harry Duncan.
Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires
Friday-Saturday, Sept. 2-3, 8 p.m. $40 (sold out)