Shepherd Express – Charles Bradley Feature
Charles Bradley Wants to Change the World for the Better
By Joshua Miller
Apr. 26, 2016
Charles Bradley knows better than most how life can change in an instant—and the importance of fighting for a better world.
As a young man, Bradley went from living in impoverished conditions and living on the street to hitchhiking much of the country and taking a wide variety of jobs. He later moved back to Brooklyn to be reunited with his mother and began performing as a James Brown impersonator under the moniker Black Velvet.
During his time living with his mother, he almost died in the hospital from an allergic reaction to penicillin and his brother was murdered just down the road from where he lived. Later, life changed dramatically for the better one day when Daptone Records co-founder Gabriel Roth discovered a then 62-year-old Bradley performing as Black Velvet. Bradley was immediately signed to a record deal and released his debut album in 2011. He has since followed up the success of that album with 2013’s Victim of Love and this year’s Changes. In the past five years Bradley has seen his popularity skyrocket. Before his mother’s passing in 2014, she got to witness her son became a star. He has performed tirelessly across the globe with shows highlighted by his raw and electric showmanship.
“I’ve traveled to a lot of places and opened my heart to a lot of people,” Bradley says. “It really opened my mind to a greater height. I get to look at life in a deeper, serious way…I’ve had difficulties but sometimes the biggest thing I’ve done is giving my love on stage.”
With each album he makes, Bradley has become more comfortable about singing not just about his experiences but about the wider world around him. While the first two albums were about the “dark world” he was living in and personally “coming out from the dark into the light,” Changes is a more politically and socially charged album due to the guarded appreciation he has for his recent success.
“This one’s got more open feelings to it,” Bradley says. “[This album] helped me be more political. That’s why I say what I do because I’m afraid that I’m going to lose these things that I have. If you get a little taste of that you have to do everything you can to keep it. But things are changing and I thank God I’m able to speak out more politically with honesty…I try to keep an open heart so that I can speak the truth.”
That includes having a strong opinion on this year’s presidential campaign. He hopes people come together and pick the best person to lead the country. In “Change for the World,” Bradley urges others to let go of their differences and come together as one.
“There are a lot of things in the news that make you afraid to go out in the world,” he says. “But if you care and carry yourself in a humble way you can make a difference.
“We should all come together as we’re only walking this world for so many years,”
he continues. “They should walk it with a good heart. You should express yourself to the world and be helping the world be a better place. But if you let corruption in, you’re hurting innocent people.”
One of the album’s standouts is the title track, a soulful cover of Black Sabbath’s 1972 hit “Changes.” Bradley was introduced to the original through a friend and was immediately enamored by the song’s lyrics since they spoke to what he was feeling with the loss of his mother and other challenges he had faced in his life.
“It was really about my personal life and that’s why I learned it and put it out in the world,” Bradley says. “When Geezer Butler wrote the song he had a different meaning than my song. I expressed the lyrics the way I felt it. I just put my heart into it and did it. If it’s the right lyrics, then I can sing it. But if it’s lyrics that don’t get in my spirit honestly, I can’t do it.”
Black Sabbath’s camp has been impressed with his version so much that their label told Charles that he took the song and made it his own, and Butler even tweeted his support.
Bradley hopes others have similar reactions to his songs. Most importantly, he wants to show the world the kind of person he is, one person at a time: a down-to-earth person who truly cares. I experienced that firsthand during our interview. After learning my father had just been in a serious accident, he took the time to console me as if we had known each other for years. He even suggested I call him back if I ever needed someone to talk to.
“I want to use my spirit with honesty and express my love that I was given by God, so that I can go out into the world and make people happy and make them have their own thoughts listening to my lyrics, and [ideas of how] they can start on their own self and make them a better person,” he says.
“My mom told me, ‘Your heart is too good and this world is not your own. Just keep walking like a soldier and giving your love.’ God shows you the good, the kind, the gentle. When you know these things you can push forward and stay strong.”
Read Charles Bradley Feature at Shepherd Express