A talk with Charles Bradley (Norway 2012)
Charles Bradley made a huge impression on us in 2012. We saw him in concert three times, all tremendous shows. We also got to meet him in person two times. We had a little chat with him and we got a hug after his concert at Oyafestival in Oslo (Paste Magazine rated it among the 10 best festival moments in 2012).
The Press guys at Bergenfest called us just an hour before the meet, and said that we could get an interview with Charles Bradley if we were interested. We were thrilled!
We (JV) met in a hotel lobby close to the Bergenfest area, Charles Bradley (CB) had just arrived in Bergen, he was a bit tired, but very friendly and open.
We are not experienced journalists, we are fans and the talk we had, kind of reflects that, Charles Bradley talked most of the time and we listened to this fantastic soul singer telling his story.
JV: It’s an honor to meet you Mr. Bradley.
Charles Bradley smiles, shakes our hand and apologizes for being late.
CB: Sorry to keep you guys waiting, we just arrived two hours ago and needed some time to freshen up. We had to jump in a car and drive real fast to get here to you. Just had to get myself a bit together before I met you.
We introduced ourselves and explained that we write for Johanna’s Visions.
JV: We started The Johanna’s Visions web site 6 months ago, we love music, especially American roots music, soul, jazz, folk, blues and rock’n roll. We’ve had a deep passion for this music most of our life. We are getting quite a lot of visits on the web site.
CB: You just gotta do it!
CB: Well I can tell you some stories that I don’t think you’ve heard before.
I can say, I’m 63 years old, I’ve been back as far as the segregation days when you couldn’t say what was on your mind. You had to run to a baptist church just to let it all out, and it was all soulful hurt and pain put in to music.
JV: You have been on tour for some time now and you said you could tell us some stories…
JV: …do you see any differences from Europe and USA?
CB: Europe, oh yes! In Europe I have been treated more fairly, more honestly, people show me more love. Now that I’ve been coming over to European countries and playing shows I get a lot of respect. It is hard to see that, you have to get out of you country and then come back to get some kind of respect.
JV: It is a terrible thing, but it is nice that you are treated so well over here.
CB: Yes, but I gotta say, oh my God, your country keeps me in tears of joy, not of hurt, of joy, the love that I’ve received from people, and I say this from the depth of my heart.
JV: This is the same story the Stax artists told in the 60s, but it is a long time ago, surely it must be different now?
CB: I will say, America is more hush, hush, the roles that they play, you can see it and you know they do it, now it’s more quiet but they still do it.
…and just because we have a black president, who says he’s gonna change things? It is just a front, that’s my opinion. You can feel when somebody hug you,the sincerness in their heart, you can feel when somebody hug you, if it’s false.
JV…the same with the smiles, when people smile at you.
CB: Yeah. That’s what it’s about, man. It is that, do you understand what I’m saying.
JV: You are going to play two concerts here in Bergen, we’re seeing both. Plus, we are going to see you in Oslo in August, how do you compare the large stage festival shows to the smaller venues in clubs?
CB: You know, it’s like, me, the audience, compassion, we all hug, cry together, the love is infinite. Oh man, i think I’m on a mission, I think I’m out to do something good, because with all the trials and tribulations I’ve been through…
…and now when I meet all the people that open their hearts to me, it talks to me. A man, last night, he said,”Charles, man, I’m 52 years old, and you just made my day” (laughter), “you made me realize that there is still hope for me!” Isn’t that incredible? I just broke down and cried!
I say, My God! That is what makes me want to keep my heart and be clean, the way I just can tell them. Show them.
Like, this one kid, this was over in Canada. He came over to us and he told me about himself, and he said, “I wanna talk to Charles Bradley”.
So they said to him, “We’re gonna talk to Charles Bradley to see if he can talk to you”. They told me about this 18 year old kid and I said yes, get him on stage, he was standing right by the stage.
He said, “Charles Bradley, please talk to me”. I said, “Young man, what am I gonna say to you?” He said, ” I just lost my Ma”. I said, “How old was your Ma?”, she was 51, I said,”Oh my God!”
What am I gonna say to this kid? God, give me something to say to him. And then I remembered back to when I was a kid, when this… this baby only about six months. It was in a crib and he died. I remembered that someone told me that when a baby dies young, they only came into our world to give something great to us, and then the child would leave. God said your work is done. So I said, ” Son, your mother was 51 years old, she brought a beautiful boy into this world, and she put all the love that she knew inside that boy”, “and that was you!” “What she gave you, you take it out into this world”.
JV: We can understand why he came to you, because your own story is so inspirational
JV: At the beginning of our talk you talked about the old days, did you see any of the great soul artists of you time?
CB: I was there when all my favourites came up. My alltime favourite was a gospel singer…what was her name? Oh yeah, Mahalia Jackson. Oh I love her.
When the music comes from the heart, when people sing, when they talk, when you feel it, ah! That’s what gives me..I will tell everybody…
..my Grandma she told me one thing one time. I said, “Grandma why is there so much pain and hurt in the world?” , “Why can’t people just love?”
She reached down to me, I remember like it was yesterday. She held a piece of charcoal, she said, “Son, do you see this charcoal?”, I said yeah. She said, “What is it?”, I said, “You burn it to keep our building warm”. She said, “No, if you take a piece of charcoal and compress it, it can turn into a precious diamond”. “Everytime you come unto some hurt or pain, compress it, and one day your world will heal”. And it did.
CB: Yes, we’ve started on some songs. We got a big demo. We wanted it to come out next January, but it looks like we won’t make that now, but we’re getting around to it eventually.
(This week (3rd week into 2013) we got news: A New Album will be released! ‘Victim of Love,’ out April 2 on Dunham/Daptone.)
JV: …you like touring..
CB: Yeah, but I gotta be honest with you, since I’ve been touring in Europe, I am able to see the whole picture now. All the things from the past till now. I see your life, I see my life…
My life now is bittersweet. There’s so much I wanna give and there’s so little time to give it…
Charles Bradley is crying now.
JV: …you still got time
CB: ..there’s so much I can see. Now, when I go back to my country, I look into a police man’s eyes. Before, I was afraid to look him in the eyes. Because a state trooper got very vicious when I looked into his eyes. I used to be scared of what they would do to me.
But now, I don’t fear it!
JV: For how long were you a homeless person?
CB: God, I was homeless when I was a child. Around thirteen fourteen. And I just came out of it after beeing homeless for the last..last seven years.
JV: …it’s a long time…
CB: I was living on a ..abandoned building..on, ah, Decav (? ) Avenue. Now, that building I was staying in, somebody bought it and built a church house!
Mr. Bradley gives us a big smile!
JV: How did you eventually get discovered as an artist?
CB: You know, when I was staying at the abandoned building I wrapped myself into a plastic bag, to sweat, to keep warm. And I was still singing. Nobody knew were I was going at the time. I went to the building.
…I could tell you some things that..eh… Am I talking too much? I’m starting to get emotional..
JV: Oh no, please go on…this is a wonderful story even if it is sad
CB: I remember one night, I helped these young kids, teenagers, young men that plays music for me, now I remember one of them told me that, “Charles, I got mugged by two black guys”. They jumped on him and beat him up. Took his laptop with his music. I said oh my God, it made me feel so embarrassed But I had to say something to him to cheer him up. I said, ” Young man, I was coming home one night” , true story, ” I was doing construction, any way I could make me an honest buck”. “I was dirty and going to the abandoned building”, “these two black guys ran across the street, one of them hit me in the head with a pipe”. This had to be sown back on (he points to his ear). ” I went down and the other one came and hit me in the mouth”. He knocked six teeth out. I go up and I ran. They had a car, I could hear them say, “Hey the guy is still getting up”. I got to the hospital and they sowed my ear back on.
I told the kid, “It is something wrong”, “I know we’ve been through hell, but I do think the world is gonna change.”
I look at a lot of these young kids in the ghettos in my old neighbourhood, I want to, I don’t know what to say to them. I wanna say,”Hey young men, I’ve been there to”. I’ve been through so much.
There’s a lot of hate between generations in the ghettos…
I wanna do right and I wanna do good. There’s so much hatred were I come from, but I wanna make a difference…
JV: And you do, you have a very inspirational story and you talk like…Soul music!
We all laughed and smiled.
The next one in line for an interview is getting impatient now, we have been going way over our time…
CB: I just want to say one thing, this is from back in the days, I remember when I could not go on a certain side of the street. There was a fence right there where the black couldn’t go.
I remember one white man, a man who introduced me to a tv. Tv was very rare those days, I was about 5-6 years old. He used to reach over that fence, put me in his chair and let me watch tv, and he got me ice cream. And before you knew it people were alowed to go across the fence. My mother, my Grandmother never knew I had been allowedd across the fence for a long time. I told them much later.
JV: It was very nice meeting you Mr. Charles Bradley. Thank you!
CB: It was a pleasure!
We shook hands and hugged.
JV: We are looking forward to the concerts.
CB: Thank you, I hope you will continue your website and keep going.
JV: Oh Yeah, we will!
There were tears, but we laughed a lot as well.
Charles Bradley is a great singer and a fantastic human being!
This was our first meeting with Charles Bradley, maybe not a good interview, but it was a great talk.
– Egil and Hallgeir
(all photos by Hallgeir)
originally at Johannasvisions