Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires
CHARLES BRADLEY & HIS EXTRAORDINAIRES
Charles Bradley is no stranger to hard times. Born in Gainesville, Florida in 1948 and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Charles spent the better part of his childhood living on the streets. One of the more optimistic moments of his childhood came in 1962, when his sister took him to see James Brown at The Apollo. Brown's energy formed a lasting impression on Charles. He went home and immediately began practicing microphone tricks with a broom attached to a string, imitating the Godfather's every move. With his newfound inspiration came an urgent desire to get off the streets and make something of himself.
Charles made his way out of Brooklyn via Job Corps, a federal program for helping underprivileged families. His job placement took him to Bar Harbor, Maine where he learned to cook. While in Maine, he put together a band and began to pursue his passion for performing. He had his first taste of the stage when he was asked to perform for some female employees of Job Corps in Poland Springs. The ladies went wild and Charles knew that he was destined to be an entertainer. Unfortunately, his fate was put on hold when his band mates were drafted in the Vietnam War, and he was forced to find work as a chef in Wassaic, New York at a hospital for the mentally ill.
After nine years cooking for 3500 people a day, being harassed by local police officers, and having no musical outlet, Charles decided to leave Wassaic and head west in search of a dream. He had saved up enough money to buy a new Ford but soon realized that he couldn't keep up with the payments; he promptly returned it to a dealer and began hitchhiking. He caught rides all the way from New York to California and up through Canada. He persevered through the dangers of the road (including one driver who confided in him that he had just killed his wife and children) and eventually landed in Alaska where he once again found work as a chef. Though the job paid well, he was not well liked by his fellow chefs, and soon made his way back to California via airplane.
Charles spent over 20 years in California, making his living as a chef, all the while playing music on the side. He had no regular band, but he played pick-up gigs when they came along and sat in on recording sessions to feed his musical cravings. Things seemed to be looking up for Charles, but just as he was about to put a down payment on his first house, he was laid-off from his job of 17 years. Being fired forced him to re-evaluate his life out west. Ultimately, he decided to come home to Bushwick, Brooklyn to be with his family again. Charles took every penny he had saved, loaded up a truck with the musical equipment he collected over the years, and drove back to New York. At this point, he was fed up with the tribulations of being a chef and took up work as a handyman to allow himself the flexibility to pursue his musical career.
Charles finally found an audience when he began making appearances in local Brooklyn clubs performing his James Brown routines under the alter ego "Black Velvet." At 51, he was finally making a life for himself back home. His musical career was moving forward, but he was to be tested once again.
Charles awoke in his mother's house one morning to the sounds of police sirens. He was devastated to find that his brother had been shot and killed. Life did not seem worth living anymore.
Charles was down and out when Gabriel Roth of Daptone Records happened upon him performing his Black Velvet act at the Tarheel Lounge in Bedstuy. Roth recognized his raw talent and directly brought him into the Daptone "House of Soul" Studios for a session with the Sugarman 3. "Take It As It Comes" was Charles' first single on Daptone and it proved him as a worthy vocalist. Roth eventually brought Charles out to Staten Island to see Dirt Rifle and the Bullets, a young funk band playing James Brown and Meters influenced songs. Thomas Brenneck, songwriter and guitarist for the Bullets, hit it off with Charles and they began working together. They released two singles on Daptone under the name "Charles Bradley and the Bullets," but the Bullets soon dismantled in order to form the afrobeat influenced Budos Band.
However, Brenneck knew that Charles had something more to give and after moving to Bushwick himself, he and Charles reunited. In time, they became close friends and Charles confided his life story in Brenneck. The young producer was moved when he heard Charles tell the painful story of his brother's death. Brenneck said, "Charles, we gotta put that story to music." Brenneck had put together a small bedroom studio and was working on instrumentals with a new group soon to be named Menahan Street Band. His new sound was the perfect compliment for the heartfelt and troubled lyrics that sprang from Charles' story. Brenneck had just launched Dunham Records, a division of Daptone, and would release Charles' "The World (Is Going Up In Flames)" and "Heartaches and Pain" as it's second single. A departure from his Black Velvet act, the songs showed a new side of Charles as a compelling artist in his own right and proved to be a great success. Many late night writing and recording sessions later, he and Brenneck completed their first full-length record, No Time For Dreaming. Charles always knew he was born to entertain, but in the making of this record he discovered a proclivity for songwriting as well.
The record was a labor of love for both Charles and Brenneck. After years of working together, No Time for Dreaming is due for international release on Dunham Records. In the meantime, Charles has been touring with The Menahan Street Band and honing his passion as a singer and an entertainer. If you know Charles today, then you know one of the most loving, humble, honest and genuine human beings you will ever know. Charles Bradley spent most of his life dreaming for a better one, and now there is no more time for dreaming, just time for singing, dancing and loving.
It's been a long wait, but it's about to feel very worthwhile. Little Barrie are back, and they've brought the much-missed spirit of real rock 'n' roll with them.
Nearly five years on, the English trio are totally match-fit and ready to return with a new drummer and a strikingly unusual record deal but the same unshakeable passion for music that got them noticed in the first place. 'King Of The Waves,' Little Barrie's first album for four years, is co-produced by the group with their friend, supporter and longtime collaborator, the mighty Edwyn Collins.
Since we last heard them, they've also honed their reputations among the most in-demand musicians in the business, playing live with Primal Scream, on Paul Weller's '22 Dreams' album and with French Polynesian actress-singer Mareva Galanter. Barrie Cadogan has long been the guitarist to call, and not many have had that request from both Morrissey and Johnny Marr and, recently, from Mark Ronson.
Very appropriately for a band of such renown as a live act, 'King Of The Waves' will be released in the UK on Bumpman, the indie label founded by Alan Day, co-owner of the Hawley Arms, the famous venue in Camden, north London.
'King Of The Waves' Is already riding its own wave of massive success in Japan. It raced to #1 in iTunes' alternative album chart and Amazon's rock album chart there, and #2 in Amazon's main album chart. Recent gigs by the trio in Japan have seen such an uprising of Little Barriemania that they've had to block out entire floors of hotel rooms to keep their obsessive fans at bay.
The band have been sponsored and photographed in Japan by menswear icon Paul Smith, in whose clothes Little Barrie were recently the subject of a prestigious eight-page spread in Japanese Rolling Stone.
If the eternal quest for any band is to generate the electricity of their live performances in the studio, then Little Barrie have caught lightning in a bottle. 'King of the Waves' is an album that fans of undiluted rocking soul will be ravenous for. It sounds like Link Wray meeting The Creation in Detroit with the MC5 and Motown both in residence, but with an uninhibited explosive fieriness that's completely Little Barrie's own.
The album also sees them renewing their working relationship with Collins, who co-produced all but two tracks with the band, just as he did their first, 2005's 'We Are Little Barrie,' again with engineer Sebastian Lewsley, at Edwyn's West Heath Studios in north London. Collins also sings backing vocals on 'Money In Paper.'
'Waves' is the much-anticipated evidence of the brilliant new combination the band have been working up, both in the studio and on stage, since guitarist and frontman Cadogan and bassist/vocalist Lewis Wharton were joined on drums and vocals by Virgil Howe in 2008.
The son of Yes guitar giant Steve Howe, Virgil's distinguished and varied background includes live and studio dates for Amorphous Androgynous and Bryan Ferry, and plenty of dance-friendly work including an underground club identity as Sparo. He also contributes organ, synth, Minimoog and Mellotron to the new album, and Barrie can even be heard at the Wurlitzer.
While other complete careers have risen, fallen and faded away in the time since we last heard Little Barrie, the band have kept their counsel, stayed true to themselves, dodged the meddlesome hands of corporate intervention and reminded everyone that good things don't come quickly.
"We've basically just been doing different things," says Barrie modestly. "A bit of it's been about a matter of personal survival, and also getting to the stage of finding somewhere we could work." Happily, that led them all back to Edwyn's.
"When we did the first album, working at Edwyn's was such an amazing experience," Barrie continues. "Our first time doing an album, and to go to one of the best studios in Britain. Doing anything after that, it makes you realise how lucky you were. We wouldn't have got this far if it wasn't for Edwyn Collins. He's almost like a patron of music."
Even by then, Little Barrie's name had been on many a tastemaker's lips for years. Formed in Nottingham, they released their first single 'Shrug Off Love' for a small local indie in 1999, "they" at the time being Barrie and original drummer Wayne Fullwood. Down in Portsmouth, Lewis Wharton was listening, so intently and enthusiastically that he talked his way into the band.
'We Are Little Barrie', which produced the chart single 'Free Salute', received rave reviews for its passionate mixture of rock and old-school rhythm and blues elements. By early 2007, it had led to 'Stand Your Ground', a second album which the band now see as an important stepping stone, but not entirely in the right direction. All the same, 'Stand Your Ground' proved to be an appropriate title.
"Some of the second album was good, but in hindsight we probably would have found a different way of doing it," says Barrie. "But hindsight's a wonderful thing. You can't have any regrets. I just think we like the idea of constantly doing different things."
So, it turns out, a band that's in it for the long haul and the right reasons wins the race against the 15-minute fashionistas. "We probably thought we were paddling upstream, with all the hype for other bands," says Lewis. "We didn't know it at the time, but it's worked in our favour."
Now, they're completely in control of their own destiny, and not about to let anyone impose a sound or stick a label on them. "The only effect any of our experiences has had on us," Barrie goes on, "is knowing not to do what people tell you, you should do, and do what you want to do."
That's why 'King Of The Waves' has such a natural swagger about it. "Feeling the red light fever is what makes your recordings sound different to your live performance," says Virgil. "So the more relaxed you are, the more like your live performance it's going to be."
That's the beauty of this album: that far from hibernating, the band have been road-testing its songs constantly. "We've been playing quite a few of the new songs live anyway," Barrie explains. "We didn't want to tour too much without the album being out, but we kept a semi-residency going at the Blues Kitchen in Camden. Things like that have kept our hand in, and we've had the odd gig abroad, one in Switzerland, one in Paris and a few other things just to keep things ticking over."
In May 2010, they supported Paul Weller at his Royal Albert Hall show. More recently, Barrie's been on the road as lead guitarist in Primal Scream's live band, and was recently invited by Mark Ronson to play on the soundtrack of the upcoming remake of 'Arthur' starring Russell Brand. Lewis keeps his hand in as a DJ, and if you get into a conversation about old vinyl with them, be sure to have plenty of time, as they rave about everyone from the Shadows via the Stooges to the Cramps, from Tony Joe White via Ennio Morricone to Funkadelic.
"I feel like we've got nothing to prove, that it's all done from music we want to make," says Virgil. "We've just made an album we really like"!
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