BY JEFF ELBEL | FOR THE SUN-TIMES
Local concertgoers have a healthy appetite for authentic soul music. Fortunately, Charles Bradley knows how to feed a crowd. During previous work as a chef, Bradley served a state hospital in New York. “Job Corps taught me how to cook in big quantities,” he says. “I used to do home-style cooking for 3,500 people.”
With days in the institutional kitchen behind him, Bradley now feeds his faithful throng a steady diet of rhythm and blues as “The Screaming Eagle of Soul.” “I’m going to give you my heart, and give you my best,” he says. “That’s my way of letting God step in to show His face. When I feel the crowd is into the spirit, I want to feed ‘em.”
Bradley’s shows are a locomotive affair, with plenty of dancing in the room. The most stunning moves are almost always on stage. At 66, Bradley still punctuates his soulful shout with kicks, spins and scissor splits. In short order, any crowd rests in the palm of his hand. Then, Bradley knows he can speak his heartfelt message of love and unity to receptive ears.
“I express to my brothers and sisters the way I see life,” says Bradley. “I hope they can look into their own spirits, and find something in their lives that is good. I’m not putting hate or corruption into the world. I try to let people know that we’ve all got love in us, and we’ve all got animosity. Which one will we choose?”
Bradley’s stage presence evolved as a James Brown tribute act called Black Velvet. In addition, he was raised on artists including Diana Ross, Otis Redding, Neil Young, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke and Nat King Cole. “When they sang, they put meaningful feeling into it,” says Bradley. “Bobby Womack did a song called ‘I’m Through Trying to Prove My Love to You.’ That still gives me goose bumps. I want to do that again in my own way.”
Although Bradley has released singles through Daptone Records since 2002, his debut album “No Time for Dreaming” arrived in 2011 and ignited his intense late-in-life career. “Victim of Love” followed in 2013. A third record is underway. The intimate music has connected to its audience in deeply personal ways.
Bradley describes an expectant mother and husband who visited him backstage. “She said, you know where the baby came from? It was ‘Lovin’ You, Baby.’ I said, ‘Oh my God. Can I bless your baby?’ I put my hands on her tummy and got on my knees. I said, ‘God, make this baby a leader to help make this world a better place.’”
“People have told me, ‘your music has changed my life,’” says Bradley. “Black, white, green or blue, that lets me know I’m doing something good.”
* Charles Bradley, July 23, 6 p.m., Old Town School of Folk Music (Blue Jean Gala with Randy Newman), 4544 N. Lincoln.; $500; oldtownschool.org. July 23, 9 p.m., Subterranean, 2011 W. North; $23.50-$40 (ages 21+over); subt.net. July 25, 8:30 p.m., Wicker Park Fest, North & Milwaukee; $5 donation (all ages); wickerparkbucktown.com/fest.
SPOTIFY playlist: http://bit.ly/CBspot
Jeff Elbel is a local free-lance writer.