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Charles Bradley Reveals The Song That Saved His Life
The job of a journalist is often times to describe an experience, to paint a picture of what it was like to be at an event. However, there are no words that can adequately describe what it is like to experience Charles Bradley, “The Screaming Eagle of Soul,” in concert. Powerful, moving, mesmerizing, and uplifting only begin to capture the spirit of this great soul man.
Talking to the man himself is no different. After his much-lauded Coachella performance, one that left thousands awe-stricken and cheering in the afternoon heat, Bradley was strolling around the press area of the festival, soft-spoken, humble and acting like holding a soul sermon in the middle of the desert is all in a day’s work.
A week later he performed the same feat at a sold-out show at the Roxy in Los Angeles, where he moved people to tears with his depth and conviction. There is beautiful symmetry between the couple crying at the Roxy and Bradley’s own life; it turns out Bradley understands those emotions well.
In this illuminating conversation, Bradley reveals the one song that brought out those strong emotions at a time when he needed it the most. Speaking to one of the greatest showmen in music today, we had to get his take on how to deliver a performance that will stand the test of time. Not surprisingly, Bradley’s trick is pushing yourself until you cannot go any further.
Is there someone who was an inspiration to you early on as a performer?
You know who that is, James Brown. I’m gonna tell you all the singers I really love. I love Bobby Womack, I love Cat Stevens, I love Dionne Warwick, these are all the people that I was raised knowing. I love the Eagles' “Take It To The Limit” — that song saved my life. That song got so much depth to it and it caught me when I was under stress. I was in a pizza restaurant one time back in the late ‘70s, I was going through some changes I couldn’t deal with and I was in the restaurant, someone came and put a quarter in the jukebox and played that song. And that song made me break down crying, I had to go walk out of the restaurant. It helped me with my life cause back in those days I was feeling very suicidal. Even today if I hear it I get very emotional.
Have you ever gotten to meet them and tell them that story?
I would love to meet them, but if I meet them and they sing that song to me I’ll just have to walk away, I can’t take the pain. There’s another song by Otis Redding, “This is My Lover’s Prayer.” I can’t listen to that too much. There are some songs that get so emotionally deep in my soul for the memories I was going through at that point and these are the people I listen to coming up in my life cause they sing meaningful feelings that you could just relate with your own life.
Because of how “Take It To The Limit” changed your life do you try to do the same for others when you perform?
I don’t feel I’ve given enough, and I’m still, today, looking for something deeper. And that’s the meaning of being a real entertainer; you don’t feel that you’ve given enough even though the crowd is so into it. I’m still looking for something deeper. If I can feel it deeper let’s get deeper. And sometimes I just say, “It’s not enough.” One time I did a show, I did two sets, and the crowd was so crazy. I finished the show and they asked me to come out and do an encore. I did one encore and I was drained. I went, “I can’t go no further.” I had no more energy, I went backstage and I sat down and the crowd would not let me stay down there. I said, “I can’t go back, I want to go, I’m not kidding, I’m drained.” And they took a bucket of water, a bucket of ice water, poured it on me, and when he poured it on me, I went, “Ah, let’s go.” The crowd was going crazy and when I walked on stage it was like a memory you will never forget. I was crying, they were crying and it was an awesome show. I won’t forget those moments.
Are there ever moments where you come close to achieving that depth live and you surprise yourself?
Sometimes my spirit opened up to another way and I don’t know where I’m at. I’m hearing some of the lyrics come out of me and sometimes I’m sitting back looking at myself going, “Wow, where did that come from?” You can’t say it in words, but spiritually you’re singing a song and you’re thinking, “God, this is beautiful,” because I do believe we have a lot of things in our memories and our brains, but when you get past your memory to your spirit there’s a lot of knowledge and wisdom you never know you have in your spirit. I planned to sing the song, “Lovin’ You, Baby.” I’m singing that song, then I got the feeling, I asked the band to break it down and now I’m getting really deep into it and I hear new verse coming out of me in “Lovin’ You, Baby.” I say, “Charles, did I say that?”
What were some of the times you knew that spirit was there musically?
I was thinking of ways to get out of the physical body, I didn’t want to take the pain no more. And I just thought, “I can’t deal with it no more.” But then all of a sudden somebody walks in and put their quarter in the jukebox and all those lyrics were talking right to me. That’s why I know, beyond humanity, there’s a spirit out there. I do believe there’s a high force out there.