Blues star Buddy Guy left Louisiana for Chicago as a young man. He worked in music for decades without acclaim, but ultimately won four Grammy awards and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Charles Bradley, the 64-year-old Brooklyn-based soul singer who released his second album, Victim of Love, this month, understands what Guy means when the singer-guitarist says he values his belated success far more than those who are recognized early in life.
“My success, as I’m seeing it grow, I cherish it,” Bradley said from Brooklyn, N.Y. “I know how long it took me to get it.”
Bradley performed for years as a James Brown impersonator, earning $60 a night. He met Gabriel Roth, a principal of Brooklyn soul music label, Daptone Records, not as a singer but as a handyman.
“Gabe asked me to do some work for him,” Bradley recalled. “And I was in his studio. I said, ‘Wow.’ So I was trying to find a way to get in with Gabe so he could give me an opportunity.”
Roth and Daptone, the label behind Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings and the Budos Band, happened to be looking for another soulful singer. Roth told Bradley that he wanted to record him, but the singer didn’t believe he’d follow through.
“I’ve been told that so many times, so I just said, ‘OK, cool, cool,’ ” Bradley recalled.
Years passed but Bradley eventually teamed up with Thomas Brenneck, a member of Daptone act the Menahan Street Band.
“Tom said I want to record you,” Bradley said. “Everything started happening after that.”
Brenneck became Bradley’s producer, bandleader and co-writer. But performing songs about his own hard-luck, even tragic life was at first overwhelming for the singer. During a trip to Europe following the release his first album, No Time For Dreaming, Bradley nearly gave up.
“Everything that we had done at that time, it was all raw things that happened in my life,” he recalled. “And it was hard to sing it. I said, ‘I can’t do this. I want to go back home.’”
But Bradley found his audience’s enthusiasm fortifying.
“I saw the people screaming their lungs out,” he remembered. “I said, ‘My God.’ So I stayed there on stage for a few minutes looking at the people. And then Tom started playing the music. And when I opened my mouth, the people went completely crazy. I said, ‘Wow. I gotta do this song.’ And I’m glad I didn’t turn back.”
Bradley now has an extensive list of prestigious engagements to his credit, including the Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits and Newport Folk festivals.
In Austin and Chicago, Bradley said, “those people make you feel like you wanna jump out of your shell and just throw it all at them. They make you really want to get out of your bag and don’t hold nothing back.”
Bradley is making his New Orleans debut at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival Saturday, April 27.
“Oh, I’m looking forward to that,” he said. “I heard so much about that crawfish and gumbalaya, jambalaya? I’m gonna come down there with open arms because I’ve been waiting. I want to see that.”