The rags-to-riches story is one that’s often told in music’s history books, but Charles Bradley’s tale is especially potent. Born in Florida, Bradley grew up in Brooklyn in the early ’60s. As a teenager, he had a rough life–he ran away from home and lived on the streets for two years–but it was during this time that Bradley first came into contact with the music of James Brown. Soon, Bradley took up singing himself, performing with a band until its members were drafted into the Vietnam War. He spent the next few decades working as a chef in restaurants across the country and singing for small audiences wherever he could.
In the ’90s, Bradley worked as a James Brown impersonator called “Black Velvet” back in Brooklyn, but his life nearly spiraled out of control. While in the hospital with a dangerous fever, he was given penicillin despite being allergic. His brother Joe helped nurse him back to health, but after Bradley’s release, he woke one morning to find that Joe had been murdered down the street. The singer finally caught a break when Daptone Records co-founder Gabriel Roth happened upon one of the singer’s Black Velvet gigs. Eventually, Bradley found his own voice and worked with Daptone for ten years on his debut album. Released to critical acclaim in 2011, No Time For Dreaming put the self-styled “Screaming Eagle of Soul” on the map, and a documentary on Bradley’s extraordinary life appeared at the film portion of South By Southwest last year.
Bradley is all set to capitalize on his hard-earned fame with another album of throwback soul and R&B. On April 2, he’ll release Victim of Love, a record that finds the singer looking forward rather than back. He’s preoccupied with love in its many guises–on “Strictly Reserved For You,” Bradley takes his girl out of the city and hits the road in search of romance. For this Valentine’s Day, Bradley’s heart is filled with love–for his lost brother, his music, and his new life.