"They just come and get me, and tell me where I'm at," Bradley says a couple of hours before a recent appearance at a club called the Jewish Mother in Virginia Beach, Va. "They say, 'Charles, it's all yours. Go rock the show.' "
Bradley says he has approached his performances this way from the minute he first set foot on a stage, at 16 years old, to cover songs by his idol,
Bradley, born in 1948 in
The fact that Bradley owns a passport at all can be considered a triumph for a man whose life has been plagued by abject poverty, homelessness, emotional neglect and an alarming lack of respect for his outsize talent. Until he was discovered several years ago by a co-founder of Daptone Records, the
The long, troubled path that led Bradley to recording the breakthrough "No Time for Dreaming," released by Daptone in January 2011, is recounted in the new
"I'm still shocked about the things I saw on the documentary," he says, his voice breaking. "All I could do was get up and walk away, go in the bedroom, and close my door and just let it out. I'm seeing the truth unfold right in front of my eyes and I'm saying, 'My God, my God.' By seeing the things that I've been through in my life, and watching my face staring right at me, I don't know how I got through it. I don't know how in the hell I got through it."
Bradley, who shares songwriting credit on much of "No Time for Dreaming," and whose music recalls the work of the late '60s singer O.V. Wright ("You're Gonna Make Me Cry," "Born All Over") as much as it does the Godfather of Soul's, has little to offer anyone expecting to find a man bitter about his past or cynical about his present. He's waited too long, and fought too hard, to find a measure of joy to counterbalance his pain, and he's taking none of it for granted. This isn't to say that Bradley can no longer be taken by surprise, as he was during a concert this past February in Chicago, at a venue whose name he can't remember – it was the Metro – in front of an audience he'll never forget.
"When I was in Chicago, they really made me break down, in a loving way," he says. "I just couldn't believe what my eyes were seeing, the love that was projected toward me, and the love they gave me, it was an experience. I don't know how to express it. Everybody, they just wanted to touch me. They just wanted to feel me, just wanted to hug me. Some of the people were out there crying. I said, 'Man, I can't take it,' and I jumped into the audience. I saw God walking through that crowd with me. He said, 'Charles Bradley, don't you stop, you better keep going. We love you so much.' "
Charles Bradley with the Budos Band
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Revolution Live, 100 S.W. Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale