'I been through it all," Charles Bradley says in the rugged, scarred voice that comes so forcefully to life on Victim of Love, his second album on the Daptone label.
The raspy-as-he-wants-to-be 66-year-old soul man was just waking up Wednesday in his one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. He had a brief break in a tour that is scheduled to find him headlining the Apollo Theater in Harlem before coming to Philadelphia on Friday night to play at Union Transfer with his band, the Extraordinaires.
"This album really is my life story," Bradley says. "It really is me. I look at my life story, and I didn't go crazy, I didn't become a corrupted person. I kept my love strong. I had something to believe in spiritually that kept me going. If I hadn't, I would have been in some crazy house by now. I been through it all."
The hardships of which the Gainesville, Fla., native speaks are numerous. They include years of homelessness after being abandoned by his mother and father (he has since reunited with his mother) and the painful memory of the shooting death of his brother Joe in Brooklyn, in 2000. "Sometimes I wished I wasn't on this planet," Bradley says.
His debut album, No Time For Dreaming, wasn't released until he was 64, after Daptone head Gabriel Roth saw him singing James Brown covers under his (then) nom de funk, Black Velvet.
Bradley spent years moving around the country supporting himself by working as a cook ("Everybody loves my lasagna, and my chicken and turkey a la king"). After all those years of being kept away from his true calling, Bradley is that much more appreciative of finally getting to sing for his supper.
So much so, in fact, that if you're near the stage Friday night, you just might wind up getting a bear hug of thanks from the sweaty "Screaming Eagle of Soul."
"I've been asking all my life for this moment," says the singer, whose favorite vocalists, besides James Brown, include Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Barbra Streisand, and Janet Jackson. "People spend their hard-earned money to see me. When I go on stage, I want people to focus on me, on the love and compassion that I want to give to the world. All I'm asking is for the world to believe in me. To please let me be free. When the music is right and it hits my soul, I don't know what I'm going to do. The spirit will take charge."