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On Charles Bradley: Sweaty Hugs And Screams 'From The Center Of The Earth'

Charles Bradley performs during FYF Fest 2016 in Los Angeles. The soul singer's posthumous album, <em>Black Velvet,</em> is out now.
Frazer Harrison
Getty Images
Charles Bradley performs during FYF Fest 2016 in Los Angeles. The soul singer's posthumous album, Black Velvet, is out now.

Charles Bradley was a late bloomer. After years of working odd jobs and performing as a James Brown impersonator, in 2011, at the age of 62, Bradley released his debut album, No Time for Dreaming. The album was a triumph for the soul singer who had endured a lifetime of hardship. From then on, Bradley toured and recorded relentlessly, earning the nickname "Screaming Eagle of Soul." But in the fall of 2016 Bradley was diagnosed with stomach cancer, which caused him to cancel tour dates as the power in his voice began to waver. Bradley died in September 2017 at the age of 68.

Tom Brenneck, Bradley's guitar player, co-writer, producer and bandleader, was always by Bradley's side throughout the singer's career. After Bradley died, Brenneck began to go through old tape reels to pull together Black Velvet, one final album of rare and unreleased Bradley plus one instrumental that he never got the chance to sing on.

Brenneck says some of these old songs on the album, like "Can't Fight The Feeling," resurfaced memories of the years he spent with Bradley.

"It was with profound sadness to be having to work on this record and look for these songs. The whole thing was just like ... I was gutted at the time," Brenneck says. "So, when I found that song you know it did lift my spirits to be like, 'Wow, there's a couple of long-lost Charles songs and I get to share with the world.' "

Brenneck says it took years to shake the James Brown persona that Bradley found so much comfort in, but once he did, it was as though Brenneck met a brand-new man. "The midtempo and the moodiness of that music allowed Charles to put himself in it," he says. "And the first time he did 'The World (Is Going Up In Flames)' — that was Charles, man. That did not sound like James Brown. It didn't sound like anything else before it."

Charles Bradley (left) and Tom Brenneck (right).
/ Courtesy of Tom Brenneck
Courtesy of Tom Brenneck
Charles Bradley (left) and Tom Brenneck (right).

Brenneck admits that he had to stop the tapes numerous times throughout the course of putting Black Velvet together because he got emotional over missing his friend. Brenneck still hears the pain in Bradley's voice.

"When lyrics wouldn't do it for Charles, he would scream," he says. "On the last song on the record, 'Victim of Love,' there is a scream that sounds like it comes from the center of the earth."

According to Brenneck, there won't be another record of unreleased Bradley music after Black Velvet, but he hopes listeners feel the love Bradley spread through these songs. "If he could physically do it, he would have gave everybody a sweaty, sweaty hug."

Black Velvet is available now.

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