Song of the Day: Charles Bradley (1948-2017) “Changes”
Charles Bradley took on Black Sabbath’s “Changes” (from 1972’s Vol. 4 album) with a wonderfully soulful reading that stormed the independent soul scene when it first appeared on a Record Store Day single in 2013. In 2016, it became the title track and emotional cornerstone of Bradley’s third album, Changes. The deeply-felt emotional range of Bradley’s raw soul vocals are the clear centerpiece throughout the album, with straightforward production by the experienced Thomas Brenneck and backing by the Menahan Street Band (with the Budos Band on two tracks).
Charles Bradley was born in Florida in 1948 and raised in Brooklyn. A transformational moment for Bradley came in 1962 when he witnessed a performance by James Brown at the Apollo. The young Bradley emulated Brown’s signature stage moves at home, dreaming of stardom during a challenging, impoverished childhood. Throughout adulthood Bradley performed his James Brown-inspired act with various bands whenever and wherever he could in locales as varied as Maine, Alaska, and California. But it wasn’t until decades later back in Brooklyn that Bradley made his dreams of soul stardom come true.
Performing consistently in Brooklyn clubs like Black Velvet attracted a loyal following and eventually the attention of retro-soul powerhouse Daptone Records founder Gabriel Roth. Roth brought Bradley into the studio to record with then-guitarist and songwriter Thomas Brenneck (as Charles Bradley & the Bullets). Bradley and Brenneck formed a lasting partnership that produced a deeply-felt and personal body of work that encompassed three full-length albums (2011’s No Time For Dreaming, 2013’s Victim of Love and 2016’s Changes) and numerous singles for Daptone subsidiary Dunham Records. A relentless touring schedule and overwhelmingly positive word-of-mouth and press about Bradley’s magnetic stage presence and raw, genuinely emotional vocal performances elevated his profile to that of leading light in the retro-soul scene. Moving beyond mere reconstruction of the sound of mid-60s soul records on such venerated labels as Stax and Hi, Bradley and Brenneck (along with official backing band the Menahan Street Band) made nuanced, emotional soul music with modern touches and arrangements.
A man who’s sound and feeling was forged in a lifetime of hard-earned experience, Bradley lost a battle with stomach cancer earlier this week. He was 68 years old.