Charles Bradley recently had to cancel a number of Canadian concerts due to illness, but by all accounts, he now feels good. Feeling good was essential to the gig when Bradley began his career as a James Brown imitator, but the 67-year-old soul singer now has an identity of his own and a thriving career. In advance of Bradley's concert on Thursday at the Danforth Music Hall, The Globe and Mail spoke with the Brooklyn-based performer this month in the lobby bar of a downtown Toronto hotel.
I just saw you sign an autograph for a young fan. Can you talk about going from being a James Brown imitator – a novelty act, really – to doing your own thing and having young audiences respond?
A young couple I know just had a baby. They named him Charles Bradley. I think young people are responding to my lyrics and the love that I choose. Instead of using profanity, I try to give positive strength. We all can be entertainers, but you can choose how you want to project yourself to the world. We got a lot of insanity out there. A lot of us need encouragement and good faith.
People are responding to your cover of the Black Sabbath ballad Changes, which is the title song to your latest album. It was written as a breakup song, but you sing as a remembrance to your mother, is that right?
I was by her side when she took her last breath. I didn't know the song. My bandleader, Thomas Brenneck, brought it to me and asked me to do it. I didn't know the entertainer Ozzy Osbourne, but he wrote me a very strong letter, thanking me for what I did with the song, which is to make it my own. I'm looking forward to meeting him face to face one day.
The song is about going back, wishing you could change a part of your past. What are we talking about, in your case, with your mother?
I wish I could go back. It's an experience with my mother that we went through. The heartache, the pain. I left home at age 14. My mother did things I didn't understand at the time. She would ration food, and I was hungry. I was in the basement with a dirt floor and a 15-watt bulb. I was angry. But my mother didn't have any money. She did what she needed to do. I didn't see all that, then.
Beyond that theme, the album begins with God Bless America and Good to be Back Home. Is it though, good to be back home? You just mentioned the insanity. And when you look at Trump and his supporters, there's a lot of hate out there.
I've never seen anything like this presidential campaign. It hurts me very deeply. America is supposed be a good example of justice for all. We're supposed to be a good example to the world. But the way it's going today, my God. I'm afraid to walk the streets. I'm afraid the police are going to arrest me. I'm in my home, and I don't want to come out.
But you must come out. You are the Screaming Eagle of Soul, yes?
I do come out. And my cup is running over. I'm meeting people. I'm feeling the love, and that helps release some of the things that are going on in my head. I'm getting encouragement from the fans. I get stronger. My pastor tells me to keep going forward. That when you stop, the demons will catch you. So I keep on pressing on.
Charles Bradley plays the Danforth Music Hall, Sept. 29, 7 p.m. $29.50 to $49.50. 147 Danforth Ave., 855-985-5000 or ticketmaster.ca.