MUSIC BOX: Soul and country coming to the Hole

By on May 27, 2015
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Charles Bradley speaks candidly about his band, His Extraordinaires, and the business of music. PHOTO: ELIZABETH WEINBERG

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – “I’ve tried so hard to make it in America. Why is it so hard to make it in America? A land of milk and honey, a land supposed to be built with love. It takes love and understanding to live and let live.” ~Charles Bradley lyrics from his 2011 debut album, No Time For Dreaming.

Charles Bradley’s story is one for the ages. A late bloomer at age 66, Bradley’s life awakening came just a handful of years ago after a lifetime of struggle from being a homeless runaway teenager, managing poverty and extreme illness, spending decades hitchhiking around the country working odd jobs, enduring the murder of his brother, and being a James Brown impersonator to pay the bills. That was, until his talent was recognized by Daptone Records founder Gabriel Roth, who also happened to produce Amy Winehouse’s eponymous release, Back In Black.

Bradley started his career with the well-received retro-soul release, No Time for Dreaming [2011], followed by Victim of Love [2013], all the while playing prominent festivals across the country and Europe. Daptone’s deliberate and optimistic forge into propelling aging soul darlings like Bradley and labelmate Sharon Jones has been a successful one. The Brooklyn label bridges the narrow gap of Motown-era soul-pop to ‘70s R&B, and a psychedelic Curtis Mayfield-esque vibe. To Bradley, though, it’s all about experiencing life to the fullest, and the new balancing act that comes with success in the music business.

“I look at this world as my home, and everywhere I go I try to give everyone the best of my soul like it’s my last show,” Bradley said. “When I see that people enjoy it, I just want to get nastier with it. That’s why, when I get off stage, I can tell that my spirit needs rest. I’ve actually lived and experienced most all of these songs, like ‘The World (Is Going Up In Flames).’ People are just people wherever you go and I want to sing to souls, feel what they feel in their heart.”

Bradley’s (and Daptone’s) producer and co-songwriter, Thomas Brenneck, has constructed some utterly vintage imitation tones to wrap around the impassioned, raw voice of the “screaming eagle of soul.” With any fast-tracked success story lingers the questions of creative control, adjusting to life on the road, and in Bradley’s case, being paired with a band of 20-something’s while also trying to manage career stress and keep everyone happy moving forward.

“Those guys [His Extraordinaires]  are like my sons,” Bradley said, after asking me if I wanted “the truth” about the age disparity. “They are sweet guys and do anything for me. They can’t capture my soul and they’re excited to capture my soul through the music while growing into young men. I see what comes with time — with a fine wine or a Scotch, it has to age before it tastes good. When I want to get nasty, I have to be careful what I’m doing because they’re not there yet, but they’re growing and beautiful.”

“I’m working on album three and everybody wants a piece of me right now so I’m doing some songs that other people have written for me,” Bradley said. “Album four will be all of my songs, done my way, from my inner spirit. I don’t want to hurt nobody, I just want to just keep the music in the street going. It’s the bitter with the sweet. I feel a lot of things I don’t agree with, but I take the pain to keep everybody happy.”

Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires will perform Sunday, June 14 at Contour Music Festival (June 11-14), outside on the main stage at Snow King Ball Field. For tickets and the full lineup, visit ContourMusicFestival.com.

A chat with James McMurtry

By Aaron Davis

No stranger to the valley, James McMurtry returns Saturday to play the Knotty Pine.

PJH: I read a quote of yours recently that somewhat surprised me.

“Back before Napster and Spotify, we toured to promote record sales, now we make records to promote tour dates.” You strike me as a songwriter with a desire to record and plenty of material to do so. Is promoting tour dates really why you make records?

James McMurtry: Pretty much. Writing and recording can both be quite tedious, though recently I’ve been enjoying writing more than I did in the past. Live shows are the fun part.

PJH: Why the seven-year break between albums?

McMurtry: Our club draw held up pretty well during those years and the money comes from clubs. With CD sales so low and download royalties so low, we don’t see a lot of mailbox money anymore. When the clubs quit filling up, we need something for you guys to write about so people will know we’re coming to town. That’s when we have to make a record.

PJH: Do you have a lot of songs sitting around that have never been recorded?

McMurtry: I’ve left very few complete songs unrecorded. Several recorded songs ended up scrapped. I do have acres of song fragments yet to be assembled into songs.

PJH:  Teton County is an obvious staple in your tour schedule every year. To some degree, do you dictate your tour routes? What’s the ideal atmosphere or type of audience to perform for?

McMurtry: I can only dictate my routing in a vague sense. I’ll tell my agent to book a West Coast run in the fall, then he scouts avails and offers. We started playing The Mangy Moose sometime in the mid-nineties. It was always a fun gig. At some point we played the bar at Targhee. A couple of years later we had a day off that we couldn’t really afford. This was before “We Can’t Make it Here” when we really weren’t drawing well and we needed gas money. We called some friends in Driggs to see if there was anyplace we could play for the door and they hooked us up with The Knotty Pine in Victor. I don’t think there had ever been a show there before. There was no stage then. Somehow they packed the place out on three days notice and it’s been a regular stop for us ever since. The best audience is multi-age, and a mix of those who listen and those who dance.

James McMurtry, 9 p.m. Saturday at the Knotty Pine in Victor, Idaho. $20. 208-787-2866.


About Aaron Davis

Aaron Davis is a decade-long writer of Music Box, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.

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