Charles Bradley: ‘He made it look easy because he was a natural’

The James Brown tribute act became one of the great classic soul voices. As Daptone release his posthumous album, Ozzy Osbourne, Margo Price and more remember his talent

Charles Bradley’s blooming as a soul singer wasn’t a dream come true, reckons Tommy Brenneck, because Bradley was never in a position to dare to have a dream to hold on to. “His life was full of tribulations that dudes like you and I would never be able to relate to, just from being a poor, uneducated, black man in America,” says Brenneck, the songwriter, producer and guitarist who was at Bradley’s side as he transformed from a Brooklyn handyman to one of the great latter-day testifiers of the classic soul sound.

Bradley had been abandoned by his mother as an infant – he never knew his father – and taken up by her again at eight before he ran away at 14, when he was arrested and sent to a juvenile detention centre. There he learned to cook, for hundreds of people at a time; later he got a similar job at a mental institution in upstate New York. “He cooked for 20 years before hitchhiking across the country to pursue whatever dream he had,” says Brenneck.

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