Charlie Wilson of The Gap Band
On evolving R&B and nephew Snoop Dogg, and his show October 29 at the Macon Centreplex
When you start listing the greatest R&B and Funk lead singers of all time, It doesn’t take long before the name Charlie Wilson appears. From his incredible work performing with his brothers in The Gap Band to his rebirth in the Hip Hop era collaborating with the likes of Pharrell and Snoop Dogg, Charlie Wilson’s incredible career has spanned four decades and has inspired some of the biggest musicians in the world today . He took some time to talk to us ahead of his concert in Macon on October 29th at the Macon Centreplex. We discussed his musical influences, his latest album In It To Win It, and his relationship with a certain gangster rap icon.
First off, thank you so much for taking some time with us today. With your 10 #1 singles and 12 Grammy nominations, your music has been the soundtrack to the lives of millions of people for decades. What I would like to know is who were you listening to when you first fell in love with music?
Let’s see. I love Sam Cooke and I loved James Brown. Everybody loved James Brown and as I got a little older it was Sly Stone. Of course Little Stevie Wonder, when he was Little Stevie, he was incredible. But when I saw Sly and The Family Stone, that changed the game for me. I was like “Ok he’s got a band and he dressed crazy” that was great for me and this is what I want to do.
I can definitely hear that influence. Your initial introduction to the world musically was through The Gap Band, a band and a sound that heavily influenced the hip hop genre. Do you think that was important in introducing your voice to a new generation of fans?
Well I wasn’t thinking about any of that. I didn’t know if anyone was listening really, I mean yea, we had our hit records, but I didn’t know people were listening to my voice like that. And then I started hearing inflections in people like Aaron Hall and Teddy Riley with Guy. Then it went from that to so many other singers and they said I was responsible for the way they sang. Some gospel lady told me, I’m not gonna say who it was, she said “Charlie, so many people pattern their voice after your voice”. I thought it was amazing. I didn’t believe it. A lot of people say a lot of things to me and I just never really believed it. I always thought people were just saying those things to pat me on the back at the time because I was standing there but I didn’t really believe I had that much influence on so many singers. When I heard Justin Timberlake say to me “We all steal from you all the time. A lot of pop singers steal from you. You’re not a pop singer but a lot of them get away with stealing your style of singing but they can go pop.”
Speaking about hip hop, your latest album In It To Win It has a lot of A-list hip hop artists including T.I., which has garnered you a 2017 Soul Train Award nomination, Wiz Khalifa, Robin Thicke and a lot more artists. Talk about the process of creating this album and the direction you were looking to take this project in.
Well I didn’t want to go too far from what I was doing but I wanted to raise the bar for myself and there were a lot of people that wanted to sing or get down with me on a record. So I said OK, I’m going to reach out to some of these people that say they want to do it. And every time I got ready to call, I got nervous about if they were going to call back. I don’t know what I was thinking or why I was thinking that. But within 24 hours, everybody was responding with “Yes I would love to” or “I busy right now but I want to do it, keep that spot open for me.” And I thought that was their way out of not doing it. But Pitbull was right there. His people were saying he was busy but what I think he was doing was studying the record. They would say he’s going to work on it tomorrow and then he sends the record 20 minutes later. I just think that people was just buy some time for him to work on the track. But in 24 hours, everyone responded and they were on it a couple of months later and it was done. It was a done deal. A lot of other people wanted to get on but I sent the records out during the holidays and some other artist whose names I won’t call. And I’m talking huge hip hop artists right now got back to me like “I’ve got something for you on that track” but we already had the names, they were already turned in for the album so we couldn’t oblige some of them. But I always wanting to sing with some of these people and wanted to sing or rap on my records but I didn’t want to turn this record into a collection of 12 features. I just really didn’t want to do that but it was almost that way. I just didn’t want every song to be a hip hop record. I was worried about my other fans but I have to continue to grow and inspire others in the younger generations as well. The younger fans are always saying “Uncle Charlie, when are you gonna make something for us?” I don’t want to go too young because my core fans would be like “What is he trying to do”. So I always tell my younger fans to come and listen to Uncle Charlie. Its for you too. I’m always going evolve.
That makes the most sense, Speaking of them calling you Uncle Charlie, if I’m not mistaken it was your “nephew” Snoop Dogg that gave you the moniker of Uncle Charlie and he is on the final track of the album called Gold Rush. Talk about how your relationship with him has grown over the years.
Man, nephew Snoop is one of the most incredible young men I have known my entire life. I remember when he was just Snoop Doggy Dogg. Being a gangster rapper has a lot that comes with it you know. The first time I met him I think I was one year clean and sober and from that moment on, I talked to him about life, talked to him about drugs and everything and the guy after a while started listening to me and we got closer and closer. So now we are just like family now. He always includes me in whatever he’s doing if I’m not busy and help him because whenever I call him he just comes through. He doesn’t ask any questions. You know family takes care of family. So we are really close. I’m probably the closest guy that knows his private life. Probably the only one that knows what goes on in his home. I’ve watched his kids grow up and all of that. So he just naturally started calling me Uncle so it fits.
And to get you out of here, you are performing in Macon on October 29th.
What should the fans expect from this show?
I’m going to give them everything that I have ever done that was a #1 record. I’m gonna try and give them all of the #1 Gap Band records and then I’m gonna give them all of the #1 Charlie Wilson records. I’m gonna put it in an uptempo fashion. We are about to party in there man and that’s real talk. I think it’s been 10 years since I’ve been to Macon. People have not seen this show. The kind of show that I put on.
I changed the game in the way R&B shows are done. So in 10 years, if you haven’t seen me, I’ve grown so much in stage performance and I spent a lot of money on the stage and lights and sounds so you have to come and check me out. Even the A++ pop stars are stealing from me so trust me when I tell you. And that’s ok. All I asked God to do was to allow me to inspire and to keep me around for a long time so he’s allowing that. So I have to honor my word because he’s definitely honored his word to me so I’m so honored to still be around and blessed so I’m going to give you the best show you have ever seen. So come and see Uncle Charlie.