Gap Band’s Charlie Wilson keeps a positive outlook

Published on March 29th, 2021

By Jim Dail

Charlie Wilson does not hesitate to talk about his life story that has featured hits with The Gap Band and as a solo artist, Grammy nominations, and lifetime achievement awards. His story also contains such tragedies as surviving prostate cancer, cocaine and alcohol addiction and being homeless in Hollywood for a couple of years.

“I’ve overcome a lot,” said the singer who will perform Thursday, February 11, at San Manuel Indian & Bingo Casino. “When you try to do something, there will always be obstacles. I was a victim, but I got out of it while people I used to hang with are now dead.”

He credits in part growing up and performing in the church choir with both his musical success and his ability to get his life back on track. And there has been quite a bit of success, with such hits as “There Goes My Baby,” Charlie, Last Name Wilson” and “You Are.”

“It doesn’t matter what you try to do, the gospel choir will get you,” he said. “I will listen to something secular, and I can hear it in there.”

He sees his life story as a challenge he overcame.

“I believe in God, and I will do something gospel every night because I have been so blessed and I promised him if he got me out of that mess that I would pay honor to him, and that’s what I do,” he said.

There was certainly that feeling early on that he was meant for the world of music.

“When I was a little boy, I’d see it working when I would sing and I knew that’s what I needed to do,” he said. “Everybody tries to sing whether it is in front of friends or in the shower, but I saw the reaction and how the kids – especially the girls – reacted. I’d sing ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’ and the girls would go crazy. Really, that song would do it!”

He joined his brother’s band, the Greenwood, Archer and Pine band, in 1973. Of course, that was The Gap Band, which would go on to have such hits as ‘You Dropped a Bomb on Me” and “Party Train.”

Wilson, not one to shy away from his roots, does a mix of songs including Gap Band songs.

“One time a lady told me that she didn’t come to hear a bunch of those songs but to hear my solo songs,” he said. “Back then I was doing the whole album and then would bring out some of the Gap Band songs. I met her again another time and she said it was the best show she had ever seen. That meant a lot to me, and also told me that I had a mix of Charlie Wilson fans as well as Gap Band fans.”

And that includes fans of all ages.

“I’ve got people in their 30s and 40s and younger coming to these shows,” he said. “I’m just grateful they are coming out and paying their hard-earned money to see me.”

But he definitely has a lesson for anyone wanting to get into the business, or any endeavor.

“First, you have to want to be able to do it for free, but don’t tell anyone that” he said. “Then, you have to have fun with it.”

And he certainly has both of those going on in his life and career.

“Just to be able to see people enjoy themselves is a thrill to me,” he said. “Early on, I played in front of a group of 13 people and gave it my all as I always do. The promoter apologized to me, but she was impressed that I was sweating and working it like I was in front of 150,000 fans. She told her buyers about that and it led to a bunch of offers for various festivals. That’s how it works.”

And he is starting the year off with two Grammy nominations and three NAACP nods.

“I have never looked back, and I say the best I can do is please my fans,” he said. “The doctor told me that I would lose my vocal chords from all the drugs, but I just kept going and finally cut loose one night and my voice was right where it belonged. That means I still get to do what I love.”


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