Robert Bradley - Blackwater Surprise vocalist
On the phone with David Lee Wilson- 2001
With all that has been happening in the Detroit scene over the last few years it was only a matter of time before somebody remembered what put Detroit on the map in the first place, good old Rhythm and Blues. Robert Bradley smokes like he started the local fire himself, in fact, he kind of did. If you flash back thirty-five years to when Smokey, Stevie and Marvin were organizing their groove you'll see Robert Bradley, either on stage or in the audience, at the Fox soulin' to the real authentic and original Detroit sound.
In 2000 you can still see Motown reviews at the Fox but don't look for Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise there. It is far more likely that the band will be down the block at the State Theater teaching a new generation how to properly combine Rock and Soul. Exactly the same number of times that Bradley takes his Blackwater Surprise to the stage is how many times some other local legend requests to accompany him. From the new school there are the most obvious liaisons with "flava of da moment," Kid Rock which led to Rock contributing to the current RBBS record, "Time To Discover." The tracks with Kid Rock notwithstanding "Time To Discover" is a tutorial on classic soul with Bradley's voice digging just as deep into the rich soil of his happiness as into the muck of his hard times, for Bradley it is all equal inspirational ground.
When you approach Bradley for conversation the tendency is to be a bit in awe of his emotive mastery, I mean the man can make you sweat, swear and sob all within the space of a four minute song. Bradley quickly erases all apprehension with his quick wit and a nature so easy that by conversations end you feel like you have been friends for life. Now it is your time to discover a new friend, Robert Bradley.
DAVID LEE: What the hell are you doing on the phone with me when you just got married? Shouldn't you be out with the wife celebrating?
ROBERT BRADLEY: Well, business just won't wait! (laughs)
K2K: But the Mrs. Will?
RB: She better! I think that she is all right with it though.
K2K: Congratulations on finding "the one."
RB: Thanks a lot.
K2K: As if finding her wasn't enough you have a whole lot more to be happy about. You have a record that critics and fans are going nuts over, songs getting played all over. . .
RB: Now if I can go triple platinum then I will be really happy!
K2K: It could happen, it is certainly worth it.
RB: Hopefully we can get the word out about it because people can't get something unless they know about it.
K2K: I caught the record release party a while back at The Magic Bag and that was just a smoking set, is it always that good?
RB: We were pretty good but we could have been a little better. When you are out on the road for a while you get tighter, just from being around each other every day and working on the music. When you do one show and you don't do another one for a couple of weeks, it takes a while to get it going but when it does get going, it is just magic.
K2K: Just the fact that the room was full with people literally begging for tickets outside is a good sign that you have something good going on.
RB: Yeah, that helps a lot. I mean, that is the absolute thing, to know that the people are there and they support you. When people buy your records, that is good enough but when they come out to see you, that is the icing on the cake, what else could you ask for? You have to get up there and do the best that you can do, that is the way that I think anyway.
K2K: Now that you are having this kind of success and this amount of notoriety especially after having been in the music game for so long has it changed the way you view music in general?
RB: Naw. I like the success and everything, sure but, when you start out and get a record contract with a major label you just want the people to like the music but the biggest adjustment I had to make from playing on the street and all that, you know, you can go to work when you want. If I felt like singin' at eight o'clock in the morning I knew a spot where I could go to and by eleven o'clock I was through. Or, if I wanted to wait until six o'clock in the afternoon or if it was hot out I could wait until the evening, I could go when I want, do what I want and just sit there and have a beer and bullshit with the people, you know, have a cigarette, play a couple of songs, talk to somebody else. It was so leisurely but in a band you have got to be on stage at 8o'clock, you can't change the time. Hotels, you have got to worry about, like the other day I made a mistake and got a gray sock instead of a white one and I was fuckin' around and my wife said, "You know you got a Grey sock and a white sock on?" I said "That is just my new look!" (laughs) It is all-good, you know what I mean, but those are the little things that you have to worry about. Hotels with those keys that they have, you have to face it up and face it all this way and you are standing there and you have to get in the room to take a piss and there ain't nobody around! I done got locked out of the room a couple of times.
K2K: Are the other guys in the band still single yet?
RB: Yeah they all still single but Tim might be talking about getting hitched but I don't know. All of 'em got a regular. I am trying to get 'em all hooked up so that they don't go wild out there on the road! If they go on and get hooked up then I have less problems with the women because ain't nobody going to be having nobody hanging around. You know there are always these goody girls that come hangin' around so I am trying to get 'em all hooked up. Everyone except Jeff [Fowlkes], you never know about him. (laughs)
K2K: He is your drummer?
RB: Yeah. He is a drummer you know, they just like to keep drummin'. We don't know what his deal is. He has got a pretty good rhythm, they like him. A lot of girls like him. I guess he must look good, I ain't never seen him! (laughs) He must look all right.
K2K: Back to what you were saying a minute ago, are there other things that you miss about being a solo guy now that you are a member of a band?
RB: Yeah, I miss it because it was very inspirational for writing. Most of these songs that are on the record are from just being out there. Then, I could just go back out there and test it and you can't just go out and test it now with a band. Some nights you can test some stuff out, if you have a long sound check and we will come up with a new groove or something but out on the street, you can test a song out. I would be singing it all day and just keep improving on it all that day and then when the day is over it is locked in my head. If I did real good then the money will flow. If you get out there on your own on the street, sometimes I played just for an hour and made $300. bucks and then I could play for two hours and not make shit. So, you have got to be in that zone and feel it. That is your main thing, if you feel it then they feel it and you got it. You can sit there all day and sing and just go through the motions but people, well the regulars will come back, "You don't sound too good but here is Five dollars anyway. . ." but other people who are just first hearing you, they won't stay around. That is why when people go out on the road and play and the next time they go, the people don't come back 'cause they know they didn't get 'nothin.
K2K: Has it been hard for you to keep the same feeling of a song when you move from a solo performer to being part of a band?
RB: What it is, is that I get everybody to know when I am going to make a move somewhere, they have to keep listening. I try to get them really listening because I don't want to get too excited because I am leading the thing so I try to make sure that they got the idea like, I nod my head or point a finger or something and they know that I am going to go somewhere with it, they are listening and watching. We got better at it as time progressed and we will get better at it as this tour goes. It is kind of difficult to be original when you got four guys and they can all see but I can't. A lot of times they hear stuff and they make their move but they have to tell me, "Robert I might try something in this song,: so, I am paying attention too. I am going to think about it but a couple of times when they went somewhere I was totally in shock. But, I have to give them space so that they can do that and I tell them, "As long as y'all stay together then I will follow because it is better for me to try and follow y'all then all y'all to try and follow me."
K2K: I noticed that when you perform you have a rug that you like to stay on, does that help you keep track of where you are on the stage?
RB: Yeah, I do that to let me know where the center is, where twelve o'clock is. I know that [guitarist] Mike [Nehra] is always going to be at about 3 o'clock and the drummer is going to be at six and the other guys are going to be at nine, that is the way that we try and keep it. All these stages and all these different places that you are going to play, they are all different and a lot of times when we get there they will let me know, "The people are mostly straight ahead" or "Some people are off to your right at 2 o'clock" or stuff like that. That will keep me in focus and then I can really move around like that. I know that the rug is there to let me know where I am. One time I didn't have one and I always keep wanting to go to my right because I am right handed, and they told me "The audience is behind you" so, that rug lets me know where the center is at.
K2K: When the music is really starting to rave up do you tend to move toward any particular instrument?
RB: Yeah, generally when things are really going I know where I am with that rug because I am looking with my feet, you know? I am really looking at things with my feet but basically, if the guitar player is leading the song we do a lot of stuff and I have that tendency to hang to my right.
K2K: This record was around and finished for a while before you actually got to put it out, what happened there?
RB: Yeah, what happened was that I had got sick for a minute, I was partying too much! (laughs) So, I had to kind of chill out for a minute and they couldn't decide on what songs to cut off and then Kid Rock came in and he heard "Tramp" and he wanted to do it another kind of way so I said, "Great, go for it." That was it basically. We wasn't in no hurry. Everybody out there is going on tour for two and a half years and everybody here just wanted to stay home for a minute and relax, do it at a slower pace.
K2K: That was nice of Rock to come down and do a couple of songs with you as he is kind of seen, nationally anyway, as the leader of this new Detroit music scene.
RB: Yeah, that is true, a lot of people do know what is coming out of Detroit with Kid Rock and Eminem and guys like that and there are a lot of other bands going on too that are going to be popping up also. There are a lot of good things going on down here and I think it is just time for Detroit to do it again, that's all. We are well known for it and we have history on our side so, lets go for it. I am really glad that I am a part of it. I try and keep the old R&B Funk going out of the Motor City and put a little Rock going with it, I feel pretty good about it.
K2K: When you were coming up from down South you got to catch Motown in its heyday, didn't you?
RB: I came up here in '66 and yeah, I was here and I was in a couple of talent shows down here but at the time Stevie [Wonder] was big and they wasn't focusing on no other blind guys.
K2K: (Laughs)
RB: Right, that is just the way that it was and I mean, it was like, "Oh yeah, you are good but. . ." And, you know, we are the same age so it wasn't happening. I would go and se the Motown review every summer and Marvin Gay, every summer. I was even down here during the riots in '67 and went to jail.
K2K: No shit?
RB: Yeah, but they let me go. I didn't do nothing.
K2K: Come on, you didn't throw at least one rock? (laughs)
RB: Naw! I couldn't see that far! (laughs) I was scarred that I might shoot it at my own damn house and my Dad, he didn't play that shit! We was just down there 'cause we used to hang out at the Fox because that was the happening place. That was were all the music was and you didn't have to pay but two dollars and you could see Marvin Gaye, The Miracles w/ Smokey Robinson and The FOUR TOPS and The Temptations and The Supremes, all of 'em for two dollars. You can't see that shit no more, them days are gone.
K2K: Right. I think it is like thirty-five bucks just to see The Temptations and that is with one original member.
RB: For real. When they say that The Temptations is coming I say, "I thought that Jesus Christ was the only one that raised from the dead!" (laughs) I am sorry but I heard the originals, you know what I mean. I used to do all the David Ruffin songs back when I was in a Top 40 band so, it is all-good. I listened to more of that Volt/Stax sound too, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and people like that because they played that more down South then they did Motown.
K2K: If you had a musical memory of some incident or occurrence that set you on the path to become a musician what would that be?
RB: I think it was Otis Redding singing' "These Arms of Mine." That was in like '61 or something like that. He was like the first one that I really was into. I liked Otis Redding and Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, that was the kind of music that they played down there the most and that was what I really listened to.
K2K: Today, when you get in the mood to listen to something, what are you going to go and buy?
RB: Most likely it would be somebody like R. Kelly. I mean R. Kelly, he is right there and I like what he does. Or maybe I will go and pick up some classic rock or some classic soul. There is nobody out there lately that I am going to quit the music business over because they can sing. Brian McKnight, he is good too but it is too orchestrated. If I am going to hear some violins give me some Barry White! Though, I do like some horns, sometimes.
K2K: Are you going to get some horn players for your band?
RB: Yeah, pretty soon. We are going to try and take some on the road with us and some girls to do the backgrounds.
K2K: When you are out there performing is there material that you would rather sing in a given situation or is it all good to you?
RB: I mean, it is all good but I prefer ballads over a lot of it but when you are doing a show you have got to keep it moving so I tend to do a lot of that. We will do a lot of ballads and sometimes I might play the piano or I might play the guitar too so that would be a good mix to color up the show.
Robert Bradley's MySpace page
Written by David Lee Wilson

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