was young and energetic, and we loved the guys we were touring with as well.”
Adopting the Wild West-meets-soul persona that distinguished it from other costumed Black funk bands of the period, the Gap Band rode into funky town to quite a few stares. “With the Gap Band coming from Oklahoma, other artists would tease us by calling us cowboys,” Charlie said. “We didn’t grow-up on a ranch, but we took that style to the stage. We knew that it was corny, but at least it was ours.”
On the road, Charlie became close friends with funkateers George Clinton and Roger Troutman. “Nobody could make records that grooved the way George Clinton, Bernie Worrell and Bootsy Collins did. P-Funk were the best. Also, [Roger Troutman’s] Zapp and Gap was real rivals, but Roger and me became very close. He used to bring me out onstage with him to sing ‘Computer Love.’ It made my brother mad, but I did it anyway,” he laughs.
In the late 1980s, as the Gap Band’s brand of funk began to fade with the rise of hip-hop and new jack swing, Charlie Wilson developed a drug problem. What began as fun times with his crew ended with the popular singer living on skid row alone. “I had hit rock bottom,” Charlie confesses. “There is no love in drugs. Cocaine will rob you blind; it takes everything away.”
On his 2009 album Uncle Charlie, he recorded the song “Homeless,” which forced Wilson to deal with his own memories of living on the streets. “When I was recording that song, I started feeling a lot of those old emotions.” Indeed, the power of those emotions can be heard on the track.
After several unsuccessful stints in rehab, Wilson checked himself in one last time in 1995. “I knew I was raised better than that,” Wilson snickers. “I prayed a lot, because I knew I was going to die if I didn’t get my life together.” While in rehab, he met and married his soulmate, Mahin Tat.
Working alongside his partner, Charlie Wilson has been through the storm and is humbly reaping the rewards. “I think the longevity of my career can be attributed to the love, passion and respect I have for this music. So many pitfalls can happen if you are not prepared or if you’re not passionate enough. I love music, I understand R&B and I’ve never felt like stopping. At 60 years old, between my wife and my music, life is wonderful.”
Cultural critic Michael A. Gonzales has written cover stories for Vibe, Uptown, Essence, XXL, Wax Poetics and elsewhere. He's also written for New York and The Village Voice. Read him at Blackadelic Pop and follow him on Twitter @gonzomike.