Charlie Wilson had one the greatest comebacks of all time.
As a member of the Gap Band in the ’70s and ’80s, he and his brothers recorded No. 1 R&B hits like “Burn Rubber (Why You Wanna Hurt Me)” and “Early in the Morning,” as well as the oft-sampled party anthem “You Dropped a Bomb On Me.” But by the early 1990s, he was homeless and grappling with drug and alcohol addiction.
He got clean, married and worked with close friend Snoop Dogg. In 2000, he re-launched a solo career that eventually resulted in 11 Grammy nominations and numerous guest spots on others’ records. He released “In It to Win It” – his seventh solo album since 2000 – in February.
Wilson plays Bojangles’ Coliseum on Sunday as part of “A Mother’s Day Celebration” along with Johnny Gill. Given the timing, the Observer spoke to Wilson Tuesday about his mother, who passed away in 2007.
Q. How did your mother guide you into music?
A. She was the state minister of music in (western) Oklahoma. She started the state choirs and was head of that for 45 years. She played the piano and was a great choir director. She taught us all to play instruments when we were young. I wanted to play drums, but at school you had to play violin first. I came home kind of pouting about it. She said, “Learn ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ (on violin) first.” I brought it home and in about three days I had it right. I had to play it for my band teacher. He said, “It’s amazing. You’ve come a long way.” I said, “Can I play drums now?”
Q. She encouraged you to learn a lot of instruments?
A. I wanted to play trumpet because my brother played coronet. I brought that thing home and she said, “You’re holding your mouth wrong.” I never knew she played trumpet. She was first chair trumpet. The only girl playing trumpet in the marching band. Once she warmed up, wow!
Q. Was hers a strict household?
A. She was very strict about the music we listened to. I had to go next door to listen to Sam Cooke.
Q. Was she supportive of your career?
A. My mom didn’t really want me to be in the secular music world. She was a great piano player, fast fingers. Everybody wanted my mother to play piano in their band. My grandmother had told them no. When it came to us playing secular music, she said, “It’s going to turn out wrong.” She was right. Drugs and alcohol did play a part in our lives. In my life. She was supportive. She never said too much about the music, but one day I was there at home in Tulsa. The Gap Band had not had a hit record in two or three years. We were struggling. Out of the blue she said, “Baby, you need another ‘Yearning for Your Love.’ ” That’s the first time I ever heard her mention it. That was the cutest thing.
Q. Did she witness your comeback?
A. She had Alzheimer’s at the time. She might’ve felt it somehow. But I was just trying to love on her at that time. I don’t really know if she knew that was happening for me.
Q. Talking about your mom’s influence on you, your music influenced other artists, some of whom appear on the new album. How did you feel surrounded by so many artists who were fans?
A. The reason why I put these particular artists on the record was these people have been asking to get with me. I’ve never had this many features, ever. Snoop was the only one. I decided it was time to oblige and put them on the record. Wiz Khalifa, Pitbull, Lalah Hathaway, Robin Thicke, T.I., and Snoop, of course. Within 24 hours, I had an answer from everyone. I was thinking, “Wow, this is a lot of features. What are people going to say?” But I think it enhanced the record.
Go see it
What: A Mother’s Day Celebration with Charlie Wilson and Johnny Gill
When: 7 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Bojangles’ Coliseum, 2700 E. Independence Blvd.
Details: 800-745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com.