If you were in high school or college in the 1980s, you certainly have heard Charlie Wilson’s music. Whether you know it or not.
Wilson was the lead singer, songwriter and – along with his brothers Ronnie and Robert – a founding member of one of the 1980s’ most iconic R&B groups. And if you still don’t know the name, then allow me to, ahem, drop a bomb on you.
Wilson was the driving force behind The Gap Band. His is the voice you heard on the infectious “You Dropped a Bomb on Me.” And “Early in the Morning.” And “Burn Rubber.” All are practically old standards now.
While The Gap Band retired in 2010 (you can be forgiven if you assumed they retired about 20 years prior), Charlie Wilson is still around. And “bringing his ‘A’ game to the stage,” he told the Observer in an email from the road.
At his live shows, his audience includes the people who danced at their proms to old Gap Band hits – and their children. “You know, it’s funny,” Wilson said. “The audience at my shows varies from 20-somethings to grown folks. I think sometimes parents who know me from both The Gap Band days and my current hits don’t realize their kids know me from my work with Snoop, Kanye, Justin and Pharrell.” (That’s Dogg, West, Timberlake and Williams to the uninitiated. Wilson refers to those relative upstarts as “my nephews.”)
He’s more than an inspiration to them. He’s also a collaborator. He and Kanye West were Grammy-nominated in 2014 for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration and Best Rap Song for “Bound 2.” “Infectious,” a song on his new album featuring Snoop Dogg, and the reggae-flavored “Unforgettable” (not the Nat King Cole classic) features Shaggy.
At age 61, Wilson doesn’t appear ready to slow down. He plays 50 to 60 concerts a year and has been the headliner at major urban festivals including Macy’s Music Festival, the San Diego Music Festival and the Las Vegas Music Festival.
He’s having a successful second act that would’ve been tough to predict when he was struggling with drug addiction. (He declined to answer questions about his personal life but referred me to his memoir, “I Am Charlie Wilson,” coming out June 30 from Simon & Schuster.)
But to appreciate where he is now (a nine-time Grammy nominee whom BET honored in 2013 with a Lifetime Achievement Award), you’ve got to know how low he sank.
“The drugs, they were my downfall,” he told Essence magazine in 2010. “It’s how I landed on the streets. I did a lot of moving during the night; during the day I’d disappear. I didn’t want people seeing me. I’d eat where I could and sometimes shower using random sprinkler systems around town. I didn’t want to ask for help, but the people that I did reach out to, they turned their backs on me. I felt like I didn’t have anyone on my team.”
He credits his Pentecostal minister father and mother for raising him in a faith-filled house. It’s that faith that still keeps him grounded. “My faith is still a major part of my life, which is why I give God some praise at every concert,” he said.
And the man who counts Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway as musical influences has now become an influencer himself. “As I’ve matured, the thing that continues to surprise me is how many younger artists tell me how I have influenced them,” he said. “That’s the ultimate compliment.”
His “Forever Charlie” tour also features special guests Kem and Joe.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday.
WHERE: Bojangles’ Coliseum, 2700 E. Independence Blvd.
DETAILS: 800-745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com.