“I Am Charlie Wilson” – The Gap Band, despair, addiction and back. Interview with the Soul singer on his upcoming memoir and the life that’s filled its pages

i-am-charlie-wilson-book-cover…..”Give me a hit,” I croaked into her ear, sure I could score a little something from her out there on the street. “I’m clean, Charlie. Have been for three years,” [my cousin Shirley] said, her voice cracking. “Three years?” I yelled…..While I contemplated the thought, Shirley started to full-on cry, her face contorted, tears leaving streaks down her cheeks and chin.

“I look that bad?” I asked, lucid enough to know that her tears were for me.”You’re going to die,” she said, shaking her head. “I just don’t want you to die. Look here, I work at this rehabilitation center. It’s north of Los Angeles. You have to come in. You have to come with me, Charles.”

From I AM CHARLIE WILSON, in stores and online June 30 (Atria/Simon & Schuster Publications)

Interview by: Melody Charles

First name Charlie, last name Wilson: as both one-third of The Gap Band and today as a solo artist, his vocals and lyrics launched millions in record sales and packed concert venues worldwide. But years ago, even with hits on the charts and the respect of many in the music industry, addiction to drugs and alcohol sent him spiraling out of control and on a collision course with imminent destruction…..and at one point death.

But in the mid-90’s, instead of falling prey to his weaknesses, Charlie reached back into his past as a church-cultivated believer and musician, praying for healing and restoration to continue his ministry of music. It’s a comeback like no other and detailed in his first-ever memoir,  I Am Charlie Wilson, which will hit online sites and bookstores on June 30.

Covering everything from his humble beginnings in Oklahoma, to the heady early days of The Gap Band and what drove him to the depths of despair and addiction and back to the top of the music industry… I Am Charlie Wilson is a fascinating must-read.  In a recent trip to Dallas, Wilson spoke with Knowshi one-on-one about his reasons for sharing, how he started his recovery and why testifying is as important as singing his many hits.

charlie-wilson-soul-singerKNOWSHI: Thank you so much for being transparent about your struggle with family, going broke and battling your addictions in the book Uncle Charlie, it was so powerful. How difficult was it to go back into those memories?

CHARLIE WILSON (CW)- “I definitely wanted to empty my garbage, it was hard to rehash those moments, it was rough. My father had already told me, ‘Son, there’s nothing for you back there so there’s no need for you to go back.”  And I had moved on, so I having to go back  through the garbage, which was pretty upsetting at times. I was very tearful a lot.

KNOWSHI: What do you think kept you from passing away like other peers you knew, like Rick James or Whitney Houston?

CW- “If you saw me back then, you would’ve either not recognized me or thought, ‘well, he’s dying of something.’ I should’ve been on the 6 o clock news, just straight out. I used to pray to God, please don’t let me die in the streets like this, please let me get back to what I love to do, music and entertaining people. I wanted to book to inspire people and help others build a better life, not  wallow in self-pity about what I went through.

And as far as getting over the drug use, you have to change people, places and things, so the people you’re used to hanging around with have to go right out the door. Places I used to go, I can’t go there anymore because if you do go, the banana peel that made everything so slippery is still there and those the drugs are there. Then the things, or behaviors that drove you to those places and people, have to change. You have to admit that you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, and the first time you do that is the best day of your life.”

KNOWSHI: Well, you succeeded, no doubt. Here you are at 60+, 20 years sober and having the most success ever as a solo performer that’s on his second national tour. What does it feel like to return to the stage and touch so many? 

CW- “It’s powerful!  A cousin of a friend of mine, who was an addict, went to one my shows in NY. Soon after, she called my friend and said, ‘That same night, I stopped getting high because if that man can come back and have that much power, after all that’s he’s been through, then I can do it.” That made me almost cry. I will never stop testifying from the stage and I always tell people that it’s never too late to do whatever you want to do in life—-you just have to have the faith and the belief. Believe.”

KNOWSHI: It’s also great to see you so healthy and detailing the changes in your diet since your 2008 diagnosis of prostate cancer. It’s great to see more African-American men becoming aware of checkups and how common that cancer is.

CW- “I’m a spokesperson for The Prostate Cancer Foundation and I always speak from the stage about having it, recovering from the surgery and telling men what the signs are. This guy actually came backstage and told me that he and 15 other friends of his had heard about my having prostate cancer and went for checkups—-ALL of them had it. He wanted to come and give me hug because if he hadn’t listened, they would’ve likely died from it. Aw man….that testimony made me more of a warrior for us.”

KNOWSHI: We can’t thank you enough for that Uncle Charlie: that goodness comes across in your music and we witness it every time you perform. It was an honor to speak with you today.

CW- “And it’s great to have beautiful people like you all to share the story—some folks feel too old, too this or too that…..you aren’t going to add any more years to your life by worrying, so you might as well get up and do what you want to do and get it done. Have the belief in yourself and the faith in God, and you can do anything.”

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