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Charlie Wilson’s Last Chance

Nine-time Grammy nominee Charlie Wilson is an R&B/funk/soul music icon.  Charlie and his two brothers shook up the music world in the 70’s and 80’s as the super-popular group, The GAP Band. 

After a long string of hits, broken relationships, corrupt managers, and serious drug abuse, Charlie lost his career and nearly his life. 

SCOTT ROSS: “The fact is, you shouldn’t be sitting here. I’m talking to the Miracle Man.”

CHARLIE WILSON:  “Yes, you’re right. I should’ve been dead a long time ago.”

SCOTT ROSS:  “Really amazing story.  Going back historically in your own life, your daddy was a preacher, mom was a preacher …”

CHARLIE WILSON:  “My mom was a state minister of music, you know.”

SCOTT ROSS:  “And that influence, well, affected your entire life. But when you were a kid, you were what, how old were you when you started singing?”

CHARLIE WILSON: “About three or four.”

SCOTT ROSS: “Oh, you waited that long, did you?” [Scott and Charlie laugh]

CHARLIE WILSON: “I waited half my life to sing.”  [laughs]

SCOTT ROSS:  “But your daddy would get up and preach. And then he’d turn around and say okay, son…”

CHARLIE WILSON: “I had to sing before he preached.  Yeah, so it was like the warm-up act.”

SCOTT ROSS:  “But even in those early years, there was a desire, an influence to get into the pop world, the R & B world.”

CHARLIE WILSON: “Secular world, yeah.”

SCOTT ROSS:  “But your mother warned you pretty early on, didn’t she?  She said, ‘You need to stay away from all that blues music.’”

CHARLIE WILSON:  “She’s like, ‘Boy, you ain’t singing no blues in this house. We don’t do that.’  She called all secular music blues.  ‘You ain’t singin’ no blues up in here.’” 

With their mom playing the piano, Charlie and his three siblings grew up singing in their dad’s church.  There was a lot of joy in the Wilson home until his father left for another woman when Charlie was 13.   

CHARLIE WILSON:  “Oh, when he left I was devastated.  It was 3rd of July, 1965. I was upset, man. I was upset. And I was sitting on the porch waiting for him to come back. I thought he was going to come back so we could pop these firecrackers, and all of that. But there was a no-show.”

SCOTT ROSS: “Did you carry that through your life?”

CHARLIE WILSON: “Long time.  Even after we got famous and when I seen he got back—came back in my life, I was upset.  I didn’t say too much to him for a long time.”

Charlie joined his brother Ronnie’s group The Gap Band in 1972.  Their brother Robert joined them a year later.  While the band caught on in their hometown of Tulsa, OK, big-time success wouldn’t come until the late 70s when they signed with Mercury Records.

CHARLIE WILSON:  “Oh yeah, that’s when all the hits started coming.”

SCOTT ROSS:  “What was the first one?”

CHARLIE WILSON: “’Shake. Shake Your Booty.’”

SCOTT ROSS:  “Shake Your Booty.”

CHARLIE WILSON:  “Yeah. We called it ‘Shake,’ but yeah.  We ain’t shakin’ no booty up in here.

SCOTT ROSS:  “It sold more than 150.”

CHARLIE WILSON:  “Oh that was the #1 record. That was the #1 record.  Then it was Oops Upside Your Head.  Then it was Burn Rubber.  Then it was Party Train, Yearning, Early in the Morning, Dropped a Bomb… But there –another bomb was dropped on us because there was no royalties and no, we didn’t.” 

SCOTT ROSS:   “You guys got ripped off by management.  It sounded like they really did you in.”

CHARLIE WILSON:  “Did us in for sure. We didn’t make anything.   And he would threaten you and stuff like that. So it didn’t work out for us that way. We was there for like nine albums.” 

SCOTT ROSS:  “Nine albums?  And you weren’t seeing royalties?”

CHARLIE WILSON:  “We didn’t know what that was.” 

After 24 years, and little money to show for it, the Wilson brothers took a long hiatus from music.  Charlie sank into depression and drug addiction. 

SCOTT ROSS:  “How far down did this take you?”

CHARLIE WILSON:  “I ended up homeless.”

SCOTT ROSS:  “Homeless? As Charlie Wilson, The Gap Band, the whole deal, and you’re wandering the streets?” 

CHARLIE WILSON:  “I was sleeping on the streets.  But it got really, really bad, Scott.  One time this homeless family let me sleep in their –they had three shopping carts.  And they had it wrapped in cellophane.  And they had a brick with little piece of carpet on it, and a piece of carpet for the bed.  So they let me sleep in there. 

SCOTT ROSS:  “Good grief.  Now in the middle of all this, was there an awareness of God? And did you call on the Lord? Did you think He’d abandoned you - what?”

CHARLIE WILSON:  “I knew God was with me. I always used to pray, my prayer was, I asked God to ‘not to let the devil kill me out here while I was in the streets before I could get back to do what I really loved to do,’ and that’s to sing and to perform for people. I really wanted to stop, really, really bad, Scott.”

Charlie tried rehab many times, but always relapsed.   His cousin talked him into going once more.  This time he was ready. 

CHARLIE WILSON:  “I know, for just a second, man, I forgot about how good God is and His mercy and His grace.  But I just prayed ‘God, if You’d be the same God that my father’s been preaching to all of these years, can You just get me off of these streets.  Please, just help me get off of this.’  I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

With God’s strength, Charlie finished the 28-day program.  He also received a lot of help from the director of the rehab.

CHARLIE WILSON:  “She said, ‘I’ll tell you what. We’ll look for you a place,’ and went out and got that.  She took good care of me, man. She took good care of me.  And later I just asked her to marry me.”

Charlie and Mahin married in 1995.  It was rough at first, as Charlie was still recovering, but he hasn’t relapsed since.  In 1996, The Gap Band regrouped and recorded again, and then Charlie went on to a stunning solo career. 

SCOTT ROSS:  “When you look back on this, Charlie, I mean you’re a miracle walking.”

CHARLIE WILSON:  “I’m a testament, man. I’ve got a testimony cause I thought I was going to die out there, I just didn’t want, you know, I didn’t want my family finding me under a truck or somewhere, sleeping and dead, you know.  But I said ‘if You give me one more chance at life and music, I promise You, every time I get to the stage, I’m going to shout You out and I’m going to testify and we’re going to have a little church up in there.’”

SCOTT ROSS:  “Do you do that?”

CHARLIE WILSON:  “Every single night I’m on the stage.”

SCOTT ROSS:  “So if we were to encapsulate this [book], I Am Charlie Wilson - there’s a lot here. We’ve heard it.  Who’s Charlie Wilson?

CHARLIE WILSON:  “I am a God fearing man. I’m a husband, I’m a father. I love the Lord, like I said.  And I’m in recovery.  God has showered me with His mercy and His grace, man.”

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