After the Gap: 'Charlie, Last Name Wilson'

Charlie Wilson, former lead singer of The Gap Band, discusses his new CD Charlie, Last Name Wilson, and his extensive music career.

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ED GORDON, host:

Twenty-five years ago, Charlie Wilson, along with his brothers Robert and Ronnie, topped the black music charts. The Gap Band became one of the most successful groups of the golden era of black music. Some of their classic hits include "Outstanding," "You Dropped A Bomb On Me" and their first number-one single, "Burn Rubber."

(Soundbite of "Burn Rubber")

THE GAP BAND: (Singing) Never, ever had a lover who put the pedal to the metal and burn rubber on me, Charlie. No, no, no, no, no, no. I never, ever had a lover who put the pedal to the metal and burn rubber on me, Charlie. No, no, no, no, no, no. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I never, ever had...

GORDON: Gap Band recorded albums well into the 1990s and remain a popular act on the road. Their longevity and continued popularity is due in great part to the voice up front. Charlie Wilson has just released his latest solo album, called "Charlie, last name Wilson," and it's one of the hottest records in the country.

Mr. CHARLIE WILSON (Singer): First of all, we just thought it'd be a great way to reintroduce myself to the world, to just simply say, `Hey girl, how you doing? My name is Charlie, last name Wilson. I was wondering if I could take you out, show you a good time, invite you to my house. Well, here's my number.'

(Soundbite of "Charlie, last name Wilson")

Mr. WILSON: (Singing) ...number. Girl, you can call me. And don't forget it, baby. The name is Charlie.

(Speaking) Anybody can use that line. I had a show the other night in Memphis, Tennessee, where I said, `I know you guys have been dying and you ladies have been dying to put your name in this song, so don't play.' So everybody started laughing, so I started the song back up and let everybody put their name in it. It's just a great way--it's a great pick-up line, and everybody's been using it.

(Soundbite of "Charlie, last name Wilson")

Mr. WILSON: (Singing) ...hell with that this time. I'm going to treat myself. Being in love is good for your health. It's time to share this fortune and fame--dream--with someone else. Now that I'm in this club, I might as well. Hey, girl. Hey, girl. How you doin'? How you doin'? My name is Charlie--Charlie. Last name Wilson--Wilson.

A lot of people don't want to admit that they've been using the line, but you've been using the line.

GORDON: I'm going to tell the truth, Charlie. I was listening to the CD the other day and singing and you know I threw my name up in there, so I think we all do it. Charlie, let me take you back to the day when you all formed. We should note that The Gap Band, really, formed by you and your brother, and then as one dropped out your other brother came to the group. You all have had phenomenal success. Coming out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Charlie, would you have ever imagined that you would have been the kind of R&B staple that you've become?

Mr. WILSON: No, I wouldn't never had an idea. I would--not an inkling of an idea that it would last this long, either. We only was recording from our heart and just making music that felt good.

(Soundbite of "You Dropped A Bomb On Me")

Mr. WILSON: And to believe that it would last this long and be in the clubs this long or for me to even be still singing this long is a blessing in itself.

(Soundbite of "You Dropped A Bomb On Me")

THE GAP BAND: (Singing) You're burning, girl, to change my world. You were the girl for me. You disabuse. I stand accused. You were the first for me. But you turn me on, babe. You dropped a bomb on me, baby. You dropped a bomb on me.

GORDON: What song of The Gap Band--if you had to pick one that said, `This is us. This is what represents The Gap Band'--what song would you pick?

Mr. WILSON: Wow. Oh, "Outstanding," I would say.

(Soundbite of "Outstanding")

THE GAP BAND: (Singing) ...baby. You light my fire. You light my fire. I feel alive. I feel alive. You blow my mind. You blow my mind. I'm satisfied. Outstanding. You're so outstanding, yeah. Oh-oh-oh. Girl, you knock me out. Dooby dooby dooby dooby dooby dooby dooby dooby dooby dooby dah.

GORDON: Charlie, when you talk about longevity one might look at your history, and had we stopped some years back we'd have thought, `We're not going to hear from Charlie Wilson,' because you had run into--as many musicians and entertainers do--the world of drugs and alcohol. How'd you beat it?

Mr. WILSON: You know, it was a struggle 'cause basically I really didn't think there was a way out. When The Gap Band got in the music business, it was sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. We did it. It didn't have to be in that order. And after just a long period of time it was just sex and drugs. And that's it. We even took--the music part left out.

Drugs--alcohol and drugs destroy dreams, 'cause I had lost everything. I ended up with nothing. And when I was really homeless and I ended up going to this rehabilitation center in Acton, California--and now we're getting toward the end of my program. The head of the department, she said, `Let me just ask you a question. I've been watching--we've been watching you.' And she said, `Are you serious about being clean and sober?' And I said, `I'm trying to get it now, you know?' And she said, `Well, what are you going to do when you get out of here?' And I said, `I don't have anywhere to go,' 'cause I was graduating the Wednesday following that Friday. She said, `Come Friday we'll find you a house or something.' And so, you know, she filled the house up with furniture; she got the house; and I found out we had a Gap Band show the following weekend. She went with me, and so many people was trying to hand me drugs; it was crazy. It was real crazy. Anyway, I made it back to the yard safe and sound, and that's the lady that I married. She's been with me every single day since that day.

GORDON: Well, we thank her because we continue to have your talent around. Let me ask you this, Charlie, before we let you go.

Mr. WILSON: Yeah.

GORDON: When I think about you and I think about Ronald Isley...

Mr. WILSON: Yeah.

GORDON: ...I wonder if you look at the idea that in order to stay in the business to some degree--I hear a lot of guys talking about big pimpin', this, that and the other, but at that point they're 50, 55 years old. Would you like to be able to produce a song, produce a record, produce a CD that really was just singing and had none of that persona to it?

Mr. WILSON: Yes. I mean, I did that a couple--about four years ago with the first solo record that I did, had a song called "Big Pimpin.'" And, I mean, I didn't really need it. I mean, kids is loving great R&B music right now. R&B is on its way back, and I'm going to kick the doors down to make sure that it's back.

GORDON: Well, coming back with Charlie Wilson, a man who let it in some time ago, front man of The Gap Band, continues to be that. We should note that he's got the hottest song in the land, no exaggeration, and the CD of the same name, "Charlie, last name Wilson."

Hey, Charlie, good to talk to you, man.

Mr. WILSON: Thank you so much, man. I appreciate you, Ed, and God bless you, man.

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Mr. WILSON: (Singing) Baby just let me love you. I only wanna look out for you, girl. Look out just for you, girl. Yeah, yeah. And that's my guarantee. That is my guarantee. Baby, just let me show you. Let me show you, girl.

GORDON: That does it for the program today. To listen to the show, visit npr.org.

NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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