published Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Former Gap Band front man Charlie Wilson to headline Riverbend

In this Dec. 17, 2009 photo, Charlie Wilson is pictured during an interview in Atlanta.
In this Dec. 17, 2009 photo, Charlie Wilson is pictured during an interview in Atlanta.
Photo by Associated Press.
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The 12-year-old girl in Chicago was sure the man walking in front of her recently was singer Charlie Wilson, but her mother was gripped by a serious case of stranger danger.

When the singer turned around and the girl ran up to him, the mom still was wary about the man until he reminded her he used to sing with The Gap Band.

Then the mom screamed with recognition.

Such is the life of Wilson, a member of the band of brothers whose broadest funk success as The Gap Band came in the 1970s and 1980s but who has charted a successful solo career for himself in the 1990s and 2000s.

The singer, often known as Uncle Charlie and now heading his own band, is the Coca-Cola Stage act tonight at the Riverbend Festival.

Wilson says his act is "full of energy," lights and color.

"My light guy is like one of the band members," he said. "It's incredible."

Wilson said he'll sing hits from his three solo albums -- 2005's certified gold "Charlie, Last Name Wilson," 2009's Grammy-nominated "Uncle Charlie" and 2010's "Just Charlie," with its Grammy-nominated "You Are" -- and all of The Gap Band hits.

"We'll just reminisce," he said.

Wilson, whose fourth album will be released soon, said he feels grateful to have made the transition from one member of a band to a solo career.

"I'm having a good time," he said. "I'm the only one who has had the success I've had coming out of a (similar) group. It's never been done."

That's not to say there weren't bumps along the way. Wilson is a prostate cancer survivor and an advocate of education about the disease. And once The Gap Band broke up, he admits to struggling with addictions.

"Drugs and alcohol played a big part," he said. "But I'm sober and clean now. It's been wonderful."

Wilson said his show is not like a Gap Band show, what with dancers and "all kinds of stuff behind me."

"I'm the boss," he said. "I'm the one guy calling the shots. I help design the clothes. I'm hands-on. I'm having a great time."

While Wilson has been named as an inspiration by the likes of singers Aaron Hall and R. Kelly and collaborated with current artists such as Snoop Dog, Kanye West, Jamie Foxx, T-Pain and Justin Timberlake, he says he is not singing for 12-year-olds any more.

"They kept me current," he said of his variety of musical friends, "but I try to stay in the lane with grown and sexy adults. It's a catch-22, but it's working for me [to] sustain success."

Tonight, Wilson said he'll likely play to a majority of audience members who never knew he was in The Gap Band.

Nevertheless, he said, he'll "try to please the older fans" with the band's hits like "Outstanding," "Burn Rubber" or "You Dropped a Bomb on Me." "If I don't," he said, "they'll be chanting" for them.

But Wilson has a word for the ladies, who know him from his solo career and may want to come dressed up to hear his passionate intonations.

"They can come with their stilettos on," he said, "but tell them to have their tennis shoes with them. Because they'll be moving. They'll be up. They'll be dancing. Then, when they leave, they can put their stilettos back on."

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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