Bill Bradford calls himself an anomaly. Middle-aged. White. A retired bank vice president. And a soul maestro?
Bradford's stark NODA studio is where his soul revival happens: composing the music, writing lyrics and producing. The only part of a song he never contributes is vocals.
For that, he employs Charlotte's talented core of jazz and soul musicians -- like longtime local performer Daryle Ryce and Maria Howell, best known for her featured singing role in The Color Purple. Both appear on Bradford's recent Soul Project release, Reconnection (Spirit Records).
"No one knows about this in town," says Bradford. "It's sort of underground stuff here. But if you call a DJ in London or in Japan they'll know Sonja Grier or a Pervis Lee."
Charlotte native Sonja Grier, one of Spirit's artists, says the music is a little lighter than traditional soul. Grier, who is a CMS hearing officer by day, knows something about soul. As a child, she toured the country with her family's band, the Charlotte Steel Drum Symphonette, opening for classic acts like the Temptations and Martha & the Vandellas.
Bradford calls his music "new mainstream soul." He sees it apart from neo-soul and R&B, which feature singers pouring every ounce of their souls into a single track to serve their egos, not the song. He named his second album Reconnection because of the classic soul lineage he's trying to carry on.
Before he retired eight years ago at 55, Bradford worked for nearly 30 years as a VP for BB&T and two other banks. Working 50-hour corporate weeks, he was only able to make singles in his spare time. It usually took him six to nine months to record a song. But he lived for his music.
Having spent a lifetime working in a traditionally black genre, Bradford says he hasn't experienced any resentment or ill will because of his race. "I think a mind is a mind. Whatever influences a mind, it doesn't matter what you are. Whether other people see it that way, I don't know."