Anyone who’s experienced Charlie Wilson in concert knows he takes no prisoners. When Uncle Charlie and crew set the party train in motion, any other performers in vicinity better jump off the tracks.
An 11-time Grammy nominee, Wilson performs favorites from his solo career and funk and R&B classics from his 1970s and ’80s run with the Gap Band (“You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” “Early in the Morning,” “Burn Rubber on Me”). Since beginning his solo career in 2000, he’s released eight albums and 10 No. 1 songs.
In February, Wilson’s latest solo album, “In It to Win It,” debuted at No. 1 in Billboard’s R&B album chart, No. 7 in the Billboard 200 and No. 2 in Top Album Sales.
Saturday, the BET Lifetime Achievement Award honoree’s “In It to Win It” tour pulls into the Raising Cane’s River Center Arena. Uncle Charlie spoke to The Advocate in advance of the show.
You became a star with the Gap Band. You launched a thriving solo career in 2000. Because you’re still in the thick of it, did you think the BET Lifetime Achievement Award you received in 2013 was perhaps premature?
I was overwhelmed by the BET Lifetime Achievement Award. But it was kind of bittersweet for me. Because, when I see other people receiving tributes, I notice they don’t have anything new out. They’re yesterday’s stars.
In my mind, I’m just getting started. I’ve got No. 1 records. I was happy to get the award, but I’ve got a lot more stuff to give people. Love and inspiration. All of that.
Why do you work as hard and as much as you do?
When I started doing my solo projects, 17 years ago, people said, "He’s a washed-up singer. Can he still do it?" I’ve still got that in the back of my mind. I always think I have to prove that I can do anything that I want to do, through Christ Jesus.
Where do you get all of that energy?
I have the passion. Gap Band shows back in the day were all high-energy level. I had to pull off that energy. I had to pull it out. And that was the only way I knew how to perform. I’m still trying to prove that I can do this at any level.
You recorded many solo hits that audiences love, but when you pull out a Gap Band song, is that special?
That’s a win-win right there. But one problem that I did have, people didn’t really know Charlie Wilson was in the Gap Band. They didn’t know I’m the same guy who had all those hit records. But after the BET Awards, when I was in London and across Europe, they’d seen the BET Awards. They said, "Man, now I know who you are!" That was great, people finding that out.
What do you enjoy most about entertaining people?
The biggest part for me is watching the fans enjoy themselves. I see their signs with the names of songs written on them. I would love to perform all of the records that I know, all of the songs I know the people love, but my show would be four hours long.
When you’re on a multiple-act show, such as the Essence Festival in New Orleans, do you want to outdo whoever else is performing that night?
I’m not really trying to outdo anybody. I’m there to please the fans to the utmost. That’s for sure. This is why I do it. Everybody who comes to see me should have a good time. And I go hard to make sure people have a good time.
Many guest artists appear on your new album. How do choose them?
I run into people who are so creative. And I find out who’s got good vibes. Then you just see if that works. You work at it a year, a year-and-a-half and say, "That’s some good stuff."
You experienced tremendous success with your brothers Ronnie and Robert in the Gap Band. But then you entered a dark period of drugs, alcohol and homelessness. You not only lived through the darkness, you returned to music and made a new career for yourself. Do you feel blessed?
God has been good to me. Anything I ask from Him in prayer, I get. But I have to remember one thing: If I ask Him for something, I must also be listening to Him. Because if He asks something of me and I don’t do it, that can’t be good. I believe in God. I’m definitely a blessed man. I just try to be faithful and obedient.
CHARLIE WILSON'S IN IT TO WIN IT CONCERT
Featuring Anthony Hamilton and La'Porsha Renae
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Raising Cane’s River Center Arena, 275 S. River Road, Baton Rouge