It’s just after 7pm and I am at an industry function on a weekday. The affair exudes affluence and the who’s who are here in their numbers.
On any other day I would be in my element because it would be just another night at work, but tonight is different. In half an hour I will be getting a call from Charlie Wilson to chat about his career. Yes, we are talking about the six-time Grammy nominee Charlie Wilson dialling my digits. I almost choke when the phone rings while I am in the middle of a sip of my fruit juice. It is an American number and I walk away from the crowd to find a quiet spot.
If you don’t know what I am doing, you’d think I am one of those kids who have had one too many at a club and have started drunk- dialling. But I am far from that; at this point I am too nervous to drink anything stronger than orange juice.
“Hello. Is this Mr Wilson?” I ask.
“Yes, it is. Hello,” says a familiar voice on the other end.
Realising that I am speaking to one of R&B’s royalty, I force myself to calm down and then introduce myself. I delve right into his recent album, Love Charlie.
“I believe I am the Moses of R&B,” he says. “The genre has been suffering over the years because of hip hop, but I am here to lead the way and show the youngsters how it is done,” he continues, seemingly oblivious that he is bragging.
In 1967 the man was a member of The Gap Band, who were successful in the funk and soul era. In 1992 he released his first solo effort, You Turn My Life Around, which was critically acclaimed. Since then Uncle Charlie, as he is known in the industry, has been rolling out old- school R&B albums, showing the youngsters how it is done.
“I love hip hop, but I hate the fact that it degrades women. I had a long conversation with Snoop, who I am really close to, about that. I loved his music but hated that he always used the ‘B’ word when he referred to women.
“He heard what I said and toned it down, but Tupac started making fun of Snoop, saying he was going all soft, and unfortunately I never got to reason with him about the subject as he passed on,” he reflects.
And that’s just the command Uncle Charlie has over the young cats. From influencing the likes of R Kelly to guest appearances on the recent Boyz II Men CD, Wilson still remains relevant after all his years in the business.
“I was around when Marvin (Gaye) and Stevie (Wonder) were making music,” he says.
“So I know what is needed to save R&B. I am the head of the pack and guys like R Kelly and Brian McKnight all helped build the genre in the 1980s and the ’90s and I feel responsible to make sure it remains here.”
The Love Charlie sleeve has a melancholic paragraph about how Wilson is indebted to God for his life turning out well from a dark past. If you do a bit of digging you would be right to suspect that he, like any other great musician, hit a dark patch and succumbed to drug and alcohol abuse.
“That was just a snippet. I am writing a book about it all. I have had people not believe in me when I was down and now that I am back on top they want to come out like they were always there. I know them all,” he says.
With an old voice and an old sound like his, it is hard to find other people doing his kind of music, so you have to wonder what the man listens to.
“I still go back to my old-school stuff. I got the Bill Withers and Earth, Wind and Fire. I also love Mary J Blige and kids like Miguel, but I don’t listen to radio that much,” he says.
• Love Charlie is now available in music stores and on iTunes.