Charlie Wilson is a familiar presence in Atlanta most summers at Chastain Park Amphitheatre.
He’s known for bringing both the party and the smooth during his live shows, which is one reason why he’s upgrading to arenas on his new tour with fellow R&B-soul charmers Kem and Joe. (Their Philips Arena concert Saturday is a sell-out).
His fans adore him and they’ve supported “Uncle” Charlie from his 1970s and ’80s heyday with the Gap Band through a solo career that started in 1992 and most recently bore the audio gift “Forever Charlie,” his seventh studio album, which has produced the finger-snapper “Goodnight Kisses.”
In a call from New York the week of his new album’s release in late January, the always beguiling Wilson talked about his guests on the album, why he’s touring with Kem and Joe, and his love for Atlanta.
Q: You recently celebrated your 62nd birthday. Do birthdays mean more to you having endured those health scares? (In 2008, Wilson was diagnosed with prostate cancer; he continues to be an advocate for testing.)
A: Birthdays to me now are just a number. Other people, when you say birthdays, they think about the age. I think about thanking God for another year of living. I don’t think about the day I was born, but that I had a chance to wake up again and live another year. That’s the only way I look at it. I’m so happy about life; I celebrate it all the time. I pray twice a day and thank God for life.
Q: Tell me about this tour. Why did you want to tour with Kem and Joe?
A: Because they’re some of the greatest singers we have right now and they understand how to put on a show and they’re gonna go hard. They’re gonna sing and put it down.
Q: Will there be any collaborations?
A: You never know what the three of us could do on a live night. Go big or go home. We’re not in theaters, we’re in arenas, and everything gets bigger. All (fans) need to do is show up.
Q: Speaking of, you have some great collaborations on this album. What was it like working with Shaggy?
A: Shaggy was such a sweetheart. He cut his part either in Jamaica or New York and the files didn’t make it in. So when I called him to tell him, Shaggy got on a plane and came to L.A. and recorded the whole thing over.
Q: You and Snoop Dogg go back a long time. Was it a no-brainer to have him involved?
A: I was so happy to have him on this new record because I’m on his new record that I thought would come out before mine. … For his album, I’m on about nine songs. I’m always there for Snoop. When it comes to him or Pharrell (Williams), I’m here, put me on whatever. I’ll sing on everything. When I asked him to come on my record, he was like, I’m going to light this thing up. It’s a beautiful thing to have Snoop; he has a great spirit.
Q: How do you manage to bridge the gap between funk and rap so well?
A: It’s a thin line trying to figure out what you need to do. One thing I don’t do is I don’t try to make records for radio. I don’t try to please one genre or one generation of people. What I do try to do is make great records, records that will be around for a while, that people are gonna sing 20 years from now. I try to remember that what worked then will work now, it’s just how you purchase the records is all that’s different now. I think I’ve got my finger on the pulse of knowing what my fans like and what they miss. Me and Kanye (West) or me and Pharrell, it’s just been a blessing to do that music and be heard and you can find out who Uncle Charlie is. But I’m not talking about your booty. I’m not going to be degrading women.
Q: It seems as if Atlanta is a good market for you.
A: I just remember back in the day, Atlanta, when the Omni was there, we used to sell that place out. I remember we’d do two nights back in the day. That market was always big for the Gap Band. It’s like they just stuck with me. Atlanta is so supportive of Charlie Wilson. They continue to stay supportive of Charlie; they know he’s going to put on a show for you and he’s going to sweat. I love Atlanta, Atlanta loves me and I’m so happy that the city is such a big fan.
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For a review of Wilson’s show, as well as more music news, visit the Music Scene blog at AJC.com.