Whether Charlie Wilson performs with Snoop or inspires Bruno Mars, he’s still bridging the gap


For Charlie Wilson’s new album “In It to Win It,” released earlier this year, the veteran soul singer rounded up some major special guest stars: Pitbull, Wiz Khalifa, T.I., Lalah Hathaway, Robin Thicke. He’s somewhat surprised he got them on the album.

“I always wanted to work with a lot of different people,” says Wilson, 64, on the phone from his Los Angeles home. “A lot of people always ask me to work with them as well. I just started dropping names and (my team and I) were laughing about who could we get, and we probably couldn’t get ’em, and it was just a fun thing.”

But Wilson knew there was one performer who would appear on his album no matter what: Snoop Dogg. Wilson and the iconic West Coast MC (and, as of this week, current host of “The Joker’s Wild” on TBS) have had a beautiful friendship ever since they collaborated on songs for Snoop’s 1996 sophomore album “Tha Doggfather.”

“I met Snoop in the early ’90s,” he remembers. “I was just coming off of getting clean and sober, and we just bond together, man. You know, him and Dr. Dre and those guys back in the day – they were always listening to Gap Band, Zapp, George Clinton, and they come up listening to the music. And, so, they all wanted to be a part of what (those artists) were doing. It just took me a minute to get in there, you know.”

ince then, both men have appeared on nearly all of each other’s albums. And Wilson appeared Oct. 16 on the Season 2 premiere of Snoop’s TV series, “Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party.”

“Snoop is always around the corner in my mind,” Wilson says. “Snoop is just there for me at any turn – and every turn – and I’m there for him as well.”

Snoop isn’t the only contemporary artist to have called on Wilson’s still-delicious, Southern vocals over the years. He has appeared on several of Kanye West’s albums, and Pharrell, Tyler, the Creator and Marsha Ambrosius have also called on his melodious services.

But it’s not just Uncle Charlie who has come back in style. The early ’70s/early ’80s electro-funk sound he helped create as frontman for the R&B group The Gap Band (a group he formed in Oklahoma with his brothers Robert and Ronnie) has become in vogue, thanks mostly to artists like Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson, who teamed up on the popular retro hit “Uptown Funk.”

“It’s a beautiful thing,” Wilson says. “It’s like it was when I thought I kinda heard my voice back in the day, when it was (new-jack swing group) Guy and those guys. I wouldn’t say it was paying tribute, but it was just like they grew up listening to Gap Band – and I would imagine Mark Ronson as well. And I know Bruno did. I was one of those bands that were probably in his catalog as well. So, by taking that music and bringing it to today’s sound and making it a pop record, I think it’s great, you know what I’m saying?”

“In other words, we don’t get the chance to do it yourself,” he adds. “It’s always somebody else that can reinvent that thing for you. Because if you do it, then, of course, you’ll have so many people say that sound is dated, you know. And, so, you have to reinvent what you’re doing and let somebody else tap that on the back and put that in the music selection for people around the world.”

As a man who has survived drug and alcohol abuse as well as a late-aughts bout with pancreatic cancer, Wilson is grateful to find that whenever he goes on tour, he is entertaining both young and old audiences. He’ll be in Raleigh Oct. 28 with Anthony Hamilton and La’Porsha Renae.

“My crowds are getting younger as I perform, and they’re coming even on the backs of their parents,” he says. “There are some really little, young ones in the crowds, and they have to get on their shoulders and stand up. It’s great. I’ve seen a lot of very, very, very young kids, and it’s like a family thing now. And, so, I’m very fortunate to have a connection to different – a younger audience, I would say.”