From 1979 to 1990, one of the hottest R&B groups in the universe was the Gap Band, consisting of three brothers, Charlie, Robert and Ronnie Wilson from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Many people are unaware of the fact that “Gap” is actually an acronym for Greenwood, Archer and Pine, three streets in Tulsa. In fact, the group was originally called the Greenwood, Archer and Pine Street Band, but the realization came to the Wilson brothers that the name was too long.
It was Ronnie who put the band together. First Charlie and then Robert joined. Charlie sang lead accompanied by his brothers. Robert also played guitar. There were numerous other musicians in the group as well.
It took the Gap Band a while to catch on. Their first two albums failed to attract the attention of radio programmers and, hence, find an audience.
THE TURNING point came when the group met Lonnie Simmons, a record producer who had negotiated a distribution deal with Mercury Records for his label, Total Experience Records. Signing the Gap Band benefitted all parties involved.
“Shake,” their first single since the new contract, found its way into the national Top 10. After that, it was virtually one smash after another, most of them uptempo, including “Early in the Morning,” “Burn Rubber (Why You Wanna Hurt Me?) and “Outstanding” — all of which reached No. 1 — plus “You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” “Party Train,” “Yearning for Your Love,” “Steppin’ (Out),” “All of My Love” and the humorously titled “I Don’t Believe You Want to Get up and Dance (Oops, Upside Your Head).”
Interestingly, the Wilson brothers also provided the background vocals on Stevie Wonder’s “I Ain’t Gonna Stand for It,” featured on his “Hotter Than July” album.
Part of the Gap Band’s legacy lies in the fact that their music has been sampled and covered by so many hip-hop and R&B artists, including Ashanti, Blackstreet, Jermaine Dupri, Nas, Mary J. Blige, Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg. The song sampled most frequently is “Outstanding.”
By 1992, things had slowed down for the Gap Band, so Charlie Wilson decided to carry on as a solo artist.
WILSON, who is scheduled to perform on March 1 at Joe Louis Arena with special guests Kem and Joe, found success, but not before being seriously sidetracked by drug addiction which he has since conquered.
And what makes that success even more noteworthy is the fact that he appeals not only to “middle-agers” but also to people much younger. He “keeps it fresh” and enjoys collaborating with young artists. He is often affectionately called “Uncle Charlie,” which is also the title of his 2009 album. That nickname, surprisingly, was given to him by Snoop Dogg.
Wilson’s first album as a solo attraction, released on an independent label, was “Bridging the Gap” but he didn’t shift into high gear until he signed with Jive Records.
The first album for Jive in 2004, “Charlie, Last Name Wilson,” was a huge success and, as would be expected from a man who is so young at heart, featured production by an array of young hitmakers, including will.i.am, Justin Timberlake and R. Kelly. The album was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for reaching the 500,000 mark in sales.
Wilson’s follow-up, “Uncle Charlie,” was also a major success and resulted in the singer-songwriter-producer receiving two Grammy nominations.
THE MOMENTUM was maintained with Wilson’s next album project, “Just Charlie,” a 2010 release that had the same type of sales as its predecessors. The single “You Are” was a massive hit, enjoying a long run in the No. 1 spot on the national R&B Singles chart and earning two Grammy nominations.
Wilson continued his winning ways with “Love, Charlie” in 2013 and is currently represented by “Forever Charlie.”
It is interesting to note that the word “Charlie” is omnipresent in his album titles. That could be defined as “further solidifying the brand.”
Wilson has been married to Mahin Tat since 1995. They met in an unexpected way — she was his social worker when he was in a drug rehabilitation program.
Charlie Wilson has often expressed his appreciation for his intergenerational appeal and the fact that he is consider a current attraction, never an oldies-but-goodies act.
Airplay is plentiful, his concerts are sellouts, the Grammy nominations are still coming, and last year he won an NAACP Image Award in the Outstanding Album category for “Love, Charlie.”