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Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise


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Simply put, Robert Bradley’s life is the stuff of rock and roll legend. Born the blind son of an Alabama farmer, and one of 14 children, Bradley had spent a lifetime singing in churches and on the streets of Detroit before his childhood dreams of life as a soul singer finally came true.

Now 56, Bradley was in his 40s when he signed his first record deal, debuting on the RCA label with his band of white Detroit rock musicians, the Blackwater Surprise. Immediately striking a chord with fans of sweaty, heartfelt soul music, Bradley’s deep, raspy voice was—and is—very much a pure representation of who he is: It bears both the sweetness of his country roots and the grit of the Detroit sidewalks where he made his living for more than a decade. It beautifully blends his loves for everyone from Chuck Willis and Otis Redding to the Rolling Stones and Fats Domino.

Born in Evergreen, Alabama, the son of a homemaker and a farmer, Bradley bounced back and forth from Alabama, Detroit and California, before he became somewhat of a local celebrity as a busker at Detroit’s Eastern Market in the ‘70s and ‘80s, where he strummed out hours of originals occasionally interrupted by a gospel standard or Temptations cover.

As a child, he grew up listening to country and western and the local blues programs favored by his father: But the likes of Louis Jordan, Elmore James and Robert Johnson were forbidden in his grandmother’s home, where he was schooled on gospel. “She had a piano, and when I was a kid, I’d go over there and play it, but that’s all we were allowed to play—gospel. No boogie-woogie.”


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