Robert Bradleys Blackwater Surprise
An anachronism in the world of late-'90s rock & roll, Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise consists of the group's namesake, a wizened Detroit street singer, plus three relatively fresh-faced alterna-kids as a backing band. Robert Bradley was born in Alabama, but gained musical experience and spirit by singing as a child at The Alabama School for the Blind, playing his acoustic guitar at coffeehouses, and piano in Baptist churches. He had spent several years in Detroit by 1994, performing occasionally on the street just to be heard, when guitarist Michael Nehra, bassist Andrew Nehra, and drummer Jeff Fowlkes (formerly in the Detroit band Second Self) overheard Bradley through an open window while rehearsing for a new project. After listening to Bradley sing for an hour, they invited him up to the studio to record several acoustic songs, then invited him to become their vocalist.
The Nehra brothers' production experience (with Detroit locals Majesty Crush) helped out the group while recording their debut album, 1996's Blackwater Surprise. The band's eccentric background and energetic live show — almost gospel in feel — gained them many fans on frequent club dates as well as arena shows opening up for the likes of the Dave Matthews Band, Big Head Todd & the Monsters, Widespread Panic, and Maceo Parker. Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise also did well on alternative radio and VH1. Keyboard player Tim Diaz joined up as well prior to the band's sophomore effort, 2000's Time to Discover. In 2002, they released New Ground, followed in 2003 by the softer, piano-based record Still Lovin' You. The next year Bradley starred as fictional bluesman Otis McClanahan in the HBO film Lackawanna Blues, also contributing to the soundtrack, and in 2006 the live two-disc album What About That: New Year's Eve in Bloomington came out, which was recorded during a 2005 concert at the Indiana city's club the Bluebird, one of Bradley's favorite venues.