Saying Goodbye to The Screaming Eagle of Soul and The Story Behind The Best Burger in Columbus

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Charles Bradley had a tougher life than me. Charles Bradley had a better soul than you. Charles Bradley had bigger heart than all of us and his music will still be here long after we have shuffled off this mortal coil.

Of course, the Screaming Eagle of Soul would be more humble than that introduction. The Soul singer extraordinaire had a purpose on earth and that purpose was to make amazing Soul and R&B, to bring people together by advocating peace and harmony and to celebrate this wonderful journey we call life. Check, check and check.

For this entry, we are going to go old school and discuss old school Soul sung by an old soul and Columbus’ original old school hamburger joint However, before we talk about burgers, let’s pay our respects to the Legend that was Charles Bradley.

Legend has it that the Bradley was born in Gainesville, Florida in 1948 and raised by his grandmother until the age of eight. Soon after turning eight, Bradley’s mother took him to live with her in Brooklyn. Bradley and his mother had a tumultuous relationship that led to Bradley running away from home (at the age of 14) to chase his musical dreams.

Along the way he became a journeyman in both the literal and figurative sense. Moving across the country (and at times being homeless) he found work as a handyman, a line cook and eventually as a James Brown impersonator at the age of 48 when he returned to Brooklyn to reconcile with his mother.

The James Brown gig (in which he billed himself as Black Velvet) grew in popularity and his shows grew in legend. Eventually, Bradley was signed to Daptone Records and at 63, released his solo album No Time For Dreaming. A star was born.

No Time For Dreaming (2011) was followed by Victim of Love (2013) and Changes (2016). At this point, I usually break down each album, but each album filled to the brim with sweet, retro Soul and R&B and as a result, there are no sides worth flipping and no tracks worth skipping.  These songs are timeless and would feel at home at Stax Records, on Berry Gordy‘s turntable or on the radio in 1975 Philadelphia.

Highlights from the three albums include:

  • The World (Is Going Up in Flames)’ off of No Time For Dreaming – Perhaps Bradley’s most James Brown inspired track. There are horns, pianos and a message about society falling apart. If you close your eyes and concentrate, it is easy to envision James Brown singing this song at The Apollo in 1968.
  • ‘Heartaches and Pain’ off of No Time For Dreaming – This horn based, story telling ballad was chosen directly from the Otis Redding playbook and instantly scores a touchdown.
  • ‘Victim of Love’ off of Victim of Love – I really love the back up singers on this track. It is reminiscent of the Delfonics  in its old school East Coast Soul aesthetic.
  • You Put The Flame On It‘ off of Victim of Love – If you want to start a soul band, use this video as a tutorial to figure out how the horn section works.
  • Crazy For Your Love‘ off of Changes – Perhaps Bradley’s most complete song. There are horns, Gospel Harmonies and a talk intro – all delivered behind a driving bass.
  • Changes‘ off of Changes – It takes a certain amount of bravado to make Black Sabbath’s only ballad your own and somehow Bradley found enough Soul to pull this off. Bradley reinvented this song and made it more exotic than it ever could have been in its natural habitat. Well done Charles Bradley, well done.

 

It should be noted that Bradley was also known for his amazing live shows in which he consistently talked to the audience about the world’s need for peace, love, understanding and empathy.

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Sweating tears (literally and figuratively) and being simpatico with his band, these performances were legendary.

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A hallmark of these shows were his Hugs and Roses (which I am claiming as a name for a Guns ‘n’ Roses children’s cover band). At the end of each show, Bradley would stay after and hug as many audience members as possible and hand out a few roses.  It simply doesn’t get any better than that.

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I truly regret not traveling to Louisville to see him perform recently. My loss.

At this point, you are probably wondering why I am including Johnnie’s Tavern in this entry. Well, dear reader, there are a few reason:

  1. Last week was Hamburger and Beer Week in Columbus and I wanted a hamburger. Of course Johnnie’s was not on the list of restaurants advertising their goods. Want to know why? Because Johnnie’s doesn’t need to advertise.
  2. Johnnie’s seems to be the kind of place that Charles Bradley would have eaten at or maybe even worked at, given his journeyman story. It is full of character, has stood the test of time and most importantly has never needed to change. See what I am getting at there?
  3. Bradley and Johnnie’s are both surrounded by a lot of legends. I am sure both have a bit of hyperbole and exaggeration, but isn’t that what makes legends fun?

Dominic Lombard opened Johnnie’s in 1946 in San Margerhita, Ohio. San Margerhita was an Italian enclave and many of its residence worked at the Marble Cliff stone quarry and would eventually leave San Margherita and move to Marble Cliff and Grandview (hence the high number of Italian restaurants in Grandview).

However, before this exodus occurred, many of the quarry workers would stop at Johnnie’s for lunch. Legend has it that these same workers could find out the line on the local game and make a wager, as Johnnie’s was rumored to be a sports book.

Regardless of what is true and what is not, Johnnie’s is still in its original location and has never really changed. Johnnie’s has a small wood-paneled interior, regular patrons and caters equally to blue and white collars. Johnnie’s also has a fair amount of local flair and more than its fair share of chotchkies.

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Alright, let’s get to the burgers!

Served on a sesame bun, cooked to medium and sliced in half, the burger is 3/4 of a pound and worth every penny of the $7.99 price tag.

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The American Cheese topped burger was juicy and cooked to a perfect medium. The tomatoes, lettuce, pickles and onions were fresh and the Onion Rings ($2.99) were flaky, hot and crisp.

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It was a pretty damn good burger and I didn’t feel like a (complete) glutton for finishing my plate. If Johnnie’s wants to claim the best burger in town, I won’t argue.

Megan ordered her burger with cheese, lettuce and pickles. She also chose tater tots ($2.50).

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Her burger was also delicious, but ultimately too much for her to finish. The tots were abundant and hot, but also stale and bland. I recommend the onion rings and feel as if the fries would also be a solid choice.

Johnnies also boasts that they serve the coldest beer in town. I ordered a Hilltop Lager from Four String.Johnnies Edited-4040

The draft itself was cold and was served in a chilled glass.

Megan ordered a bottled Stella Artouis. The bottle was very cold and it also came with a chilled glass. Again, money well spent.

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As we wrapped up our night, and paid our $26 tab (what a deal!), my mind kept switching to Charles Bradley. I was sad and bitter that he was gone, but I remembered his message of love, tolerance and forgiveness. I also became convinced that all of the world’s problems could be solved by going to Johnnie’s, having a burger and a beer, listening to a Charles Bradley record and talking. Talking about similarities and differences, without yelling and screaming. Leaving the vitriol at home and trading it in for a frosty mug full of empathy and experience. Is life really that simple? No, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to try.

ADDITIONS & SUBSTITUTIONS

  • I mentioned The Delfonics earlier. I was introduced to them during a scene in Quentin Tarantino’s criminally underrated Jackie Brown. If you aren’t familiar, listen to ‘Didn’t I Blow Your Mind‘ and it will surely blow yours.
  • Legend also has it that Dominic Lombard worked at Johnnie’s everyday, including the morning he died, at the age of 94.
  • According to the locals, the burger is not quite as good as it used to be. As legend would have it, the beef for the burgers was purchased at Rife’s Market until Rife’s Market shuttered its doors in 2014. Where the beef is no purchased is currently up for debate.
  • Daptone Records recently released this video. Do you want to see Charles Bradley sing an A Capella version of ‘Victim of Love’ outside of a cathedral in Austria? I thought so.

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