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King of Pain

Charles City singer Governor knows the blues.


The soul-music artist, a native of Charles City, is back home from the first leg of a promotional tour in support of his just-released major label debut, "Son of Pain." But he can't rest much. "It's a short celebration," he says. "I finally got the album in stores. Now we got to sell them."

Selling CDs and winning new fans is foremost on the artist's mind as he prepares for his fall tour dates, which include a stop here at the Canal Club Sept. 30 and also a number of opening slots for R&B star Heather Headley.

Of the Governor concert experience, one can expect "a very live and organic show," Governor says. As he's also shared in previous conversations, the 30-something singer prefers to leave the highly choreographed dancing and pyrotechnics to others, while he delivers "the blues side of R&B" to a live audience.

The blues is a fitting metaphor for the life of Governor Washington Jr., the elder son of a Charles City-area deacon and a mother who, tragically, committed suicide shortly after her son's birth. Governor and his younger brother grew up in a modest household where, as he puts it, "we had grown-men chores." Charles City County, with a population of 7,120 in the 2004 census, is a rural community where the per-capita income dips well below the national average, and where being sent "to the woods to cut firewood" to heat your home is a typical day's chore.

"I know what it's like to cut grass with a swing blade," Governor says, cushioned by a knowing laugh. "I'm not mad about that at all," he continues. "If ever in the United States every damn bit of power goes out, I know how to live."

And Governor knows how to cope. He says his father, though a responsible man, was emotionally distant, especially about his son expressing any pain over the loss of his mother. "I didn't really have anyone to tell," Governor says. "I couldn't tell my pops because he was this stern, hard figure."

After leaving Charles City for a brief stint in the Navy, Governor jumped head first into the music industry. Eventually, after years on a constant grind, his work ethic led to "Another State of Mind," an indie release in 2000 on the now-defunct Warlock Records. It generated little buzz, but led to production work with hip-hop heavyweights, including the legendary Dr. Dre. His musical relationship with Dre evolved into an album project, but it was scrapped at the last minute because of label politics.

Now Governor, a classically trained singer who takes great pride in his soul-music roots, is the first singer on rapper T.I.'s joint venture with the Atlantic label. The hip-hop superstar T.I., dubbed "King of the South," told Vibe magazine earlier this year: "Governor is like an R&B version of me when I first came in the game. He doesn't need any alterations or special effects."

Accordingly, Governor's new album sports no requisite rapper cameos on its 13 tracks, but rather a sound that he calls "soul-folk," which combines '70s soul-music sensibilities with hip-hop production flourishes and a modern blues delivery that borders on spoken word. This blend has led to obvious comparisons to a young Curtis Mayfield, as well as to Governor's Virginian-bred musical peer D'Angelo. "I think we have just a lot of that same kind of soulful feeling," he says.

Saturday night's show at the Canal Club will give fellow Richmonders a chance to experience that "soulful feeling." Or simply, as Governor puts it, "I'm coming to sing, man." S

Governor with Lissen Band, DJ Sixth Sense and New Dimension Band play the Canal Club Saturday, Sept. 30. 21 and older. Tickets are $15 in advance and can be purchased online at Doors open at 9 p.m.

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