GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: BOBBY “BLUE” BLAND
by Todd Beebe
On June 23, 2013, the world lost one of the titans of the blues. Bobby “Blue” Bland was a true original in every sense of the word. His vocal style influenced everyone from Van Morrison and Eric Clapton to David Bowie and Gregg Allman. Many vocalist lean towards either the “rough” side or the “slick” side. Bobby Bland had the unique gift of both. Take a listen to any of his great tracks, from “Farther Up The Road” and “Cry, Cry, Cry” to “I Pity The Fool” and “Turn On Your Love Light.” Bobby could draw the listener in with one of the sweetest, smoothest voices they had ever heard, and then tear them to pieces with pure soul and grit.
Bobby Bland was part of a unique breed of artists in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Acts like Bobby, Ray Charles, and Sam Cooke were mixing blues with gospel and R&B to create a new blend of soulful blues that eventually lead to acts like the great Otis Redding. By that time the music was called “soul,” and Bobby Bland was one of its founding fathers.
[pullquote] Then in 1948 he moved to Memphis to become part of musical history.[/pullquote]
Robert Calvin Bland was born January 27, 1930 in Rosemark, Tennessee. Early on Bland worked with many gospel groups, which had a big impact on his style. Then in 1948 he moved to Memphis to become part of musical history. Bland was part of the Beale Streeters, which also included Johnny Ace, Junior Parker, Rosco Gordon and a then up and coming B.B. King. King and Bland quickly became great friends, and shared many concert billings together through the years.
His first recordings were waxed in the early 50’s for labels Chess and Modern. However, Bland’s career was temporarily put on hold when the Army drafted him in 1952. After returning from the Service, Bobby teamed up with Duke Records and began recording a string of hits that have influenced generation after generation. Somewhere, right now, as you are reading this, someone in a bar is playing “Stormy Monday Blues,” or “Farther Up The Road,” or “Saint James Infirmary.” These songs have come to be associated with various artists through the years. But make no mistake- Bobby Bland was the first one to really put his own personal spin on these tunes, causing others to want to record them.
[pullquote]Be sure to listen to the albums “Together For The First Time” and “Together Again…Live.”[/pullquote]
The mainstream never really came calling for Bobby Bland, and he was probably OK with that. He stayed true to his heart, and he always did it his own way. As the 60’s came and went, the 70’s saw another run of influential albums from Bobby. ABC purchased the Duke Label and released “His California Album,” and “Dreamer.” Both are blues masterpieces that showed the world Bobby “Blue” Bland still had a lot to say. He also continued his close association with B.B. King, which made for some great music. Be sure to listen to the albums “Together For The First Time” and “Together Again…Live.” In my opinion, these 2 LP’s contain some of the finest blues ever recorded.
I’d like to end this tribute to Bobby sharing one of my favorite blues memories. Bobby Bland was one of the first live blues acts I was ever exposed to. He played with Albert King and B.B King, right in Merriville, Indiana. This triple bill came to the Star Plaza Theatre every Easter for many, many years. I was there every time, and was fortunate enough to meet these great bluesmen on many occasions. Bobby, Albert and B.B. were always gentlemen in every sense of the word. I have great memories of all three of them recognizing the people who came to see them every year. Blues memories like that make me smile. When Albert King left us, B.B. and Bobby still held court every Easter in Merriville for awhile. But like all good things, that run eventually came to an end. I’ll always remember how Bobby seemed to just hold the audience in the palm of his hand. And the ladies hung on his every word! Then there was his classic “growl.” He’d throw it in whenever he felt like it, and the whole place would go wild. I’ve seen many, many shows over the years, but watching Bobby Bland work a crowd is something I’ll never forget.
Those shows in Merriville made a lasting impression on me, and my heart sank when I heard that Bobby Bland had passed away. But I’d like to end on a positive note, as I know that’s how he would want it to be. Whenever you hear “Stormy Monday Blues”- think of Bobby Bland. Whenever you hear ANYONE putting some soul and shine on top of their blues- think of Bobby Bland. Whenever you hear someone “growl” and tear the audience to pieces- think of Bobby Bland. And whenever you hear of someone making a living as a true artist, doing it their way and not chasing the trends- think of Bobby Bland. He’ll be there. Thank you so much for sharing your life and your music with us. RIP our friend, Mr. Bobby “Blue” Bland.