Another great voice from the pantheon great R&B vocalists, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, passes away at 83.
Having been schooled on what’s become known as “Northern Soul” I was inevitably given a couple of post all-nighter introductions to the distinctive husky and soulful tones of Mr. Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland and inevitably felt saddened when I heard that he’d passed away at the age of 83.
Considering that he was born in Tennessee in 1930 and had left school in the third grade to work in the cotton fields Robert Calvin Brooks aka Bobby Bland built an amazing career. Inspired by the pioneering blues guitarist T-Bone Walker he moved to Memphis where he joined the Beale Streeters – a loose-knit collective whose members at various points included Johnny Ace, Rosco Gordon, Earl Forest and B. B. King. He traveled as a part of the Johnny Ace Revue and recorded for the Chess, Modern and Duke labels – you can savour his classy, bluesy and soulful big band recordings via the ever dependable Ace Records.
The young Bobby Bland followed BB King and worked for a while as his valet and chauffeur. Following a stint in the Armed Forces he took on the same role for Junior Parker but also featured as Parker’s opening act. By the Sixties was headlining his own tours playing as many as 300 one-night engagements a year. Along with James brown and BB King he also warranted the title of “hardest working man in show business.
Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s music was rooted in the blues but after studying the recorded gospel sermons of Aretha’s father – CL Franklin – he emerged as a stylistic pioneer with a distinctive “squall” and one of the warmest voices in rhythm and blues. Despite being eclipsed during the Motown and Stax era of the Sixties he bounced back and broke through to a wider audience in the mid-70s with the classy ‘California Album’ and ‘Dreamer’ – which gave the world a classic ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’. A couple of collaboration albums with his good friend BB King followed but the majors were no place for Bobby Bland and it seems fitting that he finished his recording career cutting 10 albums of archetypal southern soul at Mississippi-based Malaco label.
As a singer Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland was umbilically linked to a generation of hard working African-American’s who resonated with and took refuge in the trials and tribulation of life expressed in the lyrics and sentiments of songs like ‘I Pity The Fool’, ‘Farther Up The Road’ ‘I’m Not Ashamed’ or ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’. I definitely have a soft spot for those songs and will continue to spin the vinyl and give thanks for the soul and sustenance that Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland gave us all.