On Sunday June 23, 2013 the Blues world lost one of it’s most soulful voices in Bobby “Blue” Bland. Unlike many of his contemporaries Bland lived to the golden age of 83, thus making him one of the last living connections to the Memphis Blues scene of the 1950’s. In his early days Bland performed on Beale street along with artists like Johnny Ace, Little Junior Parker, Ike Turner, Howlin’ Wolf and B.B. King. Although he performed with many Delta Blues players Bland’s smooth vocal style was closer to the big city Rhythm & Blues sound of artists like Louis Jordan and T-Bone Walker (this eventually earned him the nickname “The Black Sinatra”). Along with artists like Junior Parker and Johnny Ace, Bland’s style helped shape the Memphis Soul Blues style that would influence artists like Otis Redding and Al Green.
During the 1950’s the Memphis music scene was one the biggest and most competitive in the South. Musicians from all over the Southern states flocked to the area to showcase their talent at the clubs on Beale Street and across the river in West Memphis. In these clubs you had to be not only on top of your game musically but you had to be able to put on a show! It wasn’t long before record labels like Chess, Modern, and Duke got wind of what was going on and started trying to cherry pick talent from the local scene. Using recording engineer Sam Phillips and his Memphis Recording Service as one of their main contacts these labels started bringing the music of Memphis to the masses. Bobby “Blue” Bland started out recording some sides that were released by the Modern and Chess labels were very good but failed to draw national attention. It wasn’t until he started recording for Duke Records in 1954 that he found success as a recording artist. His first big single was “Farther On Up The Road” which reached number 1 on the R&B charts. In 1961 Bland and Duke released the album Two Steps from the Blues which was combined some newly recorded “Big Band” style tracks along with some of his previously released late fifties sides. The album was an instant success and took Bland’s career to the next level.
In the years following “Two Steps From The Blues” Bland released albums and kept a busy touring schedule. Duke released like Here’s The Man, His California Album, and The Soul Of The Man but in 1968 due to a number of personal problems Bland disbanded his touring band and cut his live schedule way back. He enjoyed some success with the single “This Time I’m Gone For Good” from His California Album which broke into the top 50 on the Pop Charts. In 1974 Bland teamed up with B.B. King and released the first of two live albums with B.B. King. Together for the First Time…Live was a commercial success and helped Bland and King stay in the spotlight through the 70’s. The pair toured on and off together for the next 35 years.
Although he may not have had the commercial success of B.B. King or Muddy Waters, Bobby “Blue” Bland was a force to be reckoned with in the would of Blues and R&B. He’s inspired everyone from the Heavy Metal band Whitesnake to the legendary Rapper Jay-Z. He’s a member of both the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame and The Blues Foundation Hall Of Fame and has performed sold out concerts all over the world. B.B. King credits him as being one of the best singers he’s ever heard. Personally, I agree with Mr. King. Thank you Bobby for sharing your music and talent with us.