On Sunday June 23, 2013 the Blues world lost one of its most soulful voices, 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 spent his early years performing just up the street from the Mississippi Delta in Memphis, Bland’s smooth vocal style was closer to the big city Rhythm & Blues sound of artists like Louis Jordan and T-Bone Walker (he eventually earned the nickname “The Black Sinatra”).
During the 1950’s the Memphis music scene was one the biggest and most competitive in the South. Musicians from all over 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! The pool of talent was so impressive that it wasn’t long before record labels like Chess, Modern, and Duke got wind of what was going on and started signing artists to their rosters. Bobby “Blue” Bland first recordings were for the the Modern and Chess labels. Although they were very good they 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, 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.