By Devon Wendell
Bobby “Blue” Bland was truly the last of the stand and deliver blues crooners. Since Bland started recording in Memphis in the mid-‘50s — as part of the thriving blues scene that included Roscoe Gordon, Rufus Thomas, Junior Parker and B.B. King — he changed the world of modern blues and soul music forever.
When I first heard Bland’s classic sophomore album Two Steps From The Blue (Duke, 1961) I was in high school, and I became obsessed with his music. On classic tracks such as: “I’ll Take Care Of You,” “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do,” “Further On Up The Road” and “Turn On Your Love Light,” Bland demonstrated that he could bend notes, moan, groan, and use his voice like an instrument, much like B.B. King (Bland’s collaborator and friend) did with his guitar.
I was young when I first heard Bland, and wasn’t used to seeing an artist singing the blues without either playing the guitar, harmonica, or piano as well, which at first made me hesitant to buy his records because I was all about the guitar. But when I heard the command and the soul in Bland’s voice, I was hooked.
There was desperate pleading mixed with great joy in Bland’s vocals that fused perfectly with his very funky rhythm arrangements. Bland freely mixed the Memphis blues, which he helped to pioneer, with gospel and R&B.
One of the greatest experiences of my life was at The Apollo Theater in NYC when I was 14 years old. On one bill there was Bobby “Blue” Bland, Ray Charles, and B.B. King. It was truly one of those pinch myself moments as a die hard blues musician and fanatic. It was easy to get backstage in those days and I got to spend time talking with Bland and King. At one point, Bland put his hand on my shoulder and told me, “You’ve got to work very hard to be a musician, twice as hard if you play the blues. It’s no easy life son and no joke.” B.B. chimed in, “Ain’t that the truth.”
Until that time, I naively thought a career would just land on my doorstep but Bland’s words stayed with me and from then on, I constantly attended jam sessions in New York, sat in with many blues and rock greats, and started playing and writing more than I had before that encounter.
Bland knew about working hard. He recorded and toured consistently from the mid-‘50s up until near the time of his death.
Today, if you want any recognition in the blues, it’s all about playing the guitar like everyone else, and not having your own musical identity. The art of true blues crooning died with Bland. He was one of the last blues originals.
Bobby “Blue” Bland passed away in Germantown, Tennessee, on June 23rd, 2013. He will truly be missed and shall never be replaced.
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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.